"Civilians are not just fuel for the fire of war, but weapons as well. Just as the woodcutter's axe can be wielded against the sword, so, too, can the civilian be wielded against the soldier." ~ excerpt from A Treatise on War, by Norton Lorist
On the 6th month of Year 1781, the four houses of Andinaq and House Fisablen of the three northeastern provinces launched a sudden attack on Shabak and initiated Andinaq's invasion of the four central duchies.
On the 17th day of the 8th month, Duke Shabaj gave up on Messen to escape to Farkel. The four house alliance and House Fisablen's cavalry headed straight to Paetro, the capital of Forund. Farkel's Samora and Forund's Freewood were swept by the cavalry attack and consumed by the flames of war.
On the 7th day of the 9th month, Andinaq's king, Auguslo, led Whitelion to Jigzai to join up with the allies' forces, rallying a total of 300 thousand men.
Duke Forund mobilized the duchy's citizens to spend more than two months digging 431 trenches on the stretch of land 83 kilometers across from Freewood to Paetro. More than a thousand mud walls were also constructed to defend against the invasion. It was the first defensive battle fought mainly with trenches in the continent's history.
On the night of the 3rd day of the 11th month, after a stalemate that lasted more than a month, the Andinaq's forces flooded the trenches by diverting the Nibarak river, catching Forund's second legion completely off-guard and killing half of its men. The survivors were captured and General Sanskro, a viscount, slit his throat and fell into the water. The army was decimated. Despite the constant flooding, Forund's garrison legion didn't surrender. They relied on the low mud walls to resist the enemy's advance, suffering severe casualties in the process.
On the 24th day of the 11th month, Duke Forund announced he would give up Paetro and led the first and third legions to Handra where he would continue his resistance. Upon the insistence of General Nuori, he was left in the hilly area near Paetro to harass the advancing enemy.
Duke Forund didn't burn the years of food stored in the city's warehouses before he left, he left it to the invaders. The gesture moved the king and thanks to the duke's benevolence, the invaders kept discipline and didn't wrong the city's citizens.
Given that the trenches in Forund had been breached, the neighboring Farkel lost the protection its flank had enjoyed until then and the sparse rear defenses allowed Andinaq to quickly overwhelm it. Duke Farkel had no choice but to give up his duchy and head to Handra with his four legions.
Before he left, to show his determination to resist till the end, he swore not to let the enemy step into his city and castle. Right before winter, he chased the residents out of their homes and set fire to the castle, the duke's manor, and the city. Nearly 100 thousand commoners had no homes and became vagabonds.
Duke Farkel's irrational decision made the whole dutchy's citizens lose trust and respect for his house. The first ones to abandon the duke were the four legions he had decided to take to Handra with him. Many large-scale desertions occurred along the way to Handra. It got so bad the duke had to treat his legions like prospective criminals and monitor them intensely to prevent more from deserting.
However, by the time he arrived in Handra, nearly half of the four legions had left him. Many of the house's knights and officials had also left without a word. Those that remained didn't even fill two legions. The duke finally regretted his decisions.
-- Excerpt from "Rise of the Raging Bear Dynasty" written by Dawn Academy Head and famed military historian, Lord Professor Geisthausen Year 2317.
On the 27th day of the 11th month of Year 1781, Andinaq's forces occupied the undefended Paetro.
"So this is the fifth-ranked palace in the empire, Summer Palace?" mused Lorist as he checked the intricately decorated palace.
"Yes," Auguslo said in awe, "When I was five and seven, Royal Father brought me here for the summer. The scenery is completely different from winter. It was practically heaven on earth. Flowers were all over the place, the trees were tall and provided good shade, different tones of green grass formed a whole layered picture. It was the haven of my dreams back then. I would roll about in the grass freely to catch the goats and ponies without anyone disturbing me, unlike now, when my retainers would remind me to watch my behavior so I don't tarnish the family's reputation."
Lorist scratched his head awkwardly. He didn't think his off-handed comment would send Auguslo into a flashback. The flashback held whole group up. The king's eyes were still a little glazed. His expression suggested he was still reminiscing about his sweet forlorn childhood.
Fortunately, he snapped out of it quickly. He laughed mockingly at himself.
"Apologies for dwelling on matters passed. The impression living here left on me is truly deep."
Duke Fisablen smiled.
"No trouble, Your Majesty. We got the opportunity to regard the famed Summer Palace well with our eyes after all. Come to think of it, this is my first time here. The sight really is a little beyond description. The beauty and elegance of Summer Palace are truly befitting its reputation."
On the 33rd day of the 11th month, word of what happened in Farkel arrived. Auguslo was positively incensed. He swore he would never forget Duke Farkel and his house. The news also stated that a large number of refugees had appeared in all three of Farkel's provinces. If they weren't promptly taken care of, droves would die when winter came. The situation was dire.
Auguslo instantly summoned Lorist, Fisablen, Felim, and Shazin to discuss how they would resolve the crisis. He had originally intended for the army to spend winter in Paetro so they may begin their attack on Handra early the following year. Currently, all the duchies' dukes were gathered there. As long as their armies were defeated, the plan would be complete. He could then finally reclaim 11 of the empire's provinces.
The king didn't want Lorist and his ilk to be involved in the matter. Before he arrived with Whitelion, all five houses had made quite the mess in Shabaj. So, during the grand military council, Auguslo announced the military regulations and forbade nobles from privately raiding the lands and taking people away. He even had two nobles who disobeyed orders and secretly sent their troops to raid the nobles manors in Forund punished as an example. Not only were their noble titles revoked, they were even hanged outside the camp's gates along with the near hundred attendants who participated in the raid. It was meant to be a lesson to the other nobles.
A few days earlier, he didn't really mind when he heard Farkel was on his way to Handra with four legions and was quite glad the four dukes were gathering in one place. He wouldn't have to split his forces to deal with them one by one. They could be defeated in one fell swoop next year, far less troublesome. Even if the combined forces would number almost 300 thousand, could they resist his indomitable army?
He had thought the duke would similarly leave behind some supplies before departing and thought Whitelion could send a division to occupy the towns. He didn't imagine the duke would burn his city and render the three provinces a mess for him to clean.
He ground his teeth in anger. He was the king. He couldn't just stare wide-eyed as more than 100 thousand refugees froze and starved, could he? But sending aid was no less of a headache. It wasn't just about feeding over 100 thousand mouths. Large amounts of supplies to survive the winter would have to be prepared as well. As winter was just around the corner, how would they get those supplies in time?
The supplies left at Paetro and those transported by the logistics sections would allow the 300 thousand troops to spend winter comfortably and warmly. However, there were 100 thousand more refugees in Farkel now. Even if they heavily rationed supplies to aid the refugees, it wasn't enough.
Helping them or not wasn't a matter of ruthlessness, but rather reputation. It was Auguslo who had led his army to invade their home. Now, Duke Farkel had escaped and Auguslo was the victor. Those in the future wouldn't condemn the duke for causing disasters, but blame him, the king, for not doing anything to solve it. If it were to be chronicled in the history books, then he would be described as a ruthless ruler, not a good reputation to have.
He already had quite a bad name for killing off so many noble houses to clean up the peerage in the imperial capital. He didn't really bother about their rhetoric because he would be the one to have the last laugh. However, if the 100 thousand refugees really died, he would never shed the label of a cruel and ruthless ruler.
Such was his dilemma. Even though he wanted to help, he couldn't. But if he didn't, his reputation would suffer. Even if he were to become the emperor that successfully reunited the empire again, there would still be a blemish on his legacy.
"Your Majesty, let me get on it. Tigersoar is mainly a cavalry unit and they travel fast. They can make good use of the time," offered Lorist as he stood up to take the initiative.
"What are you planning?" asked Auguslo.
"Move the refugees," Lorist replied without hesitation, "The winter and the rainy season will last far too long. If the refugees stay outside, their survival is impossible. We can't ensure sufficient food and winter gear. Putting aside how troublesome and difficult transporting the supplies would be, we can't ensure sufficient food and clothing for so many. The consequences are beyond fathoming if our supply lines are cut. If the refugees are left to starve, it would be over for the three provinces.
"Additionally, those refugees are mostly not farmers, but city folk. They only ended up like this because that dastardly Farkel burned down their homes. Without the city, they will still be refugees all the same next year. There's also no way to build a city overnight, not to mention the ridiculous amounts of resources it would require. I believe the optimal solution is to move them to another city."
"Windbury," Lorist replied, "I'm sure you all know it used to be the largest livestock producer in the empire and the largest city in the north-east. The civil war and the chaotic conflicts thereafter have reduced it to barely more than a ruin. The city could house 300 thousand citizens. Most of the houses are empty.
"Most crucially, a good number of the refugees are artisans who have no fields to farm. They rely on their skills to make ends' meet and feed their family. They would be used to their new environment at Windbury. We just need to fund their endeavors and start their own workshops and businesses to revitalize the city."
Auguslo was a little unwilling. Though he knew Lorist was right, Windbury was under Norton control. Lorist was still the city's administrator.
It's all because of that darned agreement! I didn't want to let them move the citizens, but Lorist found a loophole and even justified it magnificently. It's obvious he wants to strengthen his house with this misfortune.
Auguslo rubbed his forehead. Though he had a slight headache, he had no choice but to agree.
"What do you need?"
"Let Pegasus join me. They're light cavalry, so we can head there quickly. The sooner we get there, the better. Also, we need food for 200 thousand people for half a month."
The food required was far less than Auguslo had expected. However, he wasn't willing to do it the way Lorist wanted.
"I can give you the food, but why do you need Pegasus? Isn't it the same with Fisablen's Third Frontier?"
Before Lorist could speak, Fisablen interjected.
"This won't do, your Majesty. You should know Third Frontier used to be captives of House Norton. They still hold a grudge. Letting them go will spark conflict and affect the rescue efforts. And without Third Frontier, the grassland barbarians of the reserve legion will be hard to control. Not only will they not obey orders, they will also cause trouble. For the sake of military discipline, it's best to have Pegasus go."
Huh? That's weird. Why's that old fox speaking on my behalf? thought Lorist troubledly.
Auguslo had made his decision.
"Alright, Pegasus and Tigersoar will head to Farkel and save the 100 thousand refugees. Locke, Count Felim, you two must complete this mission and ensure the people survive."
Lorist and Felim stood up.
"Understood, Your Majesty."