The first person to notice the encampment at the northern mountain foot was a mounted commissioned officer in the punitive force’s vanguard. That commissioned officer immediately summoned a messenger and made them head to Darius.
The messenger forced his horse to gallop with a skillful rein handling and got close to Darius’ chariot.
“Your Excellency! We have confirmed military forces believed to be the rebels at the mountain foot, north of the road! Please give us your orders!”
Darius’ murmur after he heard the messenger’s report sounded as if he was amused.
“Stop the whole army!”
Hearing Darius’ order, one of the soldiers on the chariot heads to the back and hits the large drum located there. Once the heavy drumming sound that seems to cause one’s bowels to shake reverberates steadily, the commanding officers all over the punitive force shout their instructions to stop the soldiers’ march.
Even so, it took a while until all of the 7,000 soldiers of the punitive force came to a halt.
During that time new information also flows in to Darius.
“An encampment has been built at the mountain’s foot! We have spotted zoan within! There’s no mistake, it’s the rebels!”
Those words also reached the ears of Marius who was close to the chariot with Darius on it. Marius can’t conceal his surprise that the situation is developing in the completely same way as the plan he had discussed with Darius last night.
Standing up from his chair with a creaking sound, Darius stares at the enemy camp built at the mountain’s base, which is slightly visible through the gaps between the flags and spears held up by the soldiers.
“I see. That one, eh…?”
Darius swung his right army widely to the side.
“Notify the entire army! Today’s march will stop here! Start to prepare your camps individually!”
The nearby messengers all at once spur their horses forward to propagate the message, repeating Darius’ words.
“Kadomos! Kadomos, are you there!?”
A young, adult commissioned officer, who had a green tuft attached to his helmet, indicating his status as regimental commander, brought his horse close to the chariot upon Darius’ yell.
“Yes! At your service, Your Excellency!”
“Choose a few strong-hearted fellows from among the cavalry and send them out as scouts towards the enemy camp and Bolnis. And, don’t be negligent on monitoring the enemy camp’s area and watching the surroundings. I don’t think that they will come attacking at this point, but make sure to be on guard against a surprise attack by the zoan.”
“At your will!”
Without even shifting his eyes towards Regiment Commander Kadomos, who gallops away on his horse, Darius fixedly gazes at the enemy camp.
His eyes shone with excitement and expectations, just like a child who stares at the lights of a festival celebrating the harvest.
“So you are saying that you will fight me without escaping to the plains? What a pleasure you are giving to me with this.”
Zurgu called out to Garam, who is gazing at the condition of the punitive forces with his hands shading his eyes.
“How is it? Does it look like they will attack?”
While continuing to stare at the enemy camp, Garam curtly answers,
“Shut up. If you want to know, look yourself.”
“It can’t be helped. Thanks to a certain someone, I have a pretty bad eye.” Zurgu responds to Garam’s remark in a jesting tone as he shrugs his shoulders slightly.
“You reap what you sow.” Garam says over his shoulder.
Souma, after forcing his way between the two in the middle of their sarcastic banter, said,
“If possible, it would also be a big help if you could explain the situation to me..”
It’s definitely not as though Souma has a bad eyesight, but from this place he can’t see the punitive force as anything but sesame seeds. He couldn’t grasp what they are doing at all.
In contrast to that, the zoan, who lived in the plains, generally have excellent eyes. It’s said that there are humans who can see man-made satellites flying in the distant upper skies even during daytime among the African tribes, who live the lives of hunters in vast plains. It’s probably the same as that.
Showing a displeased expression towards the grinning Zurgu, who is standing next to Souma, Garam unwillingly starts to talk.
“They have stopped walking. All of them are gathering at the wagons, I think. They take down something from those wagons… are those tents? Also bags and things similar to pots, I suppose…”
“What, today they are going to rest over there?”
Zurgu says as if feeling let down.
“The soldiers are probably exhausted from the long march.”
Souma recalled something he read in military history records in the past.
In many literary works you can see the development of achieving big military gains by launching an attack under the cover of night against the camp of an enemy who just arrived at the battlefield. At the time Souma said to his military maniac friend that it would be best to attack quickly to not give the other side a chance to launch such an attack, he was told following,
“They would have walked all day long while carrying heavy equipment, causing them to be completely exhausted. There’s absolutely no way that they would be able to fight if they weren’t allowed to rest for a few days.”
Indeed, I can agree with that. Putting aside the commissioned officers, who are riding on chariots or mounts, the fatigue of the footsoldiers, who were forced to walk a long way while carrying heavy equipment, is unavoidable. One should be able to obtain huge military achievements by attacking a camp site filled with only soldiers who sleep like logs due to their exhaustion.
Once he explains that to the others, the very hot-blooded Jahangil immediately latches onto it.
“Will we assault that place then?”
However, Garam denies that.
“I think it would be best to desist from doing so. They have likely prepared for at least this much.”
“In that case, the battle will be tomorrow and the days after?”
Souma smiled bitterly at Jahangil, whose tail slumps down disheartedly.
“I think that’s correct. — But, the other side can’t help but to also take it slowly. I don’t know how much their soldiers can recover within a single day, but at earliest it will be tomorrow. No matter how slowly they go at it, I believe the battle will take place within a few days.”
In a single, big tent located in the centre of the punitive forces’ campsite, starting with Darius, the messengers and commissioned officers entrusted with units had assembled.
When all of them were present, Darius lightly waves his hand as if saying “Start!” Once he did, a soldier, who went to scout the area around the enemy camp, was told to step forward first.
“I shall give you my report! The encampment has been built so that the mountain’s in its back. I could catch sight of many zoan and dwarves there.”
After a single nod, Darius asks,
“What kind of defense measures does the encampment have?”
“From what I’ve seen, they have dug out a moat in the surrounding, piled up that soil to form an embankment and set up a fence.”
Darius was disappointed due to that reply.
“For something made by dwarves, it doesn’t seem to be that sturdy, does it?”
When he attacked a dwarven village within the mountains around here in the past, he was forced to suffer a thoroughly bitter experience by the fortress built to cover several acres on the mountainside. Compared to the village of the dwarves at that time, this encampment might as well be called naked
However, for something that was established in a short time, it’s a sturdy encampment. As might be expected of dwarves. Besides, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any skilfully hidden traps to make one believe that it’s easy to attack.
“How about the enemy numbers?”
“Ha! The total number of enemies was around 1,500.”
Upon this reply, Darius considered it strange.
Analysing from the information he obtained in advance, he estimated the number of rebels to be in the range of 1,000 ~ 1,500. According to the scout’s report, a number close to the limit of what Darius had estimated has entered that encampment.
However, in that case there will be almost no troops to be used in an ambush.
“… There won’t be an ambush?”
That’s impossible, he thinks.
Are they really thinking that they can take on the punitive force with its 7,000 soldiers in an encampment of that level?
Were there some reinforcements we didn’t hear of? There were zoan forces who adopted a wait-and-see stance in the plains. Did they finally move their lazy asses?
No, even assuming they had such forces, it’s difficult to imagine that they would move at this time to advance on our punitive force. They would probably decide on their actions after observing the tide of battle against our punitive force.
Just what the hell is the rebel leader thinking then?
Darius broods for a bit while stroking his beard.
Just at that moment, the report that a soldier, who was sent to scout out Bolnis, had returned. The soldier, who was immediately let through into the tent, is urged on to give his report by Darius after a swift greeting.
“The gates of Bolnis have been left open. I have checked to the best of my abilities, but I couldn’t see any zoan or slaves.”
The commissioned officers gathered in the tent looked at each other due to that report.
“Just what is this about?”
“Aren’t they pretty much telling us Please take the city back?”
“Did they abandon the city after pillaging it?”
“However, it doesn’t look like that has happened.”
According to their assumptions, they expected that they would liberate the city of Bolnis used as shield by the slaves, who caused a revolt.
And yet, for the city that ought to be liberated to have been left alone defenseless is a situation they haven’t even imagined. They would have been still able to come to terms with it if it had been after the city was pillaged and burned down. But, since there were no traces of rampant destruction visible in the city, their bewilderment was only natural.
“Didn’t you enter the city once you couldn’t see the enemy?”
There would be no meaning in sending him to scout if it ends with “I couldn’t see the enemy in the city.” Due to Darius’ blaming tone, the soldier straightens his back and replies,
“Ha! I thought the same, but once I tried to get close to the city, I discovered something suspicious on top of the wall. Considering it dangerous to get close carelessly, I decided to pull back.”
“Yes. I’m not completely sure as I saw it from a far distance, but—,” he takes a short break at this point and then said, “— I think it’s a mountain of firewood.”
A small stir takes places within the tent.
“Firewood? A mountain of firewood, you say?”
“Why something like this…?”
A certain line was dropped among the puzzled commissioned officers.
“Maybe, they plan to use fire in some manner…?”
Due to that, the other commissioned officers raise slightly surprised voices of “Ah” and “Oh.”
“I see! Hasn’t it been said that they killed the subjugation unit by engulfing them in fire?”
“That makes sense. I guess they are planning to reduce us to ash together with the city, using the same move they used before!”
“They are taking us for fools! Do they really believe that they can use the same kind of method many times over!?”
“However, with this we can’t attack even though the city has become empty.”
Suddenly there was a loud laughter while the commissioned officers, who were agitated after seeing through the vicious plan of the enemy, voiced out their irritation and scorn towards the rebels.
“Your Excellency Darius?”
“Excellency, what might be the matter…?”
The one who laughed out loud was Darius.
Darius’ beard is trembling as he laughs, and he is trying to bend back by pressing his back against the chair’s backrest.
The commissioned officers, who were confused by Darius’ erratic behaviour, end up feeling dumbfounded.
With his shoulders slightly trembling due to the reverberations of his laughter, Darius said to the commissioned officers,
“Not half bad, rebel leader.”
The commissioned officers look at each other. They didn’t understand why Darius praises the enemy even though they had just seen through the rebels’ plan moments ago.
A single commissioned officer resolves himself and asks Darius,
“Your Excellency, just what is this about…?”
Darius surveyed the commissioned officers sitting in two rows within the tent with a glare. Only that much gave birth to tension as if static electricity is crawling across their skins within the tent.
“It’s not a preparation for a fire attack.”
Darius declared with a heavy voice.
“Most likely the mountain of firewood has just been placed on top of the wall.”
Darius explains to the surprised commissioned officers.
“If they intended to burn our army together with the city, they would have probably prepared suitable fire triggers. They would have to set up firewood and oil not just on the wall, but also at every important point of the city.
Even the city’s residents probably know about the subjugation unit that was burned to death in a fire by the zoan by now. And yet, even though the city’s gates are open and the slaves can’t be seen anywhere, there’s only very few citizens who flee the city.
In other words, such fire triggers haven’t been prepared.”
Each and every point raised by Darius was reasonable.
However, even so they still don’t understand the meaning of placing firewood on top of the wall.
“However, Your Excellency, the mountain of firewood on the wall, what on earth…?”
Darius reveals a wry smile upon that question of a commissioned officer.
“Haven’t I already given you an answer to that?”
Due to the commissioned officers raising their voices in an unsavory manner with a “Huh?” as they don’t understand the meaning of his words, Darius snorted slightly and continued speaking.
“It means that we won’t be able to attack the city easily if we fear an attack by fire.”
The commissioned officers look blankly due to that remark.
“He’s an amusing fellow. I suppose he’s trying to protect the city from our troops with a single mountain of firewood!”
Once again Darius laughs while making his beard sway.
In contrast to him, the commissioned officers, who finally noticed that they splendidly fell for the enemy’s scheme, got enraged with bright red faces.
“You assholes! So that’s how you want it!”
“To make a fool of us! Now it has come to this, let’s take back the city first and then teach them a lesson!”
Supportive opinions are voiced out to that one after the other.
However, Darius didn’t respond to that immediately.
Darius declared that there won’t be any fire attack, but that’s because he’s in front of the commissioned officers.
He believes that he’s not wrong in nine out of ten cases, but he can’t definitely state that there’s not one such case among the ten.
For example, there could be the counterplot to make them believe that it’s a pretense by deliberately showing only one mountain of firewood. Or, there might be a reason why they have to enter the city after seeing the mountain of firewood. There’s also the fear that the enemy has prepared to burn them down alongside the city if they enter the city with fire triggers, which were deployed in a way so that the residents wouldn’t notice.
Until a while ago he considered whether to also gain control of Bolnis with a detached force while restraining the rebels with the main force.
However, in the worst case scenario where they really did prepare fire triggers, that detached force would be annihilated.
He can also believe that it’s possibly the rebels’ plan to take advantage of the main force’s soldiers being thrown into a turmoil once the detached force is burned to death alongside the city.
In that case, should we fight the enemy’s main army first rather than taking back the city which would have worrying elements?
Even if traps had been planted in the city, it won’t have any meaning if we defeat the enemy’s main army.
To say nothing of the enemy having slightly less than 2,000 against our 7,000 soldiers. If we fight them normally, the probability of losing to them is next to zero.
However, even then Darius hesitated.
If I look at the movements of the rebels until now, there’s no way for the person leading them to not realize at least this much. Furthermore, on top of knowing that, they set up an encampment over there and are provoking us.
There’s something, he believes, but he doesn’t know what it is.
He’s worried, wondering whether they won’t suffer an outrageous backlash if they attack just as the enemy has predicted.
He pondered whether they should wait for a bit to check the situation.
But, seeing the faces of the commissioned officers sitting in front of him, that doesn’t seem to be a valid option.
Leaving aside if it was a sturdy fortress, but with an encampment that looks as if it will be crushed with a little bit of shaking once they use the whole army, he has no other choice. If he hesitates to attack in front of something like that, it will also affect his command of the entire army.
Besides, maintaining this punitive force isn’t simple either. There’s the matter of provisions for 7,000 people of course, but also things like the fodder for the dragons and horses responsible for transporting the provisions. They eat up a surprisingly massive amount of money within the army just by existing. His real opinion is that he wants to finish it as soon as possible, if it’s something that can be done.
And, another problem adding to that was the Holy Faith’s campaign priest, who was sitting there proudly and arrogantly while sticking out his fat belly.
“What is there to hesitate about, Your Excellency! You have to punish those repulsive sub-races and the one calling himself their leader at once!”
According to his own words, the campaign priest, who introduced himself with the name Mildas, encountered the zoan rebellion at the time he was in the city of Bolnis. He lived under the roof of the church in the city of Luoma after escaping with luck and trouble, but even during that time, he apparently burned with rightful indignation when thinking of Bolnis, which has been occupied by the filthy sub-races. When he heard that a punitive force would go to Bolnis, he apparently requested an interview with Darius wondering whether his own religious piety couldn’t be useful.
“The residents will be killed mercilessly if they defy the sub-races, who watch them with beast-like, sharp eyes, even the tiniest bit. For me to escape without a single injury like this from such a dreadful Bolnis, is truly owed to nothing else but the divine protection of the Human God! Give me the permission to join this campaign in order to distribute this divine protection, which is more than I deserve, to the brave soldiers of the punitive force, by all means!”
Does he believe that it’s only natural that it will be permitted? Without even extending any greetings towards Darius, Mildas shamelessly stated his own opinion.
Thinking back to that, Marius, who got enraged due to the rude attitude of Mildas, placed his hand on the hilt of his sword as he stood behind Mildas. If Darius had been slightly late in lifting his hand to hold back Marius, Mildas’ head would have probably danced in the air.
“Your Excellency! As long as I’m here, there’s no need to fear something like sub-races! Oh, great Human God! Bestow your godly protection to Holmea’s brave soldiers who are faithful to you!”
Nothing but contemptful thoughts welled up within Darius due to Mildas offering a prayer with his disgusting voice, who didn’t even notice that he was about to die just now.
He says that he was able to escape Bolnis due to god’s protection, but from the merchants, who likewise escaped the city already, Darius knew that the rebels approve people leaving the city, to say nothing of them suppressing the inhabitants with force.
Even this priest, who calls himself Mildas, probably escaped the city secretly by mingling among the residents after throwing off his priest clothes. Who do you think you are kidding by saying that it’s god’s protection?
Besides, Darius, who completely believed in reality, doesn’t go into a battle while relying on something like divine protection.
However, it’s also a fact that he can’t take the Holy Faith’s authority lightly.
If Holmea tries to increase its national power by developing the Solbiant Plains from now on, the neighboring country Romania will likely come to interfere. If he lets a priest of the Holy Faith join the campaign to gain total control of the Solbiant Plains, it will turn into a reason to insist that this development is being carried out with the Human God’s consent.
For Darius it’s quite the ridiculous story, but this is also diplomacy, one of many political moves.
With such ulterior motives existing, Darius approved of Mildas joining the campaign, however, Mildas himself had his own agenda as well.
Mildas’ ulterior motive is vengeance.
Mildas, who was able to luckily obtain the head of the evil adherent’s leader, tried to go to the Holy City, the centre of the Holy Faith. Just when he attempted to leave the city after arranging for a ship to ferry him using the money he scammed off of believers, the zoan’ rebellion took place.
Even Mildas knows the fate that would await him if he were to be caught by a sub-race as priest of the Holy Faith.
Immediately and without hesitation, Mildas threw away his priest’s garb, the holy crest and the sacred icons that make it apparent that he’s a priest of the Holy Faith, and while only carrying the expensive ornaments with him, he deliberately pulled a overcoat that was soiled with mud over his head. And then, with the all-important evil adherents’ leader’s head in a jar under his arms, he hid himself in back alleys.
Once the city had calmed down after a while, he heard that the foolish sub-races were allowing the residents to leave the city. For caution’s sake he observed the situation of the people leaving and the sub-races dealing with them near the gate, but there was no sign of the sub-races looking for priests of the Holy Faith. If it’s like this, it looks easy enough to escape the city by pretending to be one of the lowly people.
However, the head in a jar was a problem.
The residents have been allowed to freely take property such as household belongings with them when they leave the city, but the sub-races were doing a simple check-up for mere formality, probably so that no suspicious things are carried out through the gates. There’s no way he would be able to nonchalantly walk through such a place while carrying the severed head of a person.
He pondered whether he shouldn’t secretly lower a rope from the city’s wall at night and escape while just taking the head along in that case, but something like him walking on his own two feet until the next city was preposterous for him.
However, if he didn’t escape as soon as possible, his life would be in danger. He didn’t know when he would be discovered by his dwarven slaves that took advantage of the commotion to run away. They even forgot his kindness of letting them carry the palanquin he sat on!
Tearfully Mildas hid the jar with the head by burying it at the base of a tree located in a corner of the city and escaped to the city of Luoma by getting a merchant leaving Bolnis to take him along on his carriage.
Now that he thought back on the chain of events, hatred boiled within Mildas’ chest.
He got delayed in going to the Holy City where a brilliant future awaits him. Most of his money and goods were ripped off by the merchant rising the prices on him when he went along with the carriage leaving the city. He, who is a priest of the Holy Faith, had to even act as a lowly commoner. All of that is the fault of the disgusting sub-races.
No, the one who I can forgive the least is the divine child of Aura who led those sub-races.
Once he recalls the face of Aura’s divine child walking through the city as if owning the place while taking along those disgusting sub-races, Midas hurled jeers at that divine child within his chest.
To begin with, the first bad omen started after that divine child of Aura showed up. Even him being delayed in departing the fortress was thanks to that guy. For the zoan, who should have been exterminated long ago, to get total control of the city, is also owed to that guy.
Each and every of them including that guy is evil! Until I present that bastard’s salt-pickled head in the Holy City, alongside the head of the evil adherents’ leader, the hatred boiling in my chest won’t die down no matter how long I wait for it.
I will kill the sub-races and that divine child of Aura by all means!
Having decided that, Mildas instigated the commissioned officers with his eyes bloodshot.
“Brave Warriors of Holmea! Now is the time for you to show your piety to god! The brave warriors, who demonstrated their faithfulness in this battle, will have their names extolled in the Holy City’s cathedral by this Mildas!”
For soldiers it’s the highest honor to make their name widely known in this world. Much less to say that there’s nothing that exceeds the Holy City which is said to be the centre of the continent.
A part of the commissioned officers, who were told this at each and every single opportunity, became completely incited.
As if also infected by the insanity of Mildas just now, they are waiting for Darius’ decision with glazing eyes full of bloodlust.
Darius mutters in his mind I won’t be able to stop them.
“It won’t be too late to liberate the city after annihilating the rebels.”
I won’t have the leeway to investigate whether a fire attack has really been set up in the city. In that case it’s more reliable to fight the enemy’s main force in front of us rather than deliberately taking a risk.
“First we will fight the rebels with the whole army!”
Sighs dyed with delight and excitement fill the tent.
Being called out by name, the two regimental commanders stand up.
“I will leave one regiment of the heavy spear infantry to each of you. Trample down the enemy from the front!”
“”It will happen at your will, Excellency!””
“Gaudias and Brafuss, I will entrust one infantry battalion to each of you. Protect the flanks of the heavy spear infantry regiments!”
“”I’m humbly accepting the official appointment!””
“Burgis! I will leave one infantry battalion to you. Threaten the enemy encampment from the left-wing and support the main force!”
“Acknowledged, Your Excellency!”
“Cashias! I will leave one archer battalion to you. Open hostilities as you see fit!”
“Please leave it to me!”
Darius slowly gets up from his seat.
His appearance was similar to a huge lion standing up.
“My main army will deploy in the rear of the heavy spear infantry regiments. We will be ready for a zoan surprise attack!”
And then Darius thrust out his right arm towards the ceiling.
“Tomorrow this ground will be dyed red with the blood of the rebels!!!”