"Their movements are still within our expectations. A few days ago, Fiercetiger Loze sent a messenger to report that a number of scouts showed up in the area of the Black Forest near Firmrock Castle and Hidebull Fort. Apart from breaking through in that part of the forest, there's no way they can enter our dominion. Even though they number 100 thousand, they're not worth any concern to be honest. Fighting them feels like bullying little children... Victory won't even be sweet!" complained Lorist as he washed his face.
"Well," mused Terman, scratching his head.
Lorist was right. Apart from numbers and dumb courage, the barbarians were inferior to the household's men in almost every way. During the assaults over the last couple of days, Terman got the feeling the barbarians posed even less of a threat than the magic beast wave had in its heyday. He also felt the wall was far too long. Only two brigades, approximately six thousand people, manned them. Strictly speaking, that was an incredibly weak force. Should the barbarians split up into thousand-man units and spread their attack out along the full 35-kilometers of the wall, they wouldn't have had such a hard time trying to breach it. However, simple-minded as they were, they used units of ten thousand instead to attack five different spots which weren't spread out either. They were really stupid beyond belief.
The two brigades hurriedly brought their longbows and carroballistae to the attacked areas. They just needed a thousand men to deal with the assaults. They used their ranged weapons' firepower to start a massacre, inflicting huge casualties on the attackers. One time, Terman and a number of other knights even felt a little pity for them.
Lorist took him to a battlement on the wall and observed for a good while with his telescope.
"When did the barbarians split up?"
Terman gave it some thought.
"It should've been around five this morning, at dawn. The soldiers on duty noticed some movement among the enemy's ranks. They believed they were trying to attack, so they reported it to me. I headed up the wall and realized the barbarians in the camp had decreased when day broke. I walked along the walls but I could only see half as many as before."
"Alright," Lorist said as he tossed his telescope to a nearby guard, "Let's wait until the night and see. If the barbarian army truly split up, there won't be that many bonfires tonight. We'll wait for the rest of the day. If the number of bonfires is really fewer, we can confirm they've split up. I will lead Ragebear Knights to Tortoise Hill Fort and launch an attack there. We'll take a detour around Azure River to launch an attack from the rear and put an end to this."
The barbarians left behind didn't know about intrigue or misdirection. They lit only a fourth of the bonfires compared to the previous evening when night fell. Everyone was now certain in their victory the moment they saw this. The next day, Lorist took a regiment and launched an attack from Tortoise Hill Fort at the rear of the barbarian army, accompanied Ragebear Knights.
The surprise attack went without trouble. None of them expected the enemy to emerge from the safety of their walls and attack them. The ten-odd chieftains all thought the walls' defenders were the entire enemy force, given how they only dared to retaliate from the walls' safety.
Even though they weren't well-informed, the chieftains knew they couldn't rely on their advantage in numbers. The brave barbarian warriors' blood shouldn't be casually spilled. Instead, they bribed the traveling flatlander merchants to guide them and soon found another route leading into the dominion. The only trouble was that it passed through the Black Forest for five kilometers.
While there were still about 50 thousand barbarian warriors left at their campsite, most of those that had set out were the young and brave. The ones that remained were either elderly or female non-combatants or the lightly injured who were saved from the walls just a few days earlier. The campsite didn't even have proper defenses. There wasn't a single fence or moat in sight. Only the injured got to sleep in simple tents made from beastskins, the rest camped in the open near their bonfires all over the forest regardless of sex or age.
When the six thousand heavily armored Ragebear Knights rode into the camp with their magnificent and armored steeds, the enemy crumbled completely. None could defend against the metal monsters. While some brave warriors sacrificed themselves to protect the others, and were trampled to minced meat, quite a number lost control of their bowels completely and cried out in agony, slumped on the ground.
The local defense soldiers launched their attack from the other side, having already made their preparations, and quickly captured a large number of barbarians. But Lorist was disappointed that he couldn't find even a single chieftain, nor was he able to kill any blademaster-level warriors. It wasn't that they weren't present. Instead, they escaped the moment they saw Ragebear Knights approach and abandoned the rest of their tribesmen.
He wasn't satisfied, even after a sweep of the entire battlefield, and led Ragebear Knights to attack Twinmount Town. Again, the completely unprepared enemy were completely defeated. This time around, Lorist finally saw blood. As they were fighting in a town, the knights only took care of sealing off the exits while Lorist brought a thousand guards with him inside. They quickly chased the barbarians out of the houses and made obedient captives of them.
Though Twinmount Town was supposed to be the barbarians' supply center, Lorist didn't get much, mostly some herbs and miscellaneous produce from the mountain range, most of the latter was kudzu roots. They were probably the emergency rations. Usually, each warrior would carry seven days' worth of food with him into battle. If he ran out, he would forage for food wherever he was. Unless the situation was dire, the tribes didn't need to supply their warriors with food or weapons. Apart from medicines, the barbarians got everything through pillaging. It was a sign of incompetence, a blotch on his reputation and character, for a barbarian to be unable to forage for his own food.
That was why the ones defending Twinmount Town were mostly slaves, punished barbarian warriors, or barbarians too young or old to be of much use in battle, Under Lorist's savage assault, the thousand crumbled with a touch. They didn't manage to cause Lorist many casualties before they were taken captive.
"Retreat and bring the captives and spoils along. We will return to Hidebull Fort. We'll have to rush to Fiercetiger Loze to exterminate the enemy that split off," ordered Lorist.
Along the path connecting Firmrock and Maplewoods was a lake formed from an underground fountain. The lake was deep, but rather small, and its water was incredibly refreshing. Many passers-by favored it as a resting spot. This part of Black Forest was also where Lorist met the group of mountain barbarian cavalrymen when he first got back to the dominion.
The warriors that split off finally passed through the forest after four days of travel and appeared near the lake. It was soon surrounded as one barbarian after another emerged from the trees. It was only to be expected, they were tired and thirsty after four days' travel. The most crucial part was that that part of the forest was drier than the rest. There were no streams or springs nearby. They were only able to get a little water by digging deep in the mud or biting into bitter leaves. Now that such an alluring lake was right in front of them the moment they emerged from the forest, they jumped with joy.
Even though there were about 30 thousand or cavalry among the troupe of 70 thousand, they traveled at the rear with the chieftains and the other warriors of high status. The cavalry had to dismount and lead their horses through the forest and could only mount again after they were near the forest's edge.
After the chieftains and high-status barbarians exited the forest, warriors that had earlier stepped aside to make a path for them. The moment he drank some of the refreshing lake water, the commander of the army, chief of the Habibaba and the Jambassen, nodded with satisfaction.
"This is very refreshing water. But the lake's quite small. Will it be enough for everyone?"
A person dressed like a merchant replied respectfully, "Revered and undefeated Great Jambassen, I've traveled this route many times and I know this lake well. Don't worry about whether there'll be enough water. There's a fountain beneath the lake and the water level will be retained no matter how much you drink. I even dare to swear on my life."
"Hahaha," the Great Jambassen said with a hearty laugh, "You're a pretty decent fellow for bringing us through such a nice route. Um, what are you called again? Whatever, it's not like I can easily remember the names of you flatlanders. Don't worry, I'll reward you with gold for leading the way. So, is this the core of the Norton dominion?"
"Revered and strong Great Jambassen, thank you so much for your generosity. Your humble and loyal servant pays his respects. That is right, this is the center of the Norton dominion. To the south is Firmrock Castle, to the north is Poplar Town and Maplewoods, to the west is a settlement called Felicitas with seven towns and hundreds of villages. Apart from Firmrock Castle, the other places are rather weakly defended. House Norton's forces are mostly gathered at Winston and Southern to fight against another duke, the very duke that had your fellow tribesmen from the grasslands pay a visit to you. That's why the soldiers defending those towns and villages will not be able to handle your brave warriors. They are weak and helpless maidens lying on the ground, waiting for you to conquer."
The merchant named Benlaihez bowed respectfully. He was a merchant captured by the Habibaba during the previous year's summer whilst traveling. Given the choice between the bloody axe and gold, he picked the latter and agreed to guide them. As he had stayed in the mountains for quite a while, he wasn't aware of the current situation of the house, nor of Lorist and his forces' return.
The merchant's words made the rest of the barbarians laugh. The Great Jambassen, in particular, laughed so hard he couldn't catch his breath.
"You... Ben-whatsyourface... You really have a way with words... Like helpless maidens... Hahaha. I like these words. But as it's already evening, the sky should be darkening soon. My warriors have traveled for a good couple of days. Let's rest here for now. We'll eat well, refresh ourselves and rest. Tomorrow, the helpless maidens will be ours to conquer. Ahahaha..."
The Great Jambassen's words prompted a round of applause. Soon, the bonfires were lit and the barbarians brought out the dried food they carried with them and began to dine and enjoy the delicious lakewater.
All of a sudden, an ear-piercing horn sounded. Loud drumming echoed in from all directions. The warriors all stood up, dazed, and watched as the faintly visible black banner with a golden tiger with two wings entered their sights.
The merchant jumped with shock.
"Impossible! Why is Tigersoar here?! No, it's an ambush! Run!" yelled he.
"Run?!" mused the Great Jambassen as he clutched the merchant's clothes, "You led us into this trap! You ought to die!"
He killed the merchant with a stab of his sword before he roared.
"What are you panicking for?! Everyone, get together and get ready to attack! Don't forget! We are 70 thousand!"
Tigersoar didn't give them much time to prepare, however. The carroballistae launched began firing. Bolts rained down on their ranks. Men fell in droves. While the barbarians did indeed have 70 thousand, 70 thousand warriors who weren't able to approach their enemy were nothing but targets. Soon, they began retreating slowly. The carroballistae division pressed its assault. Under Dulles's command, the carroballistae fired two bolts for every two paces they moved forward, maintaining a constant wave of pressure on the barbarian army. When the four thousand plus barbarian cavalry were dead, the army collapsed completely. They all turned and ran, wanting to leave the storm as behind them as possible.
But when the forest entered their sights, they soon realized there were three rows of metal-armored mounted monstrosities.
"Attack!" bellowed Terman.
The horn was blown and Dulles ordered his men to stop firing and stand by. At that moment, Loze came from the left and Pajik from the right. Each led about six thousand metal-armored spear cavalry. They charged into the mess' flanks.
Lorist drew his sword and pointed it at the chieftains and high-status warriors wearing exquisite feather headgear and roared.
"There they are! Kill them all!"
On the 4th day of the 5th month, Year 1779, House Norton's forces successfully defeated the 100-plus-thousand strong mountain barbarian army and obtained countless captives.