Here's the third release of the week, enjoy!
The silver moon hung high in the sky and shed its silver glory onto the realm of man.
The weather was rather calm on the northern seas, which was rare for the winter season. The moonlight reflected off the calm surface of the ocean, giving it a sparkly sheen.
On the distant shore, a lit torch could be seen twirled around three times. It stood still for a few moments before it once again twirled thrice.
"Everything should be on track," Potterfang said, "Milord, I think we can make our move now."
Even though the weather was pleasant, in stark contrast to the strong winds all too common during the season, the chill of winter still made Lorist cold to the bone despite the thick layers of fur he wore.
"Let our troops drink some rum and warm their limbs. I don't want them going numb because of the cold and falling into the water. They're definitely goners if they get wet in this cold. I don't want to see any accidents happen. Prepare to move out."
"Yes, Milord. I will have them prepare right away. Don't worry, Milord. We've already trained for this many times; there won't be any problems," replied Potterfang, standing ramrod straight.
The orders were passed down quickly. The ships in front rotated until their sides faced the shore. The sailors threw a large net over the side and let it hung down the side of the ship to the water below before lowering the rafts.
The soldiers each took two gulps from their respective leather sacks, causing Lorist to get a whiff of the dizzying scent of rum. It served to raise the soldiers' body heat so they didn't get affected too much by the cold. Norton troops don't coop up in their camps during the winter. Instead, they would undertake all sorts of training exercises thanks to the need to exterminate the magic beast wave years earlier. It was already a common practice and also served to improve their knowledge on staving off cold.
The standard rations of a Norton soldier included a small leather sack of rum. Drinking some rum and circulating one's battleforce would increase the body's temperature and help maintain it for a time, which would prevent one from being chilled numb by the cold.
After the soldiers had some rum and began flexing their limbs, they checked their armaments one more time before going over the railings and climbing down the net to reach the rafts. Some of Firmrock Legion's silver-ranked troops had already gone ashore not too long ago and awaited the rest's arrival.
A few more ships gradually approached the shore with chains of large wooden boxes trailing behind them. They were the mobile ports which the worksmiths on the ship would link together to form a 100-meter-long bridge through the reefs near the shore after the ships anchored. The legion's wheelbarrow-ballistae unit could only land once the dock was assembled and in place.
While it was usually harder to set up two mobile ports in the dead of night, given the calm weather and the moonlight, the task was completed in a few short hours. After the Firmrock troops completed their landings, the floating bridges would be retracted and left near the reef so House Kenmays could use them as a port as per the agreement between Lorist and the count.
As the saying went, 'to defeat an army, go for the commander'. Lorist had never planned to rely on defeating the duchy's army before making his move to swallow it up. The plan to wait till spring before crushing the duke's army was only something Lorist used to mislead the second highness. What the four houses actually wanted was for the duchy to be in a state untouched by war when they took over.
While the second highness's plan for the four houses to wipe the nobles in the province out to stifle their ability to resist was a sound plan, it would effectively render the territory useless even if they conquered the entire place. The four houses would have to invest lots of funds to redevelop the land. This was the true reason they refused to follow the second highness's suggestion.
When the duchy's most elite force, Seamountain Legion, arrived at the camp opposite the Northlander army, Lorist knew Duke Madras' lair, Sidgler, was no longer defended. It had already raised the odds of his plan to take Sidgler during the 12th month to 80 percent. As long as they were able to encircle Edelise without anyone noticing and capture the duke himself without letting word spread, he could use the duke's personal seal to enter Xith Castle, Vanades, and Kobo unimpeded without the defenders knowing any better. The duchy would effectively be no more after those three places were taken.
The second highness should've been invited or forced by Kenmays to go to the duke's manor in Gildusk to participate in the new year's celebrations. The second highness had already realized the tricks Kenmays played on him in the contract the previous month and changed his friendly attitude. Kenmays, on the other hand, maintained his polite demeanor as if nothing had happened. The second highness was unable to hate the man no matter how angry he was.
Lorist smirked when he thought about the fact that it was his idea to let Kenmays do the talking. He didn't think the second highness would actually fall into the trap that easily. Perhaps, he thought too highly of himself and only brought his guard up against the Nortons. Whatever the reason, he fell for Kenmays' flowery words.
The second highness might just realize spring next year that the whole of the duchy fell into the houses' hands when he was expecting them to just begin their attack. Only then would he truly understand the degree to which he had been duped. Without war-torn battlefields, the second highness won't be able to take advantage of the situation to recruit soldiers for his Whitelion Legion. That way, he won't be able to go to the Andinaq kingdom to deal with Queen Carey. As a result, he would have to rely on the four houses to spend his days and keep begging Lorist to deploy troops to restore him to the throne.
The other houses were not informed about the plan to encircle Edelise itself lest it was leaked. According to the plan known to all, the Nortons would deploy Tigersoar Legion at the lower stream of Metropoulos during spring the next year and cross the floating bridge to head to the final battle with the duchy's forces. While it was not part of Lorist's actual plan, he would still have to deploy the legion to face Queen Carey's forces.
"Milord, the first batch has landed. The sailors are heading back with the rafts," reported Potterfang.
They were at the narrowest part of the shallow seas near Platinum Beach situated only a little over a hundred meters from shore. Lorist snapped out of his thoughts to look at the coast. He saw the sailors pulling the rafts back to the ships using the rope that connected the vessels. The rafts were mostly empty apart from the single sailor manning them.
Lorist recalled the three horizontal wooden boards he intended to use for balancing the rafts, but the shipwrights at the yard had found the design unusable. In the end, they redesigned the rafts to have a rounded back and a square front, which allowed for more people to be ferried at once while improving the craft's balance. They only needed one extra sailor to man each boat from the back.
"Milord, I've returned," said the figure that suddenly appeared on one of the rafts and scaled the ship.
It was Els, the guards', the first to be deployed, leader.
"What was up with those fishermen during the day? They forced us to delay our operation," inquired Lorist.
Originally, the plan was to be carried out during the day, but the folk of the Flying Fish of Dawn found it hard to scout the beach because of the fishing boats near the coast.
What the heck is wrong with them? Even though it's winter, there are still sailors willing to take the risk and fish! Nobody could've predicted...
In the end, Lorist had no choice but to wait until evening before he could begin the operation.
"They are from the Blackpearl Merchant Guild, Milord. Their salt farm and fishery are located at Platinum Beach's southernmost end. Our men have already taken control of the premises. According to the captives, the fishermen were out fishing to prepare ingredients for the duke's banquet tomorrow. It appears to be a yearly affair," replied Els.
According to Lorist's knowledge, the Blackpearl Merchant Guild was the largest merchant guild in the duchy. It was said they were one of the duchy's largest backers. They monopolized the salt and fish trade. The salt merchant committee's suppression in the duchy was their doing. Their method of salt production through boiling seawater was horribly inefficient. It resulted in ridiculous prices. In spite of their prices, there was still a market for their salt throughout the duchy.
The Blackpearl Merchant Guild also fished near the coasts and sold their catch to the four central duchies. Seafood was also one of the few specialties of Sidgler. Lorist didn't think the duke would go so far as to have the fishermen go to sea during winter just for his new year's banquet.
He looked at the two floating bridges that were only a fraction complete.
I don't think this will be finished anytime soon.
Lorist turned to Potterfang.
"Pog, I will go ashore first. Stay here and command the troops."
"Milord, why don't you rest in the cabin instead?" Potterfang asked, surprised, "It won't be too late to go there when the bridge is complete. It's far stabler that way as well. Also, taking a raft is rather risky."
"No worries," Lorist laughed, "I'll bring a few guards with me. I'm sure you've heard what Els said as well, right? I plan to interrogate the captives. We might be able to have more people infiltrate Edelise with us."
Now that Lorist had made his decision, there was nothing Potterfang could do. He had of the rafts reserved for Lorist and the guards, led by Els.
In an attempt to raise morale, Lorist chose to land in the same manner his troops had and took the initiative to do part of the rowing. He found the initiative rather displeasing by the time he neared the shore. Feeling the splashes of chilling water on his face caused him to start shivering slightly. His hands were almost chilled to numbness. He yearned for the shore all the more for it.
The closer they got to shore, the more ice crystals were visible in the water. When Lorist saw this, he found he had overlooked one important factor. Platinum Beach wasn't frozen as he thought it would be and had instead turned into a field of snow. Thick layers of snow gathered on the beach's surface, causing the part of the beach where water touched to form ice.
The squarish part of the raft bumped against the shore and caused some of the ice to fall off. A group of Norton soldiers rushed to the raft and pulled on the rope at the front of the raft while they shouted.
"Quick, get to shore! Take lighter steps and don't stomp on the ground. If any of you need to warm up, take a few swigs and start moving about."
"Oh, Milord, it's you," said one of the soldiers who realized Lorist's presence amidst the guards.
Lorist jumped on the shore lightly and patted on that soldier's shoulder.
"Well done. But why can't we stomp on the ground here?"
"Oh, Milord, the first group of soldiers to arrive had instantly stomped about to warm up the moment they got here. They didn't realize they were standing on a patch of frozen ice instead of the beach itself. The ice cracked and the whole group fell straight into the water," replied the soldier.
Lorist's chest tightened when he asked, "Then, how are they doing now?"
"They're fine, Milord," the soldier said with a smile, "Even though the unlucky fools got wet, the water only reached their thighs since the waters here are shallow. They were ordered to strip and dry their clothes near the fire before taking more rum and circulating their battleforce. They'll be back to normal after their clothes and armor are dry. They're still loitering around the fire naked over there and many of us couldn't help but laugh..."
Lorist felt relieved as he laughed at the thought of a bunch of naked men circling a fire. Fortunately, there was battleforce in Grindia. Had they been normal folk who couldn't use it, they would've ended up on the brink of death. Falling into water 30 degrees centigrade would no doubt bring a tragedy. Thankfully, the soldiers were at least of the bronze rank and were far stronger than average soldiers in Lorist's previous life.
Knight Pajik had been made an officer in Firmrock Legion following his breakthrough to the gold rank. Lorist was rather assured with the knight running the landing. It didn't take long for Pajik to rush over.
"Milord, why have you come?" asked the knight after he saluted.
"I wanted to come over for a look and ask the folk at the fishery and salt farms about Edelise while I'm at it. How many people do we have ashore at the moment?"
"One and a half brigades, Milord," replied Pajik.
"Good. Even though Edelise is a day's travel from here, you have to be wary since the road there is covered by snow. Have a brigade of fully-armed troops occupy that mound in the distance and monitor the surroundings. We'll set out for Edelise when the rest of the force has landed," said Lorist as he pointed to a snow-covered mound farther away.
"Understood, Milord. I will send some men immediately," said Pajik.
"Alright. Els, let's head to the fishery and salt farms."
"Understood, Milord. We'll have to walk across the beach to get there," said Els.