Here's the 3rd chapter of the week. Happy reading!
With Boblige conquered, Iblia's conquest was complete. Lorist stood on one of the cliffs behind Boblige and looked at the snow-covered fields, smiling in a good mood. The old fox, Duke Fisablen, had finally been locked in a cage. From that moment on, House Fisablen's road to hegemony was cut off and they would not pose a threat to House Norton again.
Jaeger and House Fisablen's Frontier Legions might be entangled in Wild Husbandry for a good while. Or, House Fisablen might join with the barbarians to attack Southern's border. There was also a chance the duke himself would find a way to launch a surprise attack on Pedro. But, the general situation was now set in stone. No matter how hard House Fisablen tries, they could not win anymore. Even if they manage to sneak a few victories, those couldn't do much harm to the Nortons overall. As long as the flow of resources and products was regulated closely, the house might become just another barbarian clan like so many already on the plains.
The only thing left is to see whether the old fox knows what's good for him, thought Lorist gleefully.
Howard, standing beside him, was already at his limits; he could no longer resist the cold and pulled his cloak tighter.
"We ought to go back, Your Grace. What's so interesting about the white abyss? The wind's so strong too."
The logistics camp was actually a renovated bandit stronghold. The logistics officer, Woryo, had ordered his soldiers to build a luxurious three-story-tall stone house for him. It was now Lorist's chambers. The former owner was kept in the stinky barns with the soldiers he loathed and on which he looked down. He was now just a Norton captive. He'd been given a decent pummelling during the first night. His bruises were so bad it made it difficult to look at him.
Howard added another piece of pine wood to the fire. He added some macks and water into the copper kettle and hung it over the fire. Drinking a cup of steaming-hot macks on a winter day was a bliss that filled the hearts of many with warmth and comfort.
Els kicked his feet at the entrance before he wiped some snow and mud off his boots on the rug. Once satisfied that his shoes were clean enough, he headed for the second floor.
"Your Grace, Seirya arrived."
The young Seirya no longer looked impressive and domineering. He was pale and silent as he was presented to Lorist. The things that'd happened to him over the last couple of days was a nightmare. First, House Norton's Firmrock weathered the snowstorm and appeared out of nowhere near the Boblige's rear entrance. They took the unprepared logistics camp by storm with before they encircled the main camp of Third Frontier's four other divisions. Using their ballistae which had incredible firing range for a lockdown on the various sections of the camp, no one could rush out of their lodges to launch a counterattack.
After enduring and starving for two days, Potterfang's threat to burn the place down finally forced Beloput to have his men drop their weapons and surrender. He committed suicide publicly soon after, saying that he had failed the duke's trust and expressing his desire to make up for his sins with his life.
Nobody reacted in time. It all happened so quickly and without warning. Seirya thus had to watch his commander, his respected uncle, fall -- his throat spurting blood everywhere and staining the ground red. He was completely frozen. They had lost just like that. There was no grand charge into battle, no great faceoff on the battlefield, no exciting exchange of blows and blocks, nothing. Boblige was lost just like that, and Third Frontier had surrendered to the enemy. It was a complete defeat where all the soldiers were wiped out. The commander decided to take responsibility for the shame of surrendering by taking his life. What was left for him to do?
Over the past two days, he'd lived like a walking corpse. He ducked in his corner, not caring about anything, neither drinking nor eating, until he was brought before Lorist.
"So you're Fisablen Seirya?" asked the man as he looked at him curiously.
Seirya acted as if he heard nothing.
Els patted on his shoulder and yelled, "Hey, are you deaf?! We're talking about you!"
Seirya snapped out of his stupor.
"Ah, what did you say?"
The man smiled and repeated his question.
"Yes. I'm Fisablen Seirya, a member of House Fisablen. Do your worst, I'm not afraid," said Seirya emotionally.
"I don't need you to do anything. Don't worry, even though House Fisablen is our enemy, we will follow the traditions and customs and the code of chivalry. Now you're our captive, I want to ask you something..."
"In your dreams! I will not betray the house!" exclaimed Seirya resolutely.
"Hahahaha!" the man laughed.
He pointed at a youth standing nearby buy, whom in response poured some macks and offered it to Seirya.
"Nobody wants you to betray your house. We're not really interested in House Fisablen any longer anyway. It's simple: you lost. The war's outcome is certain no matter what you try."
"You launched an underhanded surprise attack. I'll never accept this."
"Whether you accept it or not isn't my concern. The only goal of war is to emerge victorious. Strategy and tactics are of utmost importance. Didn't the duke teach you something this basic? Don't tell me your duke fights his enemies one-on-one honorably all the time? If that was the case, House Fisablen would not even be worth my mention," said the man in a calm tone.
Seirya blushed and realized he had uttered something foolish. The reason Duke Fisablen was given the title of Wargod of the Plains was that he often fought with the odds and numbers stacked against him. Tactics like surprise attacks, ambushes, and assaults were milked dry of their efficiency. In the end, it all culminated in new territory for the empire, as well as the house's growth into one of the strongest in the northeastern area.
"Drink some macks first," said the man warmly, "I asked you to come here to fulfill a plea your commander, Galini Beloput, asked of me before his suicide."
"Commander?" asked Seirya, suspicious.
"Yes," Lorist nodded and said, "Before your commander ordered you to surrender, he made three requests, two of which I've agreed to. But I didn't think he'd actually be that stubborn. Even though we conquered the camp and you had no chance, he would only order your surrender after he was assured you'd be spared."
"He... He made requests?" asked Seirya.
"He was an honorable knight, determined and persevering. He single-handedly bore the responsibility for your loss. He was no coward, but a knight and military officer of the highest caliber. I admire his courage and feel pity for House Fisablen's loss of such a magnificent and heroic knight," continued the man solemnly as he stood up.
On Grindia, suicide was considered an act of cowardice. Regardless of what god or goddess one believed in, none of them advocated suicide. For example, the warriors and knights that were believers of Singwa considered suicide humiliating and cowardly. Back when Gold-ranked Knight Chevany, a subordinate of Duke Loggins, lost the battle against the Nortons, he chose to die by Lorist's blade for the same reason. He couldn't commit suicide by his own hand as believers of the war god believed the souls of suiciders wouldn't enter the god's kingdom.
"Thank you..." Seirya finally lowered his head as tears fell uncontrollably.
The praise his enemy offered in the honor of his commander had finally opened his heart. His vexation finally melted away. Instead, he even felt a sense of pride over what his uncle had done.
After crying for a good while, he muffled his voice. The young man passed him a hot towel. After he'd cleaned his face, he stood up and saluted his captor.
"Lord Norton, may I know what three requests our commander made?"
"Sure. I'd tell you even if you hadn't asked. Sit down and have some macks. I heard you haven't eaten anything for two days. I'm concerned for your health. If you continue like this, you won't complete the mission your commander left for you," said Lord Norton as he gestured to the sofa.
"The first request was that news of your surrender be delivered to the duke. He asked that you be the envoy to deliver the news. Given that the snow's made it impossible to travel, he agreed for the news to be sent after the rainy season passes. You may pick twelve soldiers to go with you. We'll provide the mounts and supplies. Also, keep your commander's remains well. You'll have a carriage to take it with you."
Seirya teared up again.
"Your commander also asked I let your house ransom the knights and attendants. I must admit he duped me into agreeing. I thought he was referring to the Fisablen knights and attendants in Third Frontier. He only revealed he meant everyone in the in the legion after I'd agreed. I'm pretty mad about it, but I am a noble, so I'll keep my word. As long as the house can afford the ransom, I will let them go."
Seirya raised his head proudly when he heard this. His commander had duped Norton Lorist!
Such a child... Lorist smiled, What point is there to keeping the knights here? They would never betray their house unless they were abandoned. If they did they'd have no honor to live by left. Even I won't recruit a knight who so easily betrays his oath. Your house controls the greeks, so I can make a nice trade.
"I didn't agree to his third request, though. I won't let the house ransom the rest of the legion. It's impossible. I won't have the duke rebuild his forces so easily. Beloput tried to convince me they'd only be used to deal with barbarians. He hoped I'd let them go so they could return to their families. I may be benevolent, but I'm not naïve. I did promise to let them go when House Fisablen surrenders or signs a peace treaty, though."
Lorist stared intently at the kid.
"That's all I have to say. You may pick 12 soldiers to follow you back. You don't have to stay with the captives either. Your treatment and rations will be same as that of my men. If you have any additional requests, feel free to bring them up and I will do my best to assist you."
"I only have one request. I wish to leave before the rainy season. May I go after the snow lifts in the second month next year?" asked the kid, standing up.
Lorist observed his resolute expression… and nodded.
"As you wish."
Snow usually stopped falling in the 2nd month of the year. However, the ground would still be frozen and muddy -- hard to travel on. People and horses slip and fall easily in such conditions. Despite that, Seirya insisted on returning early and Lorist didn't stop him. It was his business if he wanted to look for trouble.
After Seirya left, Potterfang and Malek entered the room. Lorist greeted and had them take seats.
"You should know what comes next not that we have Boblige, right?" began he as he tapped on the map of Southern that hung on the wall, "We'll hold Southern against the barbarians. This won't be a quick operation. It'll likely continue for several years. Firmrock is the house's best legion, there's no unit better suited for this operation."
Potterfang and Malek stood up straight.
"Worry not, Your Grace. Firmrock won't let the Fisablens into Southern."
Lorist had the two sit down again.
"With Boblige in our hands, the defenses in Southern will have more support. The house can now transfer Tigersoar there, it doesn't have to station as many men here. House Kenmays's heavy-armored division and Shazin's light cavalry and light infantry divisions can return as well. I will leave everything here to Firmrock. Naturally, Count Felim's Pegasus will aid you. I'm putting them under your command.
"Also, I will replenish Firmrock's two thunderbolt brigades. You may use the 23rd local defense brigade's tactic of setting fire to shield carts. I won't say much more. The rest is up to you.
"I will return to The Northlands in a few days; there's much to deal with there. Set up proper defenses, I don't want any mistakes, understood?"
"We will not disappoint you, Your Grace."