Here's the second release of the week!
The snow began to melt during the second month. Both large routes and small paths from Firmrock Castle to the eastern Northlands were muddy and hard to travel on. That was also why Lorist wished to redo The Northlands' whole transportation infrastructure. At the very least, the roads had to be usable, unlike the current mud-rivers they were. This was how most roads on the entire continent were. A merchant's most important tool, a tool he had to have with him at all times, was a spade. A spade so he could fill up the holes in the road on the fly to keep his convoy moving.
House Kenmays hadn't scrambled to build a massive city when they took control of the eastern part of the Northlands, there were currently still just two relatively prosperous towns there. One was Singe, on the border with Magical Dragon Mountain Range, where the barbarians traded. It was filled with taverns, whose customers were exactly these barbarians. You could even see drunk barbarians snoring away on the sides of roads at times during the night.
The other was Whiterock. It used to be a small village, named after a huge white rock near the town. It had caught its new lords' attention because it was the area's settlement nearest the suspension bridge to over the border river between it and Wild Husbandry. It was made the salt merchant committee's headquarters and expanded with several dozen warehouses, carriages garages, and lodgings for the committee's employees. The village soon grew into a proper town.
When their dominion was moved, House Kenmays moved to Sidgler and took more than 200 thousand citizens with them. A small number of Sigler citizens were relocated to this part of the Northlands. There were less than 50 thousand. This was mostly because most of those moved to the Northlands were moved into the three new settlements in the southern Northlands. The place was reasonably developed already, it just lacked population.
While House Kenmays took many citizens with them when they left, they left the traders that dealt with the barbarians and also those that maintained the warehouses in Whiterock Town. It was actually a request made in the name of the salt merchant committee. Given that the Nortons had a stake in the committee as well, they would receive quite a bit of profit from their operations, so they agreed quickly.
Jaeger's main camp was currently there. When they received word of Lorist's visit, Waxima, the legion's temporary commander, rushed out of the camp to receive him. He'd taken half a year to recover from his failed attempt at breaking through to the gold rank two years already and was currently once again at the peak of three-star silver-rank. He was likely to make his next attempt soon.
Lorist had contemplated a long time before letting Waxima take charge of cleaning up the mess that was Jaeger. He'd always been a loyal, courageous, and responsible knight. While he wasn't much of a talker, he was sincere, accountable, and frequently demonstrated his worth with his actions. Given that Jaeger had suffered a huge defeat and their morale was low, they needed a knight like Waxima to slowly build themselves back up.
And he'd not let Lorist down. Even though he hadn't been in the position for a whole month yet, Lorist noticed the camp was incredibly orderly and clean, everything was in order. The men carried out their various duties efficiently. No one looked down or depressed; on the contrary, everyone seemed polite and energetic. They had a very hopeful atmosphere about them.
Lorist did notice something out of place, though. Everyone wore a single non-uniform-code-abiding item, a single white feather.
"The feathers are to remind everyone of the brothers they lost, to remind everyone of the humiliation they were put through. The feathers must be stained red with the blood of our enemies to wipe this shame away. It is also to honor the sacrifices of their fallen comrades that has given them a chance to take revenge sometime in the future. These martyrs are worthy of being remembered for their sacrifice, and their valor," Waxima explained when Lorist inquired.
"You're right. But I don't think Jaeger suffered a huge loss. Three of our divisions faced off against 100 thousand grassland barbarian cavalrymen. It wasn't just any confrontation either, they were part of a far bigger, organized offensive. Yes, the casualties were great, but Jaeger should be proud of their performance in spite of these odds."
"A loss is a loss no matter how you sugarcoat it, Your Grace. Jaeger was defeated because it was too careless. They thought they could roam Wild Husbandry unhindered and neglected to survey the area properly. Even after they discovered some barbarian scouts, they thought they were only a small cavalry unit and proceeded to attack. That was why they fell for the ambush. Commander Yuriy who set out to reinforce them didn't first try to find out why they'd been put in such dire straits first, he just charged in blindly.
"I questioned the surviving soldiers and have written a detailed report. I'm not trying to pin the fault on anyone. I just want this valuable lesson to be learned and remembered so our men don't make this mistake again. Jaeger became arrogant with their power and lowered their guard, they underestimated their enemy, which gave them the chance to catch the legion off guard. Had they stayed vigilant, had they stuck to procedure, they wouldn't have been caught as they were."
Lorist was rendered speechless. He understood Waxima wasn't trying to make him look bad, though; he was just stating the facts as they were. He appreciated his frankness even more.
He responded after a moment of silence.
"Apologies, I was wrong. Your words ring true. A failure is a failure. We shouldn't try to underplay it just because we had to sacrifice many of our men. However, I'd like to know why the scouts weren't sent out when the third division was out on a mission."
"Well, according to third division's men we managed to rescue, division leader Pete was worried the scouts wouldn't be enough to take the unit on. He thought it would lead to unnecessary casualties. He only sent the scouts out as far as they could be covered by the carroballista.
"Sir Pete died on the battlefield. I am unfit to judge whether his decisions were correct, but I believe he didn't realize there were 100 thousand enemies waiting for them. He just wanted to keep the men safe. Third Division was newly formed at the time, and heading out to Wild Husbandry was supposed to be training for them. He had to think carefully about pitting greenhorns against barbarian cavalry.
"Taking into account that Third Division brought two carroballista brigades, it's obvious he believed the small group of enemies weren't anything to be afraid of. They couldn't stand against his men. So, he only sent the scouts around three hundred meters ahead so they would still be protected by the carroballistae. That's how they were eventually encircled."
Waxima's theory sounded rather reasonable but Pete had died so there was no way to hold anyone accountable. He just had to accept the explanation without comment and continue surveying the campsite.
Dinner was held in the mess hall. Lorist dressed like all the other soldiers and dined together with them. Those that dined with him were so elated and excited they almost forgot to eat. He chatted with them and asked about their families. He didn't forget to motivate them and tell them how much the house was prioritizing the legion's reconstruction either. He hoped they would stand strong again soon and wash their humiliation away.
During the night, he visited Josk and Yuriy, who were still recovering from their injuries. The herbalist in charge informed him that, while Josk's injuries were rather severe, he was recovering quite well… mainly because he had a great constitution. There was also the fact that he was rescued right after he was injured, unlike Yuriy, who continued to fight maniacally despite his injuries. By the time he was rescued, he was already at his last breath, unconscious and injured all over, with his flesh flayed and bones chipped. A couple of his battleforce circulating major nodes had also been destroyed; he was no different from a disabled person. He required help from consumption to excretion. The herbalist estimated it would take at least three or four months for his normal bodily functions to recover, and another one or two years of training before he would return to the gold rank.
Josk was already well enough to sit up.
"That damned duke set me up," he grunted, bitterly, "Even though a marksman like me can shoot enemies from a distance, I didn't think the duke would disguise himself as a normal soldier and launch a surprise attack from in their midst. I was busy looking for the leader to snipe and left the normal barbarians to the guards.
"In the end, that bastard jumped out of nowhere. Anyone who blocked his way was killed. He quickly approached me. I knew something was off when I recognized him. I fired a dozen arrows, but he blocked them all, before I turned and rode away. The duke knew he couldn't give chase, so he threw his longsword at me. Fortunately, a guard blocked it. It still pierced through him and bit into me. I fell with him. The ground shoved the damned thing right through me. I nearly fainted.
"The bastard caught up pretty quickly. A few dozen men took up positions between us to try and protect me. It was too chaotic and I lost the sword somewhere along the way. I only heard what happened to the guys that stood between us after we'd already gotten pretty far away from the battlefield."
"Dead, they're all dead…"
Josk's physical condition was good. He'd only injured his sternum and lungs and was recovering rather well. He would be right as rain in a few months. At one point during their conversation, he even proclaimed -- basically shouted -- that he would lead Jaeger back into Wild Husbandry one day and slaughter everyone who'd taken part in the attack. Seeing that he was still that spirited, Lorist stopped worrying about him.
Yuriy, however, laid in his bed like a dead man. Despite his necrotic disposition, he was alive and conscious. Tears poured out of his eyes when he saw Lorist. The latter held his hand by the bed and accompanied him for a long time. He told Yuriy there was no rush and he should prioritize recovering from his injuries first. Now that the house had forced House Fisablen back to their own dominion, and cut them off from the outside world, the duke could struggle all he wanted, but he wouldn't be standing up again anytime soon.
When Yuriy recovers, Jaeger would've been rebuilt and retrained. According to Lorist, he would accompany Yuriy to the great northeastern plains and sweep it clear of the barbarians before going to make trouble for House Fisablen. They would test themselves against Frontier to see which was the better light cavalry unit.
Lorist stayed in the camp for half a month before he returned to Firmrock Castle. Before he left, he instructed Waxima to make preparations to defend against the mountain barbarians' invasion. Though the eastern part of the Northlands probably wouldn't be attacked, it couldn't hurt them to be prepared, just in case.
Two days after he returned to the castle, the rainy season began.
After a few days of consideration, he called for Charade and Spiel.
"I'm going to reorganize the local defense legion. It will be made three legions with slightly smaller numbers. There's no need for each to have 75 thousand men, Currently, apart from The Northlands, our house also controls Delamock and Winston. Windbury and Pedro, both strategic cities in Winston, are a little short on defenses. They can't just have three sound strong brigades guarding them. The moment they are attacked, we might lose them and our house will suffer immensely for it."
Lorist took out the plan he had spent a lot of time coming up with.
Charade praised the reorganization from a strategic perspective.
"Your Grace, as the dominion's main defense force, the might of the local defense legion is indeed a little lacking. Even though it numbers 75 thousand, the dominion and influence of the house have expanded and many other places will have to be defended. The local defense legion can't handle the load.
"Even though the Northlands is the province with the largest area in the old empire, almost thrice Delamock, we only have 30 thousand men, ten brigades, stationed here. Even though each village or town has its own garrison, we still have to mobilize Tigersoar and Ragebear Knights to make sure we're safe. There's no way we can rely on the local defense legion alone to hold off the barbarians.
"If our household forces' field legions are all on excursions, what can we do in the event of another major barbarian invasion? Your Grace should increase the size of the local defense legion. From a strategic view, it needs to have at least enough power to hold off and defend against large-scale barbarian invasions like this independently."
However, Spiel, the one in charge of the household finances, expressed his objections.
"Your Grace, two-thirds of the household's budget is spent on the military! It's already going too far!"