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It's finally Chinese New Year, guys! There won't be a change to the number of releases, but be ready for unexpected delays here and there. Do any of you have special angpow for me? *stares expectantly*

Five days later, the House Fisablen's light cavalry scouts bumped into the vanguard of the alliance of four houses. The 100-men squad belonging to Third Frontier Legion were attacked by a light cavalry unit that had the same numbers as they did. After leaving 37  corpses behind, Third Frontier Legion's scout squad retreated immediately. Within the short skirmish that lasted no longer than ten minutes, the forces of the Northlanders got a victory of 37 kills for 13 casualties. This was known to be the first of many battles in Southern later in history.

Word from the defeated soldiers Duke Fisablen gathered revealed that the attack by the four houses wasn't carried out on a whim. Instead, it was a planned and prepared step to exterminate the Iblia kingdom. The Fisablen guards that escaped Windbury said that they discovered three legions bearing the Norton banner as well as a knight brigade. There was another legion with the banner of the Pegasus.

The Nortons had mobilized Firmrock, Tigersoar, local defense legion and Ragebear Knights while the Felims sent Pegasus Legion along, causing the duke much stress and worry. House Norton had already sent all its main forces to Winston, so were they trying to fight the forces of House Fisablen to death? Or, did Lorist receive orders to exterminate the four central duchies right after exterminating the Iblia kingdom?

If it were the latter, the duke didn't mind keeping low and let the four central duchies duke it out with the four houses of The Northlands. In fact, he would secretly be glad for such a thing happening. After all, the grudge the second highness held was common knowledge, and it wouldn't be surprising for him to order the four houses, who were loyal to him, to attack the four central duchies. House Fisablen could definitely wait until both sides were worn thin before they deployed their forces and claim the spoils of defeating Lorist and the alliance of four houses.

However, the duke's wish was completely shattered two days later when a few riders came over to deliver two pieces of bad news. First, the citadel at Pedro, the only place to cross from Winston and Wild Husbandry at the Pisper Mountains, had been breached by House Norton's Tigersoar Legion. Only two thousand of the ten thousand plus men of a division of Fourth Frontier Legion stationed at Pedro managed to escape alive. Their casualties were horrible and up to twenty thousand citizens had been forcefully relocated to The Northlands. Four Frontier Legion commander, Gold-ranked Knight Bakri was ambushed when he was leading his division in pursuit and perished on the battlefield from three arrow shots.

So far, only 28 thousand men remained in Fourth Frontier Legion. After vice commander Knight Benlyse reported all that to Duke Fisablen, he requested the house for reinforcements. As they had to defend the settlements of the commoners, Fourth Frontier Legion was at a disadvantage when they faced House Norton's Jaeger Legion. Conflict broke out within Wild Husbandry and House Norton's Jaeger Legion was roaming free at the province unabated and moving droves of citizens, livestock and horses to The Northlands. House Fisablen's losses were huge.

Duke Fisablen smashed the golden cup in his hand onto the ground in anger. There's no need to wonder anymore. Lorist's campaign is definitely directed at House Fisablen! It was nonsense for me to think that the four houses of The Northlands are loyal to the second highness. It's obvious that they will only deal with the four central duchies after House Fisablen is no longer a threat to them! This is a war for the house's survival!

However, the duke knew he couldn't afford to be distracted. During the past two days, House Felim's Pegasus Legion arrived at Southern. As a light cavalry legion, they were engaged in all out combat with Third Frontier Legion. There were more than ten conflicts breaking out on a daily basis. It seemed from the reports that Pegasus Legion's light cavalry scouts had an obvious advantage. The northern part of Southern was slowly being encroached upon by Pegasus and the Third Frontier Legion was unable to breach Pegasus's defense lines in the slightest.

Duke Fisablen found that he was being held back at Southern. The unit he was most concerned about was the Ragebear Knights. They had mysteriously stopped all advance the moment they arrived at Sehak, that was located at the border between Southern and Winston. What's going on? Shouldn't they be forcing Third Frontier Legion back to their camp by launching a joint attack?

Fifth Frontier Legion would be arriving in another two days, so Duke Fisablen would have a total of two legions under his control, approximately 70 thousand men. However, the duke really doubted the capability of Fifth Frontier Legion. From the reports sent over by Third Frontier Legion soldiers, it could be concluded that Pegasus Legion wasn't much stronger than Third Frontier Legion. In fact, they paled in comparison when it came to courage and hardiness. However, they had an edge in terms of equipment. If a soldier of Third Frontier Legion got cut with a sword, he would die with his guts spilling out. However, all the soldiers of Pegasus Legion would suffer was their broken armor. While they might end up gravely injured, it wouldn't be fatal for them. That reminded Duke Fisablen about what Lorist said about how one copper coin would only buy you goods worth one copper. The equipment House Fisablen bought from the Nortons were the cheapest ones.

If the Ragebear Knights attacked the camp of Third Frontier Legion, Duke Fisablen was confident that his defensive arrangements would be able to fend the knights off and deal them huge casualties. Even though Ragebear Knights were heavy-armored cavalry that far exceeded Third Frontier Legion both in terms of attack and defense, attacking a fortified camp was another story. Duke Fisablen had his own method fit for dealing with those walking tin cans.

The duke wasn't surprised that Ragebear Knights were the first unit of the Nortons to arrive at Southern as he had paid long attention to their troops since some time back. Firmrock Legion was comprised mainly of heavy-armored infantry and it would take them more time to arrive at Southern. Tigersoar Legion was a spear cavalry unit that was classified between light and heavy cavalry and they would remain at Pedro for the time being. Local defense legion was a defensive unit that was only sent to Winston to take over the defense of the strategic locations. That made it possible for Ragebear Knights, a heavy cavalry unit, to be the first to arrive at Southern.

What in the world is Lorist up to? Don't tell me he intends to gather all the forces of his house for an all out battle with us at Southern? Otherwise, what reason would Ragebear Knights have for staying put at a stronghold like Sehak? Defending? That can't be right. Knight brigades aren't used for defense. Weren't they giving us time to mobilize our forces by leaving their knights just sitting there? The correct way to do this should have been attacking without hesitation to drive our Third Frontier Legion out of Southern so we wouldn't be able to join up with the reinforcements of the four central duchies...

Duke Fisablen wasn't able to leave Southern at the moment and he came to a sudden realization that he had to defend the route to the four central duchies by himself. Not only that, the invading forces of The Northlands was able to move about unabated and they didn't even take the forces House Fisablen stationed around the crucial transportation points of Southern seriously. Not only did House Norton station Ragebear Knights at Sehak, House Felim also occupied the northwestern part of Southern and set up a tight defense line. They also began eliminating bandits at that area.

What is going on here? thought Duke Fisablen as he scratched his head in confusion. Only after staring at the map for a good while did he realize that Count Felim was reclaiming the old dominion of his house. However, it had already become a wasteland over the years, hence the duke's confusion at first. It was no wonder that Pegasus Legion set up a tight perimeter around the borders of the old dominion.

Duke Fisablen snorted and thought, Southern's going to be embroiled in war soon enough, so what's the point even if you reoccupy your old dominion? For development? You might as well throw gold coins straight into the water! There wasn't anything left in the old dominion of the Felims. No castle, farmland, manors, commoners, no nothing. Only bandits all round. Developing that area was a huge endeavor that took up gold, manpower and time. And those efforts would be wasted during a time of war and chaos.

House Felim's dominion occupied up to a quarter of the area of Southern. Even though it was at the northwestern area and Pegasus Legion had the advantage in a confrontation with Third Frontier Legion, it was House Fisablen who held the initiative for battle. There was no way the northwestern part of Southern could escape involvement in the upcoming battles. Other than that, no matter how huge Pegasus Legion was, it was only a light cavalry legion and all House Fisablen had to do was to send out two of their own Frontier Legions to wipe out Pegasus in no time.

I'll spare House Felim's legion for now and let them do their thing, thought Duke Fisablen. What he had to deal with first were the Norton forces. The halt of Ragebear Knights at Sehak possibly foretold the low mobility of Firmrock. It would take a few more days before they arrived. It seems that Lorist is intent on having an open-field battle with me...

But did he think me an idiot? Duke Fisablen would never engage in an open-field battle with the Norton forces if he had the choice. Trying to ram against heavy cavalry and infantry with light cavalry was a move an imbecile would make. The duke's original plan was to fortify the campsite's defensive facilities and drag out the battle as long as he could to wear away at the morale of the enemy before he ambushed their supply lines and harassed their advance to force the Norton forces to retreat from Southern in the end. That would leave a void for the Frontier Legions to fill to take back Winston and bring the conflict back there.

After much consideration, Duke Fisablen decided that he would ignore the situation at Wild Husbandry for now. He penned a letter for the vice commander of Fourth Frontier Legion, Benlyse, to appoint him as commander as well as inform him about the situation, and that the house wouldn't be able to offer any reinforcements for the time being. If they could no longer hold on, they were to evacuate all the commoners of Wild Husbandry to the east shore of Soxius River. They could effectively hold their ground along the river while waiting for the situation to turn for the better when House Fisablen regains their advantage.

Soxius River originated from Pisper Mountain and flowed across Wild Husbandry into the great plains. It was the main source of water of Wild Husbandry for both domestic use or livestock rearing. Both shores of Soxius River were the most prosperous areas of Wild Husbandry, but they weren't situated near the central area of the province and were closer to Eastwild. The implication of the duke's order was the loss of two-thirds of Wild Husbandry's territory. But it was sufficient as long as the incomplete Fourth Frontier Legion was able to hold the east shore of the river. To the duke, the situation at Southern was far more important.

On the 32nd day of the 5th month, Firmrock Legion finally arrived at Southern.

Lorist was rather troubled by how long it took. It's all that cruddy road's fault, being muddy and moist. The journey that should've taken only twelve days got extended to 26. As a result, Firmrock Legion also served as road repairers during their travels. If they didn't do so, even if they arrived timely in Southern, their supply line would be unable to effectively support them given the condition of the road.

Lorist finally understood why the second prince and the nobles of Southern didn't think about going back to the province and instead moved to Windbury even if it meant being in conflict with the nobles of Winston. Apart from the fact that Southern was a wasteland, the roads were already badly ruined. While a small merchant convoy or two could barely travel there, it was impossible for a large convoy to do the same. In other words, that main highway was even harder to travel on than a pedestrian's path.

However, the delayed arrival of Firmrock also brought with it some benefits. Firstly, Loze managed to conquer Pedro with Tigersoar. The remains of the Winston soldiers were also wiped out at the same time. Winston was already under complete control of the house. Next, Josk, leading Jaeger Legion, managed to greatly damage Fourth Frontier Legion. He even managed to kill Two-star Gold-ranked Knight Bakri with a surprise attack of three arrows, allowing Jaeger Legion to control the pace of battle against Fourth Frontier Legion, managing to beat them back haggardly.

With Winston and Windbury under the house's control, the supply lines could be arranged without problem. Baron Camorra had already initiated the transport of resources from Gildusk to Windbury. Military supplies such as rations and wealth obtained at Windbury also greatly pleased Lorist. He didn't think that the wealth Duke Fisablen confiscated from the nobles he exterminated would fall into the hands of the house. It truly was a gift that popped out of nowhere.

As for the four brigades of fifth local defense division Baron Freiyar commanded, they were headed for Dawok, Pedro, Windbury and Twilight Lake Town respectively to begin work on the construction of defensive citadels. The remaining 25 local defense brigades were headed for Southern. As Ragebear Knights was going to make Sehak their main camp, they would save lots of construction work for the 25 local defense brigades.

However, the original plan to launch a lightning-fast attack had been ruined by the accursed road. Lorist had actually planned to chase Duke Fisablen out of Southern before setting up a few defense perimeters at key locales and digging lots of moats to completely incapacitate cavalry troops. Given the situation at Southern, it seemed that Duke Fisablen would be fighting a defensive battle. While Lorist was still on the way, he received reports from the cavalry scouts on Duke Fisablen's deployment layout implied that the duke intended to wear down the Norton forces gradually. After all, defending was far easier than attacking.

It's a shame you miscalculated, old guy, Lorist thought with a gleeful smile as he watched the catapults being transported along the repaired road, You'll quickly be able to witness for yourselves the might of these weapons our house developed. Times have changed, and an old relic of a wargod like you should retire already.

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