We burned everything. Fields, bushes, gardens, streets, the walls, the castle, everything went up in flames. Aunt Marie's shop down by the plaza was the first building in the area set alight. I've never seen flames that tall before. Even Uncle's small woodwork workshop was burned. Mother and father's old inn wasn't spared either. I never thought I'd see my city burn. The streets were already black with soot when we set the last buildings on fire. I snuck away to set fire to my house myself. I won't let anyone else do it.
Sarah and the kids are okay. She said they're heading to The Northlands to stay with her aunt and uncle. They settled somewhere near the new capital. Rose Palace, I think the place was called. Her uncle is one of the gardeners and her aunt serves as a scullery maid.
This isn't my war anymore. I fought to protect my home, but it's gone now. I was willing to die for my wife and kids, but they've left now. I won't die for a duke's pride, especially not when he's the one who had me burn down my home.
I think I'll slip away once we reach Handra and join them.
~ Unknown soldier's diary
The wooden boards used as blockades had been converted into solid wooden bridges across the trenches. If the defenders knew they were the result of inspiration derived from a whim by the heavy-armored soldiers, they would vomit blood with rage. After conquering the front part of the formation, Auguslo had arranged for the boards to be brought over so the soldiers could set up simple camps and outposts for the night watch. They would then be removed and used as bridges when the flooding came.
One Whitelion captain was too troubled by the network of trenches. Their plan was to attack during the day and hole up during the night. The captain believed not sealing the trenches up and building their simple camps would invite attack from the moles. They just had to use fuel and fire arrows to set their camps on fire and disturb his troops for the rest of the night. However, Auguslo's orders were clear. They were not to block the trenches.
Though the captain didn't know the flood's timescale, he wasn't willing to let his soldiers lose their lives in a night attack. After troubling himself over it, he gathered his lieutenants to discuss what they could do to deal with the duchies' moles and curb their night attacks. Just as they were scratching their heads over their lack of ideas, one of the men on watch mentioned that the wooden boards were roughly as wide as the trenches. They could just use them to block the trenches.
The captain was elated. He rewarded the man heavily and tried to ascertain how he'd come up with the idea. The man said shyly that he'd gotten into trouble while transporting some of the boards. He'd startled nearby horses. His fright at their loud baying made his drop the boards. They fell into the trench and dug into the ground. It took him quite a while's struggle to get them out. His current shift was his punishment. When he overheard their discussion, he was reminded of how much he'd struggled.
Thus the birth of the tactic that contributed to in the demise of thousands of Forund's soldiers. Had the men not been distracted by the pressure the use of the boards allowed their enemy to put on them, they would have discovered Auguslo's ploy long before it could have come to fruition. It was far too obvious and easy to detect, no amount of effort on their part could have hidden it. Unfortunately, the men were pre-occupied with countering the boards.
The sky brightened. As the water filled the trenches, the soldiers of Whitelion successfully arrived at the first of the plazlike excavations. The men were broken, wet, and exhausted; they offered little resistance. Not that they really could, most were unarmed - having dropped their weapons and armor to get out of the trenches faster. Even had they been armed, they did not have the willpower or presence of mind to fight. They had watched their friends die, watched their corpses pulled along by the water down the trenches. They had been mere meters away as their comrades drowned, but had been unable to do anything. Soon, many were captured.
Upon receiving the report, Auguslo, Lorist, and Fisablen made their way over. They were also shocked to see the large, corpse-filled trenches. They had thought the flooding would only force the moles up to the surface, they had not expected the near ten thousand blue corpses.
They only realized what had been happened when they were informed of Forund's planned counterattack. Such a huge coincidence. The enemy were to blame for their own misfortune. Their timing was just horrible. The eight 'plazas' had turned into corpse ponds. All-in-all just over 20 thousand lay entombed beneath them. Only those near their edges had managed to escape, the rest were now resting eternally. Viscount Sanskro's plaza had had the worst of it. Only 524 of the three thousand waiting in the plaza had escaped.
The viscount's body had been retrieved. Auguslo had a proper wooden casket made for this enemy before his corpse was sent back to his family. Whitelion's men were currently still looking for survivors and overseeing the corpses' retrieval.
One filled carriage after another passed by on the wooden road. Men were constantly filling in the gaps between the boards so the carriages wouldn't get stuck. The road was set to be extended, they were just waiting for more material to arrive.
"Your Majesty, Your Majesty..." an officer cried as he hurriedly made a knight's salute, "The water has stopped further ahead..."
"Any idea why?" asked Auguslo.
"The trenches end. The water overflowed and flooded a few low-lying areas. The scouts say the area beyond the network is three-kilometer-wide flatland. There's another network beyond that, though."
Forund must have either not had enough time or not enough manpower to connect the two networks. Either that or they had been using the flat area to house and train troops.
"Let's take a look," said Auguslo as he waved the horsewhip in his hand and rode towards the road. Lorist, Fisablen, and a few others followed.
"What should we do?" asked the king after his inspection.
"We'll dig another trench and connect the two. First we have to seal the reservoir again, otherwise, we'll turn this whole region into a marsh. We'll conquer this network as well. The enemy will be prepared for us this time. We won't take out thousands again," replied Lorist jokingly.
"Hahaha," Fisablen laughed heartily, "They were so enthusiastic about digging trenches and erecting mud walls. But now they rush to demolish what they've built! Talk about turning security into fear! Their waste of energy is really entertaining. If only I could see their faces... Hahaha..."
Everyone broke into a fit of laughter. The world's changes were truly wondrous. They had thought they would have to break their backs over refilling the trenches while Forund's troops dug more. But now the tables had turned completely. Now they were the ones digging trenches and the enemy were the ones filling them in.
"Very well. Duke Kenmays, cooperate with Whitelion in your attack. Take at least ten trench-lines. Your use of the wooden boards was truly genius. Reward whoever came up with the idea well."
Kenmays was all smiles.
"Naturally. The house will promote him and use him well."
Auguslo nodded before he turned to his guards.
"Have the logistics team speed up. We need a lot more boards. Also, erect a temporary campsite. Whitelion and the heavy-armored division will rest in shifts. Also, tighten our defenses, I don't want any counterattacks."
"Understood, Your Majesty."
Duke Forund stared at the old, algae-filled walls of his castle. It had been built over seventeen years and had since weathered centuries of war. Who knew how many plots it was privy to, how many life-changing decisions and declarations it had heard.
Its name, Summer Palace, had been given during the time of the Krissen Empire. It had been one of the most famous palaces in the empire. The duke had lived in it his whole life. His smile and silhouette had been traced in every nook and cranny, secret or otherwise, of the place.
"Your Grace, we need to go," reminded the captain beside him.
The old man withdrew his unwilling gaze with a sigh.
"I must be the most unfilial descendant. I'm actually abandoning my house's pride and dominion, a dominion over which we've reigned for nearly three centuries, to escape to Handra. If my ancestors were to know of this, they'd definitely curse me."
"Your Grace isn't to be blamed for this, Andinaq's king is. He is far too sly! He actually flooded the network! The trenches we had the whole duchy dig..."
The captain felt his oratory skills rather lacking. He had wanted to console the duke, but had, instead, taken the conversation in an uncomfortable direction. The old man smiled bitterly.
"You've said enough, Rikol. Everyone knows I spent three months rallying the civilians to dig those trenches. It's become a huge joke. Why didn't it occur to me that a simple flood could lay waste to my effort? Poor Sanskro... He should know I wouldn't blame him for coming up with the idea. He shouldn't have offed himself."
The old man waved for the captain to stay quiet. He turned to look at the lonely castle. It was no longer the merry palace in his memories. It stood now as a lonely tower, gazing out over a deserted landscape.` He sighed again and cleared his mind.
"Let's go. I hope I can come back again, to see this place as happy as it used to be. It shouldn't die like this, it's not right. My ancestors built it to be a place of happiness, not the solemn husk it is now..."
Upon stepping out the castle, the old man mounted his white horse. Several cavalrymen came galloping up the road. One dismounted and knelt before the duke.
"Your Grace, Sir Nuori refused to withdraw. He told me to tell you that there's no way Andinaq can deal with the mountain legion. He won't budge. He says he'll show the people you haven't abandoned them."
The old duke waved the guard up.
"It's no surprise. Whatever, winter is near. Auguslo won't defeat Nuori. Even if he waits till next year, Nuori should have more than enough room to hold them back. He doesn't lack for resources either. I knew he wouldn't withdraw without fighting. Leave him be."
He turned to the captain.
"Have everyone else left?"
"Yes, Your Grace. The first young master was the first to leave. He took everyone else from the household, the resources, and the garrison with him seven days ago. The second young master and Sir Rimad left for Cuda. They await Your Grace. The guard regimen is all that's left."
"Alright, let's go. Any messengers from Belias?"
"No. Didn't Sir Belias send a messenger over yesterday? He said he can only hold on for another two days. Andinaq's advance can't be stopped. The fifth garrison legion can't resist anymore. They're suffering heavy casualties. Sir Belias had to use the threat of heavy military punishment to stop the men from deserting. He hopes you will leave Paetro as soon as possible."
The old duke shook his head with a bitter smile.
"Alright. We'll leave. I hope Belias will make it back safely."
The castle's exit connected to the main street of the duke's manor. More and more citizens gathered on the sides of the road as horses continued to pass by. Everyone knew Andinaq was about to arrive. Though the duke had them dig trenches for three months, they still couldn't stop the enemy. Messengers from all over had come to the city to request help. To prevent the citizens from falling victim, the duke had decided to give up on the city and leave for Handra.
Everyone began tearing up. The atmosphere was grievous. Everyone stared at the duke until the procession vanished in the distance. Just as they were about to arrive at the southern gate, the duke pulled on the reins. A fat silhouette emerged from the crowd and made his way to the duke.
The duke smiled.
"Maritt, my friend, I am leaving the city to you after I leave. I hope you can keep everyone safe. It is my hope to meet you again in the future."
"I will do my best, Your Grace," said the man with a bow.
He was a merchant who had dealings with the salt merchant committee and had even visited Duke Kenmays before. The duke had allowed him to represent the citizens in their surrender to Andinaq. He had hoped military discipline would be upheld and that the citizens wouldn't come to harm.
"Maritt, two-thirds of the food stores are still in the castle's storehouse. If Andinaq wants it, they can take it."
"Your Grace, this is...?"
The duke smiled bitterly again.
"Maritt, Andinaq is more than 300 thousand strong. If they don't have enough food, they will raid the farmers and commoners. With those resources, our citizens wouldn't come to grave harm."
Maritt bowed again.
"Thank you, Your Grace."
At the same time, in the southern district of Freimox, Farkel's capital, Duke Farkel's eyes were completely bloodshot.
"The people have already been chased out! Why hasn't it begun yet? Start burning! Burn this place to the ground! I will not let that blasted Auguslo have my city and castle! Quick burn everything!"
The wind helped the flame along. Soon, the entirety of Freimox was submerged. Tens of thousands of commoners - chased out of the city - wailed as they watched their lives crumble to ashes.
Completely unmoved, The duke turned his horse around.
"We leave! Head for Handra! We still have an army! We have all the time to tussle with that bastard when we reach Handra. He wants to eliminate our duchies? It won't be so easy!"