"We're back, Milord," said Fiercetiger Loze as he stood in front of Lorist with Yuriy.
Lorist breathed a sigh of relief and felt his emotions calm down. Loze and Yuriy's return signified that the enemy had already retreated from Silowas. While no enemies were there to fight it out with Potterfang's forces, they had still achieved their goal: the raiding of the island and the capture of the residents. The sight on Silowas was horrible beyond description.
"Tell me, how's the situation of the island now?" asked Lorist after taking a deep breath.
Loze and Yuriy's expressions soured at the mention.
Yuriy stammered, "Milord, it... it's horrible. The slavers from the Hanayabarta kingdom are not human; they're nothing but a bunch of lowly animals! The islanders aged over 50 were killed. Even children under ten years old were not spared. I still remember seeing a few infants being impaled on stakes..."
Loze shook his head as if he wanted to forget the scene he had witnessed. "Silowas has become Grindia's hell. Whitebird Town itself has turned into a complete slaughtering ground. Those slave traders massacred all the elderly, injured, and sick systematically. The ground is so soaked with that it has turned pitch black. The previously flat ground has turned into rolling hills, built out of corpses...
"Everyone who saw what happened was maddened beyond belief. Right before we traveled back, the corpse count at the plaza was above 4000. Among them, Josk found the corpses of Mayor Hugo and Old Mike, the accountant."
Lorist clenched both his fists so tightly that his knuckles turned pale. During the civil war of the empire, Silowas managed to avoid any such catastrophe as it was situated quite far away from shore. So, many thought that it would be safe from the chaotic times and brought their families to the island, hoping that they would be able to spend the coming years in peace. Little did they know that while they did manage to evade the miserable civil war, they couldn't escape the claws of the slave traders that came from the sea.
"Milord, we found Whitebird Town's security officer, Kriston, with fifty people in an abandoned waterway. They avoided capture by hiding there. Other than that, when we attacked Seaview Manor, we found Grandmaster Sid's eldest son, Delokua, and his partners imprisoned. After seeing chaos break out in the midst of foraging, they hurriedly returned only to be captured by the slave-capturing troupes," reported Yuriy.
"Wait," mused Lorist, Attacking Seaview Manor? "There were still enemies on the island when you arrived?"
"That's right, milord. We even managed to take over 14 ships, two of which were large-class armed merchant vessels," Loze said.
"When we arrived at Silowas, the sunlight of dawn allowed us to discover that there were 14 ships still anchored at the coasts of the island. Senbaud ordered us to approach them only to find they were unmanned, despite being stuffed to the brim with cargo. We managed to capture around a hundred sailors at some houses nearby.
"According to them, there were roughly a thousand of them left on the island, mostly slavers and sailors from the kingdom who had stayed behind with the intention of taking as much stuff as they could," added Yuriy.
"So there are more who weren't captured?" asked Lorist with joy at the very possibility of Charade and Jim still being safe.
However, what Yuriy said next shattered Lorist's hopes.
"Naturally, the security officer and the rest are examples of those. But by the time we rescued them, they had already been starving for a good number of days. Had it not been for a basement near the waterways that still had some old leather skins, they wouldn't have been able to last for almost a month.
"The ones who escaped were mostly folk from the seven villages. The garrison leader from the village near the mountain brought half of the village folk with him into the mountains. But the elderly left behind had all been killed by the slavers and the village ended up being burnt down. The pursuit unit that followed also managed to capture more than a hundred other villagers who were later locked up at Seaview Manor.
"The captives said that the ones that led them were a blademaster and a gold-ranked knight. They were the subordinates of Duke Gouffman. They intended to defend Seaview Manor for ten more days before they headed back."
"A blademaster?" mused Lorist as his heart clenched.
While the gold-ranked knight and the duke called Gouffman was of little concern to him, being only the lowly slave owners they were, the presence of a blademaster on the island might inflict a lot a damage to the house. Should the blademaster choose to use hit-and-run tactics or ambushes, there would be a huge problem.
"How did Potterfang deal with the blademaster? Did the blademaster cause us any damage?" asked Lorist hurriedly.
Loze said in an annoyed tone, "That cowardly blademaster? He's completely useless! The moment Potterfang heard that around 500 enemy fighters were holed up in Seaview Manor, he sent a regiment of heavy-armored soldiers and another regiment of wheelbarrow-ballista troops over there with the intention of luring the blademaster out. However, the gold-ranked knight and blademaster actually decided against coming out for a fight and would rather stay turtled up in the manor.
In the end, we had no choice but to force our way in. With the manor breached, the blademaster had no choice but to come out and negotiate, and that he did. He asked to be spared and be given two ships with which to leave the island in return for his surrender. We requested that they surrender immediately, but the blademaster actually threatened to unleash a killing spree if we didn't release him.
In the end, 300 wheelbarrow-ballista fired a volley of bolts with but a single wave from Potterfang. The useless idiot got struck on the right thigh with an iron bolt and was no longer in fighting condition. He even fell to the ground and cried for his parents. The gold-ranked knight, on the other hand, managed to resist for quite a while with his men but we captured him in the end. The 200 or so enemies that survived surrendered to us as well."
Lorist asked in a gleeful tone, "Were the blademaster and gold-ranked knight captured alive?"
"Yes, Milord," Loze said as he nodded, "We have successfully recaptured Seaview Manor and rescued the 300 or more captured villagers in the process. They include the guards that accompanied Delokua. Unfortunately, only three of the ten are still alive.
"Potterfang also ordered his troops to conduct a sweep across the entire island to capture the remaining slavers and sailors. They managed to rescue around 200 more villagers in the process as well.
"According to the survivors, Charade and Jim were captured and taken away by the slavers..."
Lorist slumped back into his seat powerlessly and thumped weakly on the table with his fist.
After a good while, he raised his head and asked, "Did the survivors say how the captives were brought away?"
Loze thought for a bit before he said, "Those survivors said that Charade and Jim brought more than 20 guards in a hurry to rush to the refugee camp and had the people in charge arm the refugees with whatever weapons they could find. The rest that didn't have any were given farming tools or even wooden sticks. The kingdom's forces arrived just as everyone was running around panicked and confused. The refugee camp was their main target.
"Charade and Jim thus resisted stubbornly along with their 20 or so guards, half of whom were killed. In the end, a blademaster arrived and managed to defeat and capture them. WIthout anyone to lead them, the refugees lost control and many of them were killed by the slavers, around 1000 or 2000. In the end, the ones who surrendered were spared."
Sighing, Lorist asked, "How many of Silowas's residents managed to evade capture?"
Yuriy replied, "We are not certain ourselves, but we estimate around 700 of them. After the situation stabilized on the island, Potterfang sent us back here to make a report to you, as well as escort the captured blademaster and gold-ranked knight for your disposal. As for the remaining captives we have... Well, the state of the island was so bad that we had to find a way to vent our rage. So, after a short customary trial, we ordered the troops to erect crucifixes on the southern coast and nailed the captives up on them like you did with the others here."
The crucifixion of more than a thousand captives on Potterfang order, who was normally able to keep his emotions in check, was a testament to the tragic state of Silowas. It was so bad that even the soldiers of the house obeyed such a cruel order willingly.
"Also, Milord, Potterfang, and the rest requested for an urgent resupply of medicinal powders and ointments and preparations to begin immediate disease prevention on Silowas. Those darned slavers actually didn't even bother to collect the corpses of their own. The island is littered with corpses and the hot weather will only accelerate their decay," reminded Yuriy the moment he recalled.
"Milord, please speak your will," said Howard as he stepped forward.
Lorist drafted a written order quickly and said, "Send someone to the healthcare department at Firmrock castle and order them to prepare large amounts of preventative medication. Send a few herbalists to Silowas as well. Tell them they only have three days to prepare before they leave with the Flying Fish of Dawn. The herbalists and medicines must be ready by then."
"Yes, Milord. I will have a guard pass your order on immediately," said Howard before he rushed out and left on horseback.
"Milord, what do we do next?" asked Yuriy.
"When's Senbaud's fleet returning?"
"It should take another ten or so days. He will be bringing back the survivors and villagers we rescued. Perhaps, he's already on his way," guessed Yuriy.
"Alright. By the time he gets back, it should already be the end of the 7th month. I hope that his fleet can make a few more trips during the 8th month to bring the heavy-armored division and wheelbarrow-ballista division forces to Silowas. After that will be the transportation of Ovidis's Thunderbolt Brigade. Yuriy, have your light cavalry scout brigade prepare to leave for Silowas with the Thunderbolt Brigade as well," said Lorist.
Loze's eyes shone the moment he heard that "Milord, are we going on an expedition against the Hanayabarta kingdom? I want to go too..."
Since Loze had already guessed his intentions, Lorist no longer felt the need to hide them.
"House Norton has always retaliated when it was slighted. This time's no exception either. We will not stay quiet and swallow our anger. What we will do is exterminate the Hanayabarta kingdom. But Loze, you cannot go this time and must stay back to defend the dominion."
"But Milord, there are lots of people here. Malek, Terman, Belnick... All of them can do that..." complained Loze as he brought up his three other comrades.
"Well, you were just one step slower. Malek had already talked me into letting him join. He will replace Dulles as the commander of the wheelbarrow-ballista division," said Lorist with a smile.
"Ugh, Milord... How about Freiyar? By the time you leave, Freiyar's injuries will have recovered already. You can have him defend the dominion. Also, I'm not going to bring the spear cavalry division there. I only need to follow you, as your personal bodyguard. Also, you understand my training style. Only by fighting against high-tier enemies will I be able to improve. Currently, apart from me, what other gold-ranked knight can stand against rank 1 blademasters? I heard that the Hanayabarta kingdom has more than ten blademasters, so I'll be much more useful over there..."
For the sake of going with Lorist on the expedition, Loze was willing to bring up all sorts of ridiculous excuses. Behind him, Yuriy secretly cheered at the fact that he had already been appointed by Lorist to mobilize with his light cavalry scout brigade.
He interjected, "Brother Loze, don't forget your duties. You're the commander of two spear cavalry divisions. How can you leave them behind just like that?"
Loze glared at him hatefully and said, "No worries, the vice commander, Knight Waxima, is extremely capable. It makes no difference whether I'm there or not."
He turned back to plead with Lorist. "Milord..."
Gah, what a headache, Lorist waved his hand and said, "Fine. As long as you organize the matters concerning your spear cavalry divisions first, I will consider letting you come along."
After hearing what basically amounted to an agreement, Loze hugged Yuriy excitedly and spun around in joy. "Yaaay!"
Yuriy cursed and gave him two kicks, which Loze didn't mind at all.
Loze thought of something and said, "Oh, milord, if we are going to attack the Hanayabarta kingdom, we'll need more ships. If we don't send all our troops in one go, the battle will be a tough one."
Lorist nodded and said, "I've already thought of that. This time around, Els and Tarkel will both head to Morante. One of their missions is borrowing ships from the Peterson Merchant Guild. We'll also ask them to purchase some used ships in our name. Also, when the Flying Fish of Dawn returns, I'll follow along and go to the Sea of Grief to expropriate a few more before we leave."
I have no choice but to resort to expropriation again.
Loze exclaimed with joy, "Milord, I want to go along with you when you expropriate the ships!"
Yuriy said with dissatisfaction, "Milord, don't bother with Loze... the pervert. He actually hugged a man like me as he would a woman! It's better if I go along with you for the expropriation."
"Enough. Expropriating ships is not exactly something we should be proud of. Stop grumbling about trivial matters all day long. It's not like we're in that much of a rush. The Flying Fish of Dawn must first transport the herbalists and medicinal supplies to Silowas, and it'll take at least three weeks before it returns. I must first go back to Firmrock castle as I already have an appointment with our three allied houses. Only after dealing with that can we head for the Hanayabarta kingdom. You guys have only just gotten back, so rest for a day or two and deal with the other matters you have first. Oh, and, don't tell anybody about the expedition. I don't intend to make it known publically for now."
"Yes, Milord," said Loze and Yuriy before they saluted and left.
They returned a few moments later, however.
"Milord, the gold-ranked knight and the blademaster we captured haven't been dealt with yet," said Yuriy.
"That's right. Also, Yuriy, have someone bring the interrogation logs we recorded on the way back," reminded Loze.
"You have records of the interrogations?" asked Lorist.
"Yes, Milord. We had nothing better to do on the way back, so we went ahead to interrogated them. We were so thorough that we even know about the time when that blademaster caught his parents mating in bed," replied Lorist.
Lorist could imagine how horrible the two prisoners had been treated by his subordinates, and he couldn't keep himself from laughing as a result. It was obvious from the fact that even something that personal was dug up that the two prisoners didn't bother to hide anything.
"Since there are records, there's no point for me to meet them. Treat them like the sailors before. Nail them on the crucifixes," instructed Lorist calmly.
Both Yuriy and Loze were shocked.
"Milord, that's a blademaster and a gold-ranked knight! The blademaster even says that he'll be willing to serve the house if his life is spared..." stammered Yuriy.
"Hehe, thanks, but no thanks. House Norton doesn't need animals like them who don't see humans as their own kind. He's someone who's able to cut down innocents without any hesitation. So what if he's a blademaster? All our troops are true and just. Letting an animal like that serve among their ranks is nothing but an insult to our heroic knights and soldiers! Have the two nailed on the crucifixes!"
The scorn which Lorist had for the knight and the blademaster made Yuriy and Loze's eyes glow with pride.
"Yes, milord!" shouted the two of them in unison.