"A relationship of deception is a balancing act. One must deceive one's counterpart for as much benefit as possible, without doing it so often they become suspicious of everything you do." ~ Norton Lorist
Are you fucking kidding me?! thought Auguslo blankly.
Rage followed momentarily.
We spent so much time leading the troops in attempt after attempt to take the pass and failed, but you say you found three methods to do just that in just a few days? Aren't you saying we're incompetents? That all the experienced generals and nobles here can't compare to you?!
The king suppressed his rage. However much he wished to deny it, he needed Lorist's input. Perhaps he really had discovered some weaknesses that could be exploited. He silenced everyone and smiled at Lorist.
"Is that so? I look forward to hearing them."
Lorist pulled the rack on which the map hung over.
"We've been stopped dead in our tracks. The enemy's trench network is similar to what we faced in Forund, but even more effective thanks to the terrain. This network is in the middle of a pass half-way up a mountain, there are no streams from which to draw water, so we can't defeat this network the as we did the one in Forund.
"Trenches and mudwalls alone, however, are not that much of a problem. Even if Handra added turrets, they can't hinder our assault that much. The real problem is the catapults. They stand far above us, which gives them far greater range than our weapons, effectively making our ranged equipment useless. We can't break through with a frontal assault.
"Granted, if we threw enough bodies at it, we could get through, but we can't afford the losses necessary."
Ah, I see. Why don't we just dig trenches and tunnels so our men can move hidden from the enemy catapults? They aren't nearly as accurate as ours, so it's not likely they'd be able to hit into the trenches.
Hold on, Lorist did mention this would cause too many casualties. This might not be one of his methods.
Though Auguslo didn't mind sacrificing troops to, Whitelion was the kingdom's only standing royal army. They had already lost over ten thousand men. It would be best if excessive casualties could be avoided.
"Will all the three your methods avoid burning out the men?" asked the king with a beaming smile.
Lorist was a little taken aback by the sudden question.
"About that, it's not that it won't cost us any men. It's about minimizing the losses. The first method is a little dangerous."
"Danger? What kind? Let's hear it," Auguslo said with a smile.
"War is inherently filled with danger. I'm sure no one here fears danger."
"Okay. My first idea is to launch an assault with shock troops," Lorist said as he pointed at the pass on the map, "Since the biggest threat is the catapults, we destroy them first."
"Hah, you make it sound easy. It's not that we didn't think about it before. The problem is how. Without conquering the slope, we can't attack the catapults."
The one who spoke was Auguslo's long-time subordinate, Gold-ranked Knight Ripleid, whom Lorist had met when he was at Egret Swamp during his rescue of Reidy. Currently, Ripleid was Whitelion's general.
"I'm not talking about ordering our soldiers to take the slope," Lorist said with a smile, "We'll form a small elite squad. His Majesty, Duke Fisablen, Blademaster Manst, Reidy, and I combined are five blademasters. We just need ten gold-ranked knights. I've analyzed the enemy's rear. They are ready to fight an army, not a small team. It won't be hard to sneak a dozen or so people past them.
"As long as we secretly circle around, we will arrive at the slope where their catapults are. There is no way that the enemy can resist a surprise attack by five blademasters and ten gold-ranked knights. Additionally, the moment the catapults are set on fire, our main force will advance. You will lead the troops and attack from below and we'll wreak as much havoc as we can."
"I object!" As the king's personal bodyguard, Blademaster Manst was the first to speak out. "Lord Norton, I won't oppose you if you want to head out and risk your own life. But His Majesty cannot leave; he is responsible for the entire kingdom. There's no way he can head out so easily. If something goes wrong, you will be the kingdom's most wanted and hated man! War is rife with dangers and I will not let His Majesty take this kind of a risk!"
Lorist shrugged, "Then, just pretend I didn't propose it."
What does it have to do with me?! Would Duke Fisablen go if Auguslo doesn't go? Would you, Auguslo's bodyguard, go? You want Reidy and me to deal with it ourselves?! Since you are unwilling, why should I bother? Do you think we'd destroy a hundred catapults without at least five blademasters?
Auguslo, as opposed to his guardian, was rather moved by the proposition. Lorist's suggestion was rather suited to his tastes. However, the squad's composition was rather problematic. He was indeed a rank 1 blademaster, but unwilling to risk himself. He had earned his name as a genius military strategist, not as a frontliner.
Ideally, Lorist, Duke Fisablen, and the rest of the squad would ask to be given the responsibility while he remained in the main camp to command the main force from its relative safety. He thought about it for a few moments, and realized why Lorist had included him. The two dukes, Lorist and Fisablen, were not going to go on a dangerous mission their king wouldn't join. They weren't obedient people; to them, a king wasn't worth any more than them.
"Let's put the shock squad aside for now. Tell us the other methods."
He decided he would slowly discuss how he should proceed after hearing all three methods.
"As you wish. My second method involves splitting our forces." Lorist used a pencil to draw a line across Nibarak.
Auguslo said with disappointment, "Locke, we tried that already. Duke Fisablen suffered heavy casualties as a result of its failure. The four duchies' defenses are really tight."
Lorist shook his head.
"Your Majesty, your previous attempt involved leading part of the troops along the river to the enemy's rear. I'm not suggesting this. We will split a section off and send it to Handra's province, Deramak. We don't want to face Reddragon, from both sides, we want to race Hans, Handra's capital. We can cut their supply lines."
"This... How is this different from Duke Fisablen's suggestion?"
"There are quite a few, actually," Lorist said as he pointed at the map, "The duke's reserve legion was sent along the stream to the border. The plan was to chaos cause, and while the enemy was reacting, launch another attack on the pass. You forgot that the dukes are battle-hardened generals. The dukes have thought of this possible approach and prepared accordingly."
"However, aren't you suggesting splitting the forces the same way?" asked the reserve legion's general.
He was a gold-ranked knight called Hausen, a rather rough subordinate of Duke Fisablen.
"The goal is different. We aren't splitting the force to attack Wesstwood from behind. We're pressing forward and sowing havoc along the way. We'll burn the whole province to the ground."
"How will you get through their defenses along the river? They have chains and at least a division stationed along the river and they have numerous catapults."
"Simple. We won't go down the river. We'll cross it and continue east. We'll move down along the farthest banks. It may have dense forests and swamps, but we can manage."
Flabbergasted, Auguslo asked, "But... But won't the enemy discover us?"
"So what if they do? Just look. Nibarak is the province's border. Even if the enemy discovers the troops, what can they do? Cross the river as well? It'd be great if they did, actually. We can march proudly and in the open on the other side of the river. If the enemy wishes to stop us, they'll have to line their troops along the river. Given how long Nibarak is, I really wonder how many legions the enemy will need. They'd have to line the entire river, but we can just pick a spot and cross again wherever we choose," said Lorist gleefully.
"No matter how the enemy chooses to react, the moment we head east, they will be incredibly riled-up. Even if we choose to not cross the river, the enemy will still be held back. They'll send three legions to follow us. In fact, we just need one cavalry legion to lead them by the nose. Let's not forget the duchies don't have cavalry like we do. They can't keep up."
Everyone finally understood what Lorist was planning. The moment the enemy realized the kingdom's troops were on the other side of the river, they would have to respond. The duchies would definitely not allow the kingdom to cross the river unabated and ravage their undefended belly. They would send troops to follow the split-off unit everywhere they went. Lorist was correct in that the duchies' infantry would always be lagging behind. The kingdom just had to race up and down the river to tire everyone out, attack.
Auguslo was convinced. "I wonder if we can split one light cavalry legion off to carry out this plan."
After some thought, Lorist replied, "Your Majesty, I believe it would be best to allow our house's Tigersoar and Felim's Pegasus to conduct this operation together."
"One legion won't be much of a threat. The enemy just has to retreat into their towns and focus on defending them. Additionally, Tigersoar's field and siege capabilities far exceed normal light cavalry. We might exterminate a few legions by working with Pegasus."
Auguslo nodded. Lorist's words made sense, but just as he was about to agree, a switch flicked in his head. He thought back to what happened in Farkel. He realized he had nearly been duped.
What is Lorist up to this time? Why is he so eager? Is he planning to strip Deramak clean as well?
He had lost so much he was instinctively afraid something was going on. The more he thought about it, the more suspicious he became. It was worth noting that the spoils any noble obtained during war would belong to them. The king was afraid he would receive a completely empty plot of land even if he managed to eliminate Handra, and Lorist would have captured the citizens and called them his spoils.
No way. I cannot allow Tigersoar to go there, even if they are the most suitable candidates, thought he.
His face remained a mask.
"You said you had three methods, right? What about the last one?"