We're here at this week's fourth release! Happy reading!
The purple-red tint of dawn colored the sky as buds of clouds floated past.
Vikdor opened his eyes, pulled apart the beastskin furs covering his body, and stood up on the walls. Stretching his body lazily, he wiped his face with his hand and removed a rather large piece of rheum from his eyes and turned to look at the noisy plaza in the distance.
"Darn it... The days ahead are gonna be tough... I can't even get good rest with them making so much noise so early in the morning," Vikdor mumble as he kicked his subordinates who were still lying on the ground of the walls asleep, "Get up, all of you. Stop sleeping. If the patrolling officer sees you still asleep, you'll be in for a whipping! Get up right now."
That was the north gate of Windbury and Vikdor was a leader of his squad of ten. The squad he was in charge in took care of opening and closing the city gates, with the added benefit of sneaking some 'unofficial toll' from merchants intending to enter the city.
"Boss, it's still so early, why'd you wake us up? It's not like the city bell rung already... There's no need for us to open the gates anytime before eight in the morning... Look, the sun still hasn't risen yet. Just let us catch a bit more shuteye," complained Klisha, a veteran soldier, in a sleepy voice.
Slightly pissed, Vikdor went over to give Klisha two more harsh kicks. "Don't you feel any shame from saying that? If it weren't for you and Fatty Bart asking me to go all in with my bet, I wouldn't have lost all the additional rations of our squad and take up the shift of Languan's squad, we wouldn't have to be basking in the cold breeze and could sleep well in our own camp!"
Klisha said with dissatisfaction, "That's because of your own shit luck... Languan already threw a one, three and four, and that roll is practically giving money away. Yet, you somehow managed to throw a one, two and three. Didn't you see how bright Languan's face was back then? Even after you lost the money, you didn't give up and wanted another bet by staking us, your squad members, to replace their shift if you lost. In the end, Languan managed to throw three sixes. It's all your fault we had to sleep through the night here."
When Klisha said that, Vikdor reddened with embarrassment that turned into anger. "Well, then why didn't you stop me earlier? Instead, you got me to bet all our money and I only bet to take their shift cause I wanted to get the money back. It's not like Fatty Bart and you were against it back then. There's no point in complaining now that we've lost."
"Can you stop arguing? It really spoils the mood to hear you grumble first thing in the morning, you know. You might as well use the time to think of how we can warm up and fill our stomachs first. Those lazy bums at the camp will only send us food at nine, not to mention that they'd have to serve that master and those other idiots first. Perhaps, the food might not come before ten," said a fat old soldier who was leaning against the wall and clutching his beastskin fur tightly.
Klisha turned directed his grievances to his new target and said, "Fatty Bart, is eating all you can think of? You're already so fat."
Annoyed, the fat old soldier barked, "It's got nothing to do with you. I won't fuss over every little thing like you rascals who don't see the bigger picture. Just get over the fact that we've lost. There's no point getting hung up on it now. The only thing I regret is helping that stupid duke out. We've never had a good day since he came. We lost our post as guards of the palace and were sent to look after the city gates. Not only did we lose our bonus pay, even our salary was cut by half. It's all thanks to that darned duke..."
The fat old soldier's words struck the minds of the other soldiers, who wholeheartedly agreed. They were rather dissatisfied with how they were treated since Duke Fisablen came over. Originally, they were part of the regiment of guards of Rose Palace under the direct command of the queen. Working at the palace was nothing short of a dream come true. Not only was the pay great, sometimes nobles would pay them huge sums to find out about hearsay in the palace. Not only that, there was also the benefit of networking with others. Fatty Bart used to get along with the guard of the royal kitchen and fattened up because he ate too many delicious treats from there over time.
However, the first act by Duke Fisablen when he arrived was to disassemble the regiment of palace guards. The regiment leader and the company leaders' heads were hung at the plaza of the palace. As for low-ranked soldiers like Vikdor, Bart and Klisha, they were distributed all over the four city gates to replace the private soldiers of the nobles from Southern.
Back then, the nobles of Southern had fought quite extensively for the right to control the city gates. Yet, with but an order from Duke Fisablen, they had no choice but to hand control of the gates back thanks to the threat of the Frontier Legion. Similarly, that also set their own paths of doom in stone. Without control of the gates, they couldn't freely leave the city as they pleased, making them vulnerable to the duke's whims at any given moment.
Vikdor, however, was terrified when he heard the disrespectful words uttered by his subordinates. "Shhh! Shut up, all of you! Even if you don't feel like living anymore, don't drag me into this! Did you forget about how many people the duke killed during the second half of the previous year? How many of those aloof nobles are still alive right now? The pit we dug was filled with hundreds of corpses! Did you forget how many powerful nobles that were rendered into nothing but fertilizer for the soil?!"
Seeing the pale faces of his quiet subordinates, Vikdor continued satisfiedly, "Mere soldiers like us won't usually be the target of those nobles. But speaking bad of them is the worst taboo you can possibly commit. If word of it gets around, all ten of us, perhaps even the whole squad, will be beheaded by those cold-hearted nobles! Not just those who talk bad about them! All they need to end us with is an order! Do you understand? Now, get yourself together and stand properly. The patrol soldiers will come to check on us later, so do it right if you don't want to get caned."
Not long after, an agonized cry could be heard from the plaza in the distance. However, the sound soon came to a sudden halt.
Vikdor felt a chill run down his spine and mumbled, "I wonder which unfortunate fellow's head will be displayed in public next..."
Klisha said, "There were 17 yesterday... How many heads will fall to the ground today?"
Bart turned to the plaza and said, "Boss, I heard Burk from the palace kitchen say that the thousands gathered at the plaza to train are only the first batch. Duke Fisablen decided to form a new garrison legion with the private soldiers of the nobles and Burk even encouraged me to sign up fast. I'm a two-star iron-ranked after all, so there'd be no problem for me to become a leader of a 100-man squad. But now, I'm starting to wonder if a normal garrison legion even requires such strict training..."
Vikdor nodded and said, "That's right. I heard Squad Leader Boston say that this garrison legion is held to the highest standards of discipline, even higher than normal standing armies. I heard that they will be stationed at some strategic locations, so the instructors Duke Fisablen sent over are more harsh than ever. They just go around punishing or beheading people without a blink of an eye. I think you ought not to find trouble for yourself. The soldiers of that legion don't have it easy. I doubt you'll be able to handle it."
"Boss, stop talking. The patrol team is here," said another soldier who was squinting at the silhouettes in the distance.
The patrol team was formed from members of the personal guard of Duke Fisablen. A few teams would patrol all corners of the city multiple times daily. The patrol team for the walls numbered only ten people, but all of them were silver-ranked and were armed with the gear of House Fisablen, striking fear into the hearts of those that weren't content with being under the duke's rule.
"You guys seem well and energetic," the knight from the patrol team said in his rare acts of praise, "Who's in charge of you guys?"
Vikdor bowed as he said, "Sir, I am ten-man leader Vikdor."
The knight leading the patrol team said, "Vikdor, you did well. The duke ordered the gates to be opened one hour earlier and closed one hour later for these two days. Also, the men defending the city walls are to be doubled. I believe your squad leader has received the order already."
"Oh, why is that?" asked Vikdor curiously.
The knight didn't mind the question and explained the reason for that order. "After the winter harvests, the duke ordered the commoners of the dominions that are currently not under noble rule to bring the winter wheat to the city, hence the extension of the opening time for the gates. Also, First Frontier Legion was deployed yesterday, and we believe a messenger will come during these two days to send a report. We're leaving the gates open for longer so that we don't miss the messenger, understood?"
Vikdor nodded as the patrol team took their leave.
Bart said excitedly, "Boss, if the transport team is here, we can get a sack of winter wheat for porridge! Porridge made from fresh winter wheat is just so delicious!"
"We'll see. Go check if that's the transport team over there. There's such a huge convoy heading here, a little earlier than expected. Klisha, ask Squad Leader Boston why the additional men assigned to the gates aren't here yet. We won't open the gates until they come," said Vikdor as he looked at the long convoy approaching the city.
The men sent over by their squad leader were none other than Vikdor's nemeses, Languan's own group of ten. Languan used to be a mercenary and was of the three-star iron rank, yet nobody could recall what he went by in the past. Languan was but a nickname of his.
At that moment, the bell within the city rang seven times. After a short pause, it rang another seven times. It would ring another seven more times before the time reporting protocol concludes.
"Time's up. Languan, open the city gates. We'll stay here since running up and down like this is just too tiring," shouted Vikdor from the top of the walls towards Languan's group below.
Languan cursed, "I thought I could take some time off after winning against you yesterday, but that darned Boston sent me on another job. I still haven't had my breakfast, you know! I hope his member doesn't ever stand again even after seeing that young wife of his!"
Vikdor and the rest atop the walls laughed heartily, before Vikdor recalled something and shouted to Languan, "Hey, the transport team is already here! Get a sack of winter wheat from them! We'll make some porridge at the tower over there!"
It wasn't know whether Languan heard what Vikdor said. All he did was nod before instructing his men to open the gates. As the convoy approached the gate, a few men sitting atop the carriages filled with linen sacks jumped off and talked to Languan before handing a sack over. Languan stepped aside and let one carriage after another enter the city.
The one who handed Languan the sack remained at the gate and chatted with Languan. He also handed him a waterskin.
Darn, that must be wheat wine or something. Languan really has it good, thought Vikdor enviously. However, he soon felt a the walls of the city vibrate slightly.
What's going on? Vikdor thought he imagined the feeling, but he heard Bart say with a trembling voice, "Bo-boss... Look... Cavalry..."
Vikdor raised his head to look and froze up instantly. Countless numbers of cavalry troops could be seen swarming towards the city, and they didn't seem to be First Frontier Legion that left yesterday based on their armaments. Their armor and banners were different and they had to be the enemy.
"E-enemy attack!" shouted Vikdor with difficulty to Languan below, only to see the man from the transport team pull out a bloody shortsword from Languan's body before he turned up and smiled at Vikdor.
It's all over... The gate can't be closed because of all the carriages down there... We'll definitely die if we go down right now! The transport team is actually the enemy in disguise! The capital will definitely fall! thought Vikdor as his mind blanked out. What should I do... Oh, those cavalry came from the direction First Frontier Legion left in... That means the legion is already wiped out...
Who could possibly exterminate FIrst Frontier Legion and still have enough men to attack Windbury with? Vikdor looked begrudgingly at the cavalry approaching from the distance and saw a familiar insignia on the banner. A picture of the raging bear? Isn't that House Norton from The Northlands? They're here again... And there's also a banner with a pegasus... So House Felim is here as well...
Clang! Vikdor discarded his weapon and kneeled down on both knees on upon the walls,
"Bossm what are you doing?" asked Bart in confusion.
"Drop your weapons and kneel like me now! I'm making sure that you get out of his alive! If you're still armed when those guys make it up here, they'll attack you! Quick! Discard your weapons and kneel behind me!" cried Vikdor as quickly as he could.
Lorist was the first to ride all the way into Windbury. His target was Rose Palace because Duke Fisablen was over there. As long as he could capture the duke, the rest of the plan would be a no brainer. House Fisablen without the duke would become malleable as clay for Lorist's purposes. With Duke Fisablen out of the picture and Blademaster Xanthi held captive by the second highness, House Fisablen would have no one to lead them. Since Viscount Kristoph was someone Lorist could easily deal with, all he had to do was to wait for Sylvia to come crying to him and beg for House Fisablen to be spared. She would definitely agree to any condition Lorist brought up by then.
Well, that's thinking a little too far. First, I need to catch that slimy old duke, thought Lorist as he wiped the drool off from the corner of his mouth and continued riding towards Rose Palace.
Behind him, the soldiers bearing the banner of House Felim and the Ragebear Knights were flooding into Windbury through the north gate. Els, who had pretended to be part of the crew of the transport team to jam the gates with the carriages, was busy looking for a mount so that he could join up with Lorist.
After wiping out House Fisablen's First Frontier Legion at Dawok a day before, Lorist brought his guard brigade, Ragebear Knights and House Felim's Pegasus Knights with him. They left for Windbury at seven that night. Potterfang and Malek would follow behind them with Firmrock Legion and Loze and Tigersoar Legion was tasked with clearing up the battlefield.
At first, Lorist wanted to mount a night attack on Windbury, but he realized that his men and horses were already tired out when they were about 5 kilometers away from Windbury. Having no other choice, Lorist ordered his men to set up camp and rest. After all, even the strongest men couldn't handle fighting after a whole night of travel right after the battle to wipe out First Frontier Legion.
Guess we have no choice but to attack head on, thought Lorist. However, before six in the morning, the scouts patroling in the distance noticed a large convoy traveling towards the capital. After asking around, Lorist was delighted that such a convenient method of entering the city had fallen right into his lap. Els and Reidy brought the guards to masquerade as those of the transport team and quickly managed to take over the north city gate, causing Windbury to fall to their hands just like that.
The loud blaring of the alert horn finally rang out, causing the city bell to ring nonstop in response to the enemy attack. The patrol teams bravely resisted their foes, only to be reduced no nothing but bloody corpses soon enough.
The two large golden doors of Rose Palace was finally visible before Lorist. He drew his longsword and rushed straight towards the tens of soldiers standing guard at the palace entrance.