"Beware the lord scorned. They, if joined by others, may become the greatest threat a noble may ever face." ~ excerpt from Principles of Nobility by Duke Fisablen
The clattering of the horses' hooves beat constantly. The beaten dust shrouded the figures on horseback as they rode out of it domineeringly. The only difference between the spear cavalry formation of Tigersoar and this one was that it wasn't that concentrated. Two meters separated each rider from those around him as they charged. A sharp sound pierced the air. A wave of bolts flew away from the ranks. The riders reloaded and let bolts fly again.
The figures at the front suddenly split in two, the rest following. The bolts they fired spread outward again and again.
"This is the training routine I've designed, Your Grace. If an enemy gets assaulted this way on the march, they'll be completely annihilated if we can keep the fire up long enough. Of course, it's not as effective if they're in formation on an open field," explained Josk gleefully.
As the compact crossbow had to be kept secret so outside forces wouldn't find out about it, Lorist rushed to the secret training grounds to observe a training session.
"How did you come up with it?" asked he.
"It's nothing extraordinary. The most elite light cavalry soldiers are mostly scouts. They are in charge of discovering and tracking enemy movements. The way they usually fight is to dismount and use ranged weapons before getting back on horseback to fight in a melee. There're only a few talented ones that can use ranged weapons from horseback, and most only know how to use short-ranged ones like throwing knives or javelins. Most of the time, a longbow would be needed to attack an enemy at range.
"Even House Fisablen's famed frontier legions considered the most elite light in the empire don't behave much different. Jaeger was defeated because the forces were only ever harrassed from a distance and drawn out of cover range of our heavier pieces. The legion was then overrun by sheer numbers.
"If we'd had these crossbows, we would have ripped them to shreds instead. The riders don't even have to dismount during a pursuit. Even if we're surrounded, we don't have to dismount to fight back. There are no enemies that can resist us, especially when we charge at them when they're marching. The full potential of the mobility and agility of light cavalry can be exploited to the fullest this way..."
Josk rambled on about many useless things, but Lorist got the gist. The main goal of light cavalry was to scout and harass the enemy. Given the relative lack of ways to attack from a distance, the best ranged maneuver available were to dismount and cause chaos from up close. However, dismounting meant losing mobility and the threat the men posed would be greatly decreased. Having light cavalry charge against an enemy was even more out of the question. Their melee fighting and defense capabilities were far inferior to fully-equipped, heavy-armored infantry unless their enemy was trying to retreat.
But with the compact crossbows, not only were their offensive capabilities greatly improved, their agility and mobility could now be retained. Even if the enemy got into a tight formation, the light cavalry could still use their mobility to circle to the more weakly defended rear or split up and attack from multiple sides. They would rain bolts down from a distance and avoid clashing head-on. In that regard, even light cavalry could hold their own in a field battle.
Lorist took a compact crossbow and inspected it carefully. Strictly speaking, it was more of a bowgun. It was unlike the many crossbow-like weapons on the continent. It appeared Grandmaster Sid had borrowed inspiration from the firearm Lorist had had him design. The crossbow had a gun stock and a handle grip that not only allowed easier aiming, but also allowed easier and quicker reloading.
"The design was finalized with the help of the hundred light cavalry I sent to the grand master after a year and a half of testing. So far, this feels like the perfect ranged weapon. We'll kick up a storm when we finally use it," said Josk proudly.
"Does the compact crossbow have no weakness?" asked Lorist as he waved it around.
"Well, there is one. Battleforce can't be infused into it and the force comes mainly from the crossbow's arm."
When a longbowman's battleforce reached the silver rank, they could infuse it into their arrows to make it fly further and be more accurate. A small blade glow could even be formed at the tip to pierce through shields and armor. A gold-ranked divine marksman like Josk could give even a blademaster a run for his money with the green-colored bone bow in hand. But marksmen talented enough to use a longbow on horseback were almost non-existent. There was no way Lorist could find enough to form a legion. The compact crossbow was the only choice for a light cavalry ranged weapon. Not being able to use battleforce was a small issue.
"Are you ready? I'm going to start," asked Lorist.
Howard nodded and took up his stance.
"Come at me, Your Grace."
Lorist's longsword moved like lightning, closing the gap in an instant with the sound of piercing wind. Howard held his ground and used his longsword like a snare. He kept a perfect defense. The master-disciple pair engrossed themselves in the fight.
Beside them stood Reidy and Jinolio, the latter wearing an expression of envy.
Reidy laughed, "Learning the sword is filled with hardship. I gave Howard a harsh lesson when he started."
Jinolio nodded respectfully.
"I can take it, Senior Brother. No matter how tough, I will give it everything I have."
"Very well. I'll find some time to talk to His Grace. However, our school of swordsmanship requires us to establish a foundation with dynamic vision. If His Grace agrees, Howard and I will develop this ability in you."
"Really?" Jinolio exclaimed happily, "Thank you!"
"Don't worry. You're my junior after all," smiled Reidy evilly.
Who should he bring along to watch the show? He might even start a betting ring. How long would the kid last on the chair?
Clang! Lorist's sword accurately struck Howard's and sent it flying.
"Not bad. I didn't think you could take more than 20 strikes," praised he, somewhat surprised.
As expected of Potterfang's son. His defense was just as tight when he'd dueled me all those years ago. I didn't think Howard would be even better than his father. He's Potterfang's kid alright!
Though he'd held back, his strength was beyond that of a rank 3 blademaster. It was nothing short of shocking for Howard to take more than 20 strikes and still be standing.
"No wonder Reidy said he could only defeat you after 100 strikes when he went to pick you up," Lorist said as he handed his own sword to Howard to put it way. "Your style is different from Reidy's. He was graced with superhuman strength and prefers domineering force and quick and unyielding attacks. You're much more like your father. Hell, had he not been alive I'd have thought he'd reincarnated. Reidy's style meant he had to travel around and experience life and death to hone his style but you don't have to. You should go to the guards and have them attack you all at once instead."
"Thank you for your guidance, Teacher."
Lorist stroked Howard's head.
"I have to settle your marriage first. Your father-in-law won't stop bothering me otherwise."
"I'm incredibly disappointed, Hansk," said Lorist.
He was really discontent with the supervisor's performance, so much so he didn't invite the man to sit.
"I can't be blamed, Your Grace. It's those barbarians. They refused to follow orders," argued Hansk.
The way he saw it, he had been toiling away for the house's sake in the wilderness and brainstorming ways to speed up the project. He had tried his best, but the stubborn savages wouldn't cave even after being killed. How could he be satisfied being blamed?
"Hansk, it seems you're still unaware of your mistakes. As the person in charge of the project, your role is to supervise the facilities. You're supposed to make sure everything runs smoothly and stays on schedule. That's why I let you manage the budget and workflow. All you had to do was make sure the plan was implemented as I'd written it. This being your duty, pray tell, why did you change their work hours and meddle with their benefits?"
"Please don't forget the barbarians are the enemy. Your father and countless others have died in their invasions. You shouldn't consider them equal to our subjects. They do not deserve meat and wine." countered Hansk with a raised voice.
"Uhha, haha, hahahahaha..." Lorist's fury dragged laughter out of him. "—So, that's why you took away their privileges and gave them nothing but two pieces of moldy fist-sized biscuits? You had them work day and night because of that too? Do you think that shows your loyalty? Are you avenging my father and everyone else? How foolish!"
Lorist slammed his hand on the desk. The bam made Hansk jump. Even Howard, outside the study, pushed the door open slightly to peek.
"To link Goldridge and Moonspring together and build a road through the forests, at least 7000 of 30 thousand barbarian laborers were killed. All that for the sake of a bloody path filled with death. We even staked the heads of the barbarians that tried to escape on the sides of the road. After killing so many, we finally found the way to make them work obediently: provide them with meat and wine. That is their reward for toiling for 12 hours a day, and that's also why they're willing to serve us. They consider the wine and meat as their pay.
"And then you go and treat them like begrudged enemies, like murders, and scamps, and go and take away their meat and wine and have them work four hours more. You're really something, huh? Do you think you can subdue them like this? You even had Belnick kill ten thousand when they revolted? Do you think killing them will make them submit?! What about the work?! It's stopped completely!
"I should never have trusted you with something so crucial for our future. You have disappointed me, more than that, you've let me down. You tell me the barbarians are our sworn enemies… You're not wrong but that doesn't mean we have to kill them all. The 70 thousand we have are all youths. Do you know how much wealth they can make us if they're appeased? Do you know how badly we lack unpaid labor? Do you have any idea how much we'll have to fork out to get them calm again?—"
Lorist shook his head.
"—I'm really disappointed, Hansk. You've contributed much in the past, so I was willing to overlook your past mistakes. You know of what I speak. Some things are not for you to comment on. I will forgive you this once, and only this once. Go back to your barony and think about what you've done wrong."
Hansk paled, his lips shuddered. He slowly turned around and left, dumbfounded. This was exile in all but name. He had been stripped of his power and his influence. He had lost any right he might have had to influence what happened in and with the house. He'd only been spared losing his title because he had a long history of contributions before his recent failures. He stopped at the entrance for a moment. He scraped together his courage and charged back to his liege.
"I will leave and never get involved with the house's matter again, but just this once, this one last time, listen to my advice."
"Your Grace has to decide on an heir. Your subjects and vassals cannot rest easy until you have."
"Heh. Tell me, who should I choose?" asked Lorist teasingly.
"It must naturally be Young Master Lysecott. He's already 13. He'll come of age soon and he's your first-born."
Lysecott was Lorist and Irina's first child. He had a cruel personality, mainly because he was spoiled badly and had turned into a lawless brat. In the end, he was sent to Malek's family so his wife could re-educate him and had just started his studies at Nico Academy.
"Do you think I'll be short-lived?" asked Lorist intentionally.
"There's no harm in being careful. That's what your late father believed as well. He forced himself to go stop the barbarian invasion even though he was sick and..." rambled Hansk.
"Get out of my sight!"
Lorist flung a folder at the man angrily.