Seeing the smoke signal from the distance, Duke Fisablen waved his horsewhip around.
"Send someone to survey the location. Prevent the Northlands lookouts from observing our activities," ordered he.
"By your command, Your Grace," responded a guard, nodding.
He turned to inform the others of the orders. A few moments later they set out.
The duke tugged on his horse's reins. The horde of grassland barbarian cavalry stopped their mounts as well. The mass of men and horses stretched beyond what the eye could see. Poles grew out of the sea of heads. On them, banners of different designs rustled in the wind.
He took out a telescope -- it was part of the spoils he got from defeating House Norton's Jaeger Legion -- and inspected Pedro, where the alarm bell rang.
On both ends of the city cliffs approximately ten meters high cut off any route around the settlement. Right in the middle between them ran a steep slope, about one and a half kilometers from cliff to cliff. On the horizon above the slope, towering over the city walls, stood a huge stone castle. It marked the crossing point of Pisper; Pedro, part city, part citadel.
Pisper lay between Winston and the northeastern grasslands, a natural border. A wall thousands of meters tall and about as wide. There was, however, a large gap in the mountain range that allowed the opposite sides to be connected. If one stood on top of the mountain, perched on the peak of the slope, one should be able to see the grassy plains beyond.
It was precisely because of this hole in the wall that Count Pedro decided, all those years ago, to erect a fort at the slope's peak. He hoped it would stop the grassland barbarians' raids into Winston. The citadel that peaked into the duke's vision, however, had changed its appearance greatly. It was far more than just a frontier fort, it was a full-fledged man-made mountain, complete with extensive defensive fortifications.
"It's only been six months! House Norton is very reckless with its spending. They actually managed to completely reform Pedro's fort into a full-fledged citadel. That kid really thought this through. His moves are firm and leave no gaps for me to exploit," the duke mumbled to himself as he lowered the telescope with a slight tinge of regret, "I should've ignored the squabbles of the grassland barbarian chiefs and forced them to go south and attack Pedro after defeating Jaeger three days ago. At least, I would've been able to capitalize on the element of surprise. Now three days have passed... Pedro must be prepared for me. I guess there's no choice. We have to force our way in."
"Well, I don't really mind since the troops to die aren't from my house," he sighed after a moment's thought, "It's about time those arrogant barbarians were taught a lesson. They all think they're at the top of the world. Did they think they could really conquer the realm with only 100 thousand cavalrymen? The more idiots perish, the better it'll be."
When he had left Boblige two months ago to return to his dominion, he gave the conscription order to the various tribes across the northeastern plains. However, he didn't employ force. Instead, he presented himself as the one who would help and guide them across the realm of civilized man. They would raid together and profit together as partners to satisfy their respective needs.
He managed to gather 150 thousand cavalrymen quickly. After spending a month to instill the smallest amount of discipline required in them and filling Fourth Frontier's ranks again, he set his sights on House Norton's Jaeger which had swept across Wild Husbandry. After a series of schemes and plots, he successfully ambushed the legion and inflicted great damage on it, eliminating a large part of its forces. Only a small number managed to escape to The Northlands.
However, he realized there were many situations beyond his control during the attack that ultimately cut him short of eliminating the legion completely. The main factor was his soldiers' insubordination. All the barbarian chieftains wanted their tribe stationed in the rear for fear of suffering heavy casualties. The chieftains' lack of confidence filtered through to their men, many of whom broke rank and tried to preserve their own lives when the situation looked unfavorable.
There was nothing he could do about it. He was no different, he, too, had tried to preserve Fourth Frontier. The casualty count after the battle was like a wake-up call for the chieftains, though. While Jaeger lost close to 30 thousand men, the barbarian cavalry incurred more than 60 thousand, 30 thousand of which were dead, with the pained cries of the other 20 thousand injured resonating across the battlefield.
After sending more than ten thousand barbarians, injured beyond saving, back to War God Singwa's embrace, the duke fulfilled his end of the promise and treated the lightly injured. The chieftains were engaged in an intense argument over the battle's spoils. They had delayed everything for three whole days, foiling the duke's plan to head south and take Pedro by surprise. He had no choice but to find a way to mediate between them, lest the chieftains break into a full-on conflict for the sake of spoils.
The spoils they were referring to were the armor, weapons, and warhorse equipment of the dead Jaeger soldiers. There were also the steel ballistae left behind by the carroballista brigade as well as the thousand plus soldiers and five thousand lightly injured personnel that were taken captive. The heavily injured ones had already been beheaded. There were approximately 16 thousand complete sets of equipment stripped from the captive and dead soldiers as well as near four hundred undamaged steel ballistae. Those were the main cause of the chieftains' arguments. Even the spoiled equipment or ballistae were not spared as metal was most scarce on the plains.
Duke Fisablen made the magnanimous sacrifice and gave up his right to distribute the goods and only demanded the captives and lightly injured personnel as well as two hundred undamaged carroballistae. His self-sacrificing move won the barbarians' praise. The duke suggested another idea. Half of the spoils would be divided according to the respective casualties incurred by each tribe. Naturally, the tribes that were too impatient and ended up losing most of their members were ignored since it was only a matter of time before they were assimilated into other tribes. The other half would be distributed evenly to all of the barbarians. In other words, while the strong would get most of the reward, the weak would also have something left.
The tribes were finally placated. The plentiful spoils attracted even more barbarians and their numbers soon rose back to 100 thousand. The chieftains quickly forgot about the heavy casualties they had previously incurred. When the duke got to know from the captives that only a brigade of three thousand defended Pedro, the barbarian chiefs were already clamoring to go south.
To the naïve chieftains, Jaeger was the most impressive enemy they had to face. Given that they had already paid such a huge price to defeat such a great enemy, they believed what remained were merely weaklings to be picked off, nothing worth mentioning. In their minds, 100 thousand barbarian cavalrymen were enough to sweep the whole of Winston. Perhaps, they would even restore the honor of their ancestors and get to water their horses at Egret Lake.
"Lord Duke, my dearest lion, why did you stop in your tracks?" asked an eerie-sounding voice as a few majestic warhorses galloped towards the duke.
The guards beside Duke Fisablen wore looks of rage. Some of them had their hands by the hilts of their swords, while others gripped their spears and lances so tightly their veins popped to the surface. With one word, they would not hesitate to storm the northeastern plains. Even though all the chieftains addressed Duke Fisablen as Regal Lion Duke or Your Leonine Grace, the person that just showed up called the duke 'my dearest lion' in a way he would his pet. It was a huge slight on his honor and the young hot-blooded guards glared at the approaching group with anger and hostility.
Duke Fisablen raised his horsewhip without the slightest change in expression to stop his subordinates from doing anything rash. At the same time, he greeted the riders as they arrived.
"My brother, Beloved Chieftain Korinubi, we've arrived. Do you see that castle atop that slope? That's the city of Pedro. I think we should set up camp here and discuss how we will attack after settling down."
Korinubi was a great grassland barbarian tribe that had a population of approximately 100 thousand. They were able to call on 30 thousand battle-ready cavalrymen and were not among the tribes that had submitted to the duke. Instead, Korinubi had always maintained a trade relationship. This time around, Duke Fisablen prepared a lot of gifts to convince the whole of the tribe to head south together, with raiding Winston their goal.
The chieftain was a short, thin man of forty or fifty years. He looked rather martially challenged, but no one doubted his cunning. Duke Fisablen always felt really tired after dealing with Korinubi's chieftain. He wondered how such an oddity managed to surface in the great plains where martial prowess was paramount. All Korinubi chieftains were named after the tribe. It was part of their tradition. After inheriting the position, they would cast away their former name and be addressed only with the name of the tribe.
Chieftain Korinubi completed his mission during their attack on Jaeger perfectly with his 30 thousand cavalry. Their mission was to harass the enemy at range and not engage in close quarters combat at the frontlines. In spite of their relatively removed role, they managed to obtain most of the spoils. In the southward march that followed, the tribe also absorbed four smaller tribes and expanded their numbers to 40 thousand.
Perhaps because of the increase in the men under his command, Chieftain Korinubi relaxed his attitude towards the duke. The duke had only brought ten thousand men on the march. After all, he was only there to guide the way. The main force was the 100 thousand barbarians. There was no need for him to bring along a lot of men. He would also get the least spoils this way and everyone was happy with the arrangement.
"Setting up camp?" Chieftain Korinubi looked at the sky and smiled rather exaggeratedly.
"It's still early. Why don't we just rush straight at Pedro and attack? We won't have to set up camp that way. We can celebrate our victory in the city itself."
"My dear Chieftain, if we can have 100 thousand soldiers encircle Pedro immediately, I don't doubt it will fall in half an hour," Duke Fisablen said as he pointed at the city with his horsewhip, "But please take a look. That's the only way through Pisper and it's rather small. Those cliffs resemble a horn; it gets narrower the higher it goes. Pedro also occupies most of the space in between. We can only have about three thousand men effectively deployed at a time. There's no way we can attack all at once. The city has already made its preparations. I believe it's best we discuss our approach beforehand."
Chieftain Korinubi shielded his eyes from the sun as he leered at the city in the distance, Without a telescope, he wasn't able to see how prepared it was. After giving it a good look, he turned back to the duke.
"Leonine Duke, are you sure we can really only deploy three thousand men at a time like the captives said?"
Duke Fisablen laughed as he shook his head.
"There's no way to confirm the claim. Before we launch our attack, I won't be able to grasp the state of their defenses. After all, three days have passed. Perhaps lots of reinforcements have already arrived. We've truly delayed for far too long."
Korinubi fell deep into thought before he made his decision.
"I will have my men probe their defenses. If they only have three thousand men defending the city, we will take Pedro in no time. What do you think?"
The duke knew the chieftain had made his decision out of greed. When they were traveling southward, it was established that the tribe that conquered a town or city would be given control of it. They could keep whatever they pilfered from it. Nobody would be allowed to violate their rights to the spoils under oath to their gods.
The moment he heard there were only three thousand soldiers defending the city, Korinubi became anxious Even if it took him three men to kill one of the defenders, it was still more than worth it if he could take Pedro for himself. He could even use the place to recover while the other barbarian tribes tested the waters in Winston. If things went south, they would be able to retreat to the northeastern great plains easily. If a lot was made through raiding and pillaging, the returning barbarian tribes would have to submit to him before they returned to the great plains because he controlled the passageway. Perhaps, he might even manage to swallow a few more smaller tribes.
"Why not?" the duke said as he nodded warmly, "The mighty Korinubi tribe has the strength to emerge victorious. The city's guard pales in comparison to your tribe."
Korinubi smiled, elated.
"Thank you for your praise, Leonine Duke. I believe it as well. I'm very confident in the tribe's warriors."
He instructed the barbarian guards next to him.
"Have Halikai, Lunigigi, and Morimod attack the city! Tell them the one who breaches the city will be greatly rewarded. I'll behead the one who doesn't contribute!"
Darn, no wonder the fellow was willing to take in the smaller tribes on the way. He wanted to use them as fodder, cursed the duke.
The three names were the smaller tribes Korinubi had absorbed along the way here. They were each less than a thousand. Originally, they wanted to get the scraps of what was left by coming along but they became Korinubi's targets and were forcefully absorbed.
The low-pitched blare of a horn spread out over the grasslands as the horde called out.
'Korinubi! Korinubi! Korinubi! Korinubi!'
The barbarians considered being the first to enter battle a sign of bravery and honor. However, the thousands of cavalrymen called to participate didn't look too willing. They were escorted by a thousand more from the Korinubi tribe and divided into three units quite messily after a good while. The three units were sent towards the slope on which Pedro stood.
On the 11th day of the 11th month of Year 1778, at around ten in the morning, the 100 thousand barbarian cavalrymen surrounded Pedro. The bloody siege battle had begun.