Enjoy the 2nd chapter of the week! Had a rather rough day, but I'm holding on!
The fine snowflakes floated daintily to the ground. The sky was dark and gloomy and the chilling winter moaned past the ridges and peak, making many shiver and sneeze. Those out in the cold's feet went numb. Galini Beloput stood atop one of the cliffs, looking at the messy camp of the Nortons' Firmrock in the distance.
From time to time, soldiers left the campsite, undid their pants, and relieved themselves. From time to time, the wind brought the soldier's cries to the cliffs.
"Idiots! We're gonna go rest for winter! Enjoy the breeze up there! Hahahaha!"
A few officers got out of the camp and gave the men a few kicks, probably getting them to go pack up. After another hour, the first batch of three thousand departed. They marched neatly towards the southwestern part of Southern, flags and banners raised. Their marching songs fought through the wind and snow and echoed faintly into Beloput's ears. From time to time, some cruder folk songs and cheers came through as well.
It seems they're really going to bed for winter. I doubt they'd be so relaxed and joyous otherwise.
Beloput clutched his leather cloak tightly. He was rather moody and gloomy.
When we were marching back after eliminating Melein, Third Frontier's soldiers sang in the same fashion. Though we did incur rather substantial losses, we were all experienced veterans who trusted our lives to fate. The spoils were quite voluminous as well. Spirits were naturally high.
But now? The enemy marches home to rest for winter right in front of us while we have to suffer the cold in a mountain range surrounded by enemies. I can't blame the men for having low spirits, especially not with the snow. I can't even give everyone a fur to hold the bite of the cold at bay... Lord Duke's letter said the house has already done its best. 'We were attacked out of nowhere so we had no time to gather the necessary supplies' indeed. Even with the four central duchies' aid, we don't have what we need for winter. They just sent over stuff civilians use...
Beloput didn't blame the duke for the current situation. He'd grown up together with him so he understood how frustrated he must have been when he wrote the letter. The duke had been a proud person as long as he'd known him, even going as far back as his early years. The duke looked down on the former empire's corrupt nobles. He didn't consider them much different from the plains' barbarians. While he was called the Wargod of the Plains for expanding the empire's territory and his many other achievements and contributions, he'd always been suppressed by the empire's nobility. He only managed to throw off his shackles and take full control of Eastwild and Wild Husbandry with the civil war.
It was truly a shame. His plan would've taken shape if it had been given another year. If they'd had just one more year, he could've rightfully taken the position of hegemon in the northeastern area. He might even have been able to form his own kingdom. It would've marked the house's rise to prominence. No one expected the four houses to shatter the dream out of nowhere. Their ambitions had joined the winter's snowflakes.
"Sir, is Firmrock really going to bed for the winter?" asked a household knight.
"It would appear so, given what we're seeing," answered Beloput.
One heavy-armored division, bearing House Kenmays's banner, had arrived at the camp a few days ago. Beloput had even put his troops on high alert in case this warned of an impending attack. But he soon realized the enemy was just changing shifts. Firmrock would withdraw for the winter while House Kenmays's division was there to stand guard.
"Sir, after Firmrock leaves, there'll only be one division there. Their numbers are small. Should we attack? It's a good opportunity," suggested the knight.
Beloput kept silent for a moment. He shook his head.
"Let's not push ourselves too far. The weather's getting worse by the day, it's even begun to snow. How many people do you think we can afford to mobilize? More than half our men still haven't received winter clothing. They'll freeze if they go outdoors. We received near 20 thousand of Fifth Frontier's men. Most are domesticated barbarians still unused to Third Frontier's regulations. Not taking action is the best choice under these circumstances. It'd be a disaster if we get entangled with the enemy!"
He patted the young knight's chest and swept the snow off his shoulders.
"Seirya, you're a young lion, a courageous knight, but victory in war isn't always decided by exterminating the enemy. Our main goal is to hold Boblige. That's the duke's directive. No matter how many times we defeat or exterminate the enemy, if we lose our hold on the mountain range we'd have failed.
"Before the duke left, he told me why we can keep the initiative if we hold Boblige. The four houses will have to keep a good portion of their forces here to keep us in check. They'll end up spending way more resources than we will. We can advance or retreat as we please, but they have to hold their positions no matter what. The war's scale is great and it might stretch on even longer. We're not aiming for outright victory, instead, we want to force them to sign a peace treaty. We don't need to exterminate them to achieve that, we just need to make it too expensive for them to keep on fighting. It's the only way the house can rise up again."
"Is there no chance to win?" asked Seirya stubbornly.
Beloput smiled as he shook his head.
"Nobody wants to lose, but we've lost our chance of victory. The four houses' timed their invasion too perfectly. They struck us when we were completely unprepared. First Frontier was completely destroyed and Windbury taken. Even our joint assault with the four duchies failed. The reserve legion's loss might not be particularly bad, but Windury and Southern's loss? That's an entirely different story.
"You should know why. The reserve legion is like a knife. If we lose it, we can easily replace it, but First Frontier was our true backbone. Losing it has greatly destabilized us. Not even disbanding Fifth Frontier can compare. Our Lord is focused on keeping Second, Third, and Fourth Frontier as intact as possible. They're the core of the house and our last hope to rise again. We can't risk Third Frontier.
"Do you know why the duke wanted to return to the dominion?"
Seirya shook his head.
"He's not there to salvage the situation in Wild Husbandry. Even if he did heavily wound House Norton's Jaeger, it still won't change the overall situation much. He has two aims. First, he'd like to see whether he can conquer Pedro and cause even more chaos in this war by pitting the grassland barbarians against the four houses. If he doesn't manage that, the house will have to suffer through several tough years. He plans to wipe the barbarian tribes out so they won't be a threat."
Beloput looked at Seirya's shock and disbelief, and sighed.
"Seirya, Fisablen blood runs in your veins. You are the new generation's elite and both the Lord and I have high hopes for you. That's why I told you about this. Fighting with courage is only good for a moment; planning with the future in mind is good for life. Failure isn't scary; not learning from your mistakes and failures is. This time around, our loss is inevitable. We can only hope to minimize or losses, or maybe force a draw of sorts."
Seirya nodded gratitudenously.
"Thank you, Uncle Galini. I understand now."
Beloput patted his shoulder.
"Alright, I brought it up casually to give you a rough idea. Let's get down from the mountain. When you're not on duty, make sure to train in your hereditary battleforce technique. Your talent is pretty good. I hope you can become like Her Highness, Princess Sylvia, and make it to the gold rank soon. Make the house proud."
"I will do my best, Uncle."
"Oh, and Seirya, there's something with which I have to trouble you. Can you go to the support camp for a bit and tell Uncle Woryo I, as the commander of Third Frontier, hope he won't act too excessively. His actions when the queen passed through made the soldiers incredibly angry. Also, I hope you can get him to do his duty properly and not half-arse the defenses there. I'm just one of the house's servants, I don't have the status to order him around, but I'm also the legion's commander, so I hope he doesn't force me to impose military discipline."
Seirya blushed, speechless. What a horrible shame. The kingdom's queen and the logistics supervisor of Third Frontier, one of them his aunt and the other his uncle, had become the house's most shameless members!
As the duke's daughter and queen, his aunt had actually started a brothel in the camp. The next day, she complained rather vocally about how the soldiers were all poor bastards and couldn't even pay a single gold Forde for pleasure.
"It's no wonder the Nortons beat them so easily," she'd said.
She also mentioned that the Nortons were far better off. They could pay a gold Forde without issue, some even took out ten.
Seirya was so embarrassed by the comment he wanted to hide in the nearest hole. Not even in his wildest dreams had he thought his aunt would be so shameless and not care about the house's reputation. That was why the commander had ordered her out of the camp as soon as possible.
In the end, the queen's carriage was stopped by Seirya's uncle. As the logistic camp's supervisor, he cooperated with the queen and allowed her to open a brother with her maidservants. She even launched a huge discount promotion: any soldier could spend a night of pleasure with one of the queen's maidservants for a single large silver. The logistics supervisor could also lend money to soldiers who couldn't afford it, but they had to exchange something for the loan. Anything would do, even their rations and supplies.
The crooked pair caused the whole atmosphere of the logistics camp to go sour. That even affected the four divisions at the main camp. After three days of enduring, Beloput could no longer tolerate it and sent his own guards to chase the queen away from the camp and forcefully escort her back to the dominion. When the guards who were sent on the escort returned, they said that the queen cursed the commander all the way for stopping her from earning money.
Because of that, Beloput also offended Woryo, who was a member of the house and the nephew of the duke himself. Beloput's father, on the other hand, was but a normal servant and it was only because Beloput had gotten to know the duke in his youth and they got along that he managed to reach his current position. Even though he was both a gold-ranked knight and commander of Third Frontier, not many descendants of the house thought highly of him, some even called him 'servant-spawn' in private.
Before, Beloput would ignore Woryo's actions of sneaking away more resources than he ought to have. As long as the logistics unit could support the legion well enough, it was best to maintain a cordial relationship with him. But now, Woryo had gone too far and hoarded the resources that were due to be sent to the main camp in retaliation, using lack of manpower as an excuse, causing the soldiers of the main camp to complain nonstop to vent their frustration. That severely impacted the morale of the troops.
Beloput was also incredibly mad at that. Even though this was a crucial time for House Fisablen, a descendant of the house like Woryo still ignored the needs of the house to prioritize his own little gains. He even used the opportunity to delay the resources to get back at Beloput in a complete act of idiocy. However, Beloput couldn't just flip out against a person from the Fisablen house lest he offends the rest of them. So, he had Seirya warn Woryo to tone it down a bit.
"Your Grace, it's already the third snowfall and the snow on the ground is almost half a foot thick. I think it's time we departed."
"You're right, it is time for us to give Third Frontier Legion the final blow."
"Your Grace, it's fine if you want to come along, but I refuse to let you be in the vanguard. We'd rather die than let you do that."
"Hehe, Pog, you dare threaten me?"
"Your Grace, I insist you not rush to the front if you come with us. Everyone else holds the same opinion. The house is only stable with you around. It's fine if we're gone, but the house can never do without you, Your Grace."
"Alright, I'll stay at the back like you wish."
On the 23rd day of the 12th month of Year 1778, House Norton's Firmrock Legion traveled through the stormy, snowy weather to launch a surprise attack on the rear side of Boblige. In one go, they conquered the completely unprepared logistics camp of Third Frontier Legion and forced the four other divisions at the main camp to surrender. The commander of Third Frontier, Galini Beloput, publicly committed suicide after surrendering. His last words were: 'I have failed the Lord and shall atone for my sins with death!'