Chapter 34 – Snake extermination is something that requires much effort

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“It was done flashily as well.”

Surveying the fortress which had collapsed under the heat and was smeared with soot, the man’s impressions ended with only those words. His equipment is that of an Imperial army’s light cavalryman and a black overcoat is gently concealing the body of a soldier. There isn’t a fraction of warmth left in his eyes. He just gazes out at the place looking as if he doesn’t care about the smouldering fire all over.
Lieutenant Colonel Terencio Balcello of the Imperial Army.
Once he commanded a cavalry regiment as a Colonel of the Imperial Army. He is a man who accumulated distinguished war services at various places in Asuria Kingdom. He is also feared under the alias “Blacksnake” by the kingdom’s soldiers for his ferocious battle style. That name is never used by imperial soldiers. They fear his strength in the same way as the kingdom, but they are afraid of what others may think about them using an alias with an origin relating to colour.

“… It’s a profane story.”

The added word is the reason for that. With him being generally accepted as a miser, he makes it a principle to be frugal about everything in his life. Even though he has the position of a field officer, his necessities in life are no different from those of a common soldier. It’s to the degree that he, who doesn’t consider in the slightest something like wanting to have his own home, even relinquishes the official residence for a field officer and sleeps together with the ordinary soldiers. Hating pointless expenses for the unit he leads himself, he makes use of things like pots until a hole opens at the bottom.
On the other hand, regarding expenses he judged to be necessary, he won’t be stingy at all. He will expend heaps of money that was saved by each of his frugalities. For example, the meals of his unit are known for being extravagant. Plenty of meat and vegetables are thrown into the worn-out pots, too. The quality of their war horses has been enhanced by him adding his private property.
One among such expenses are black overcoats for night attacks. It’s what’s currently wrapped around him. It’s a high-class item. Having a dyed, flexible fabric of fine quality, light won’t be reflected even if it shines on the overcoat. It’s a custom item for the sake of raising the probability of success for a night attack even by a small amount.
However, the quality was too fine. Even when equipped all the time, the feeling of wearing it was too good. It’s sturdy and its level of retaining heat is high as well. Moreover, since the appearance is awe-inspiring too… it ended up being established as the unit’s uniform. A “snake’s” colour being “black” is true. For the imperial army it’s a ridiculous story and thus there’s certainly no way for them to call him something like “Blacksnake” as if teasing him with that.
Matching with the items supplied for every soldier’s equipment, it’s just the overcoat which is deep black and elegant… Balcello walks through the burned fortress. The two men, who follow him, have also the same appearance. The overcoat’s black being enough to inform anyone of their relation to him as subordinates.

“It looks like they were assaulted by light cavalry. Their numbers are around more than 1.000 but less than 2.000. They hoisted the aforementioned, white, long, peculiar thing as a battle flag.”

“You can consider them to be a detached force of the Third Princess’ Royal Guard Unit. In the rumours it was said that it’s a mishmash unit which has been treated the same as something swollen, but why is that so? They seem to be a powerful unit.”

Balcello listened, without appearing to do so, to the details his two subordinates talk about in turns. A strong stench of scorched earth is attached to the air of the fortress. It was also the stench of battle.

“However… even though they are the enemy, that’s a splendid feat. Though it took the shape of them being helped by the fortress’ disorder, they were able to burn this place as a result. For example, even if the other side destroys themselves, it’s plenty of war merit to add pressure on the opponent so that it turns out like that.”

“Indeed. The encampment we raided was completely empty. We have to consider the necessity of closely watching the unit leader… the general called Akseli Anel from now on. Originally he was rumoured to be a feudal army lieutenant though.”

Without even answering, Balcello walks among the grounds of the fortress. Avoiding the wreckage, he occasionally steps across it. The fortress was in a situation with no hope of rebuilding where only a simple search for the injured was carried out. With the army higher-ups being in considerable chaos, Balcello being here is the result of an order, that a unit should be stationed here at least, having been handed down. Leaving behind the infantry unit, he went ahead, but the only thing he could see in his eyes was damage beyond expectation.
Asuria’s Royal Army had destroyed a military base of the Eberia Empire’s army.
Even if it’s just one of many front-line fortresses in comparison, it’s a fact that the Imperial Army’s dignity was greatly damaged. Even Balcello felt like sighing. It’s fine to say that the empire, which lost the entire main force in the previous war, put all its energy into the rebuilding of its army in these ten-odd years. Crushing the royal army in a renewed battle, they want to advance towards the east and south on the road they travelled once. The war potential has been improved with a stance of national unity that it will work out this time for sure.
And then, although it’s just the opening, it’s such a crushing defeat in the north. By just sounding out each other while sending forth patrol units, it was supposed to be a battle strategy of pushing and reeling in small victories and defeats. It seems like the army’s upper echelon had some different plans as well, but beyond the opening of hostilities happening accidentally in such a way, the future should have silently advanced towards a war without any dramatic happenings, Balcello thought.

“As a matter of fact, the Royal Guard Unit appears to be an elite unit of the Royal Army. Having three consecutive battles with units of the same size before arriving at the fortress, all of them were crushing victories. Or it might be a unit hand-picked and nurtured by royalty.”

“If that’s the case, the deviation with the prior information might be something that was intentional. The unit’s objective is to lift the morale of the army or to be used as a trump card in battles… in any event, a unit appeared that we can’t ignore.”

A dreadful enemy came out, Balcello reacted to somewhat confusing memories. There’s the aspect of him already being aware of the Sword Corner Knight Order’s existence which is famous for being a tough enemy. In reality, he confronted them as well. It was a splendid army that didn’t betray its fame. Going by his pride, he can’t believe them to be an opponent they can’t win against. However, they were a military power which made him make his resolve for a considerable number of losses.
Even this time’s events are a series of circumstances twisting his own departure to the front after hearing about them appearing in the south. Normally Balcello is indifferent towards such grand battles, but also encountering urgent circumstances on this occasion, it would be unreasonable. It’s been viewed as a problem that they withdrew without even battling against the knight order they encountered the other day. In that situation it was correct to retreat after gathering our allies, Balcello assesses. It’s something that was temporarily acknowledged by the army’s top brass as well, but what caused a problem is it being Balcello’s action and not someone else’s.
He was ostracised by the emperor. Back in the old days and now as well. And very likely from now on, too.

“The enemy forces, which stormed the fortress, apparently only took away the horses without having eyes for property and without taking prisoners.”

“While they are our enemy, I believe it to be a proper judgement. It would have been impossible to keep up the occupation of the fortress. They would have likely been captured by a unit that assisted the fort if they had increased their baggage. Going by their numbers, there was no other choice but to escape. If it’s horses, they can pull the reins without decreasing their mobility.”

The stable’s remains were also in a miserable state. Balcello touched the wreckage here for the first time. Moving it with his feet, making way with his hands, he searched for something while getting dirty and black. After taking a bit of time, he knew what he didn’t find. Standing up, he brushes off the dirt from his knees.

“There are no remains of harnesses. They apparently moved after mounting the horses.” (Balcello)

Saying that he turned his body around and began to walk.

“The ones who stole the horses were infantrymen. The enemy, who was here, wasn’t just light cavalry. It appears as if the chaos in the fortress was a manoeuvre by the enemy’s infantry.” (Balcello)

Even without a reply, he knew that they are seriously listening right behind him.

“Since there are no eyewitness reports of enemy infantry, we can deduct that this is something according to a certain person’s plan. Because there’s information that the enemy pretended to be the Imperial army’s light cavalry, there might have been an identical plan for the infantry as well. Well, I don’t believe that they were able to enter the fortress that simply even if they imitated our clothes, but…” (Balcello)

Speaking ambiguously with a sigh at the end of the words, Balcello recalled the state of the empty encampment in his mind. With the Royal Guard Unit’s battle formation there, it’s a place that frequently sent messengers to royal army units in the southern Plain of Wandering Calamity. Balcello, who was ordered to attack it since it was an eyesore, wasn’t able to find even a single soldier within that encampment which was constructed effectively, while plainly.
Contrary to expectations they weren’t there. So, where did they go? Were they inside this fortress? He suggests. But he realized that it was impossible going by the time and distance. I don’t know whether it was an empty encampment from the very start, but the enemy was definitely there. Before Balcello’s group came running, scouts of the imperial army have encountered the enemy in camp. Also, judging by the rising of smoke, the encampment was filled with numbers that can’t be in the 10s or 100s. There’s no mistake in that.

“… At any rate, it seems to be a unit that knows cavalry well.” (Balcello)

There were arrangements against cavalry densely set up in the vicinity of the empty encampment. Well deployed fences protecting against horses, a good way of digging a dry moat, that encampment could be seen as biased towards defending, Balcello judges. That’s not unrelated to the matter of all of the light cavalry having left as a detached force. Didn’t they want to particularly block the empire’s mobility while secretly having retreat in mind? He wonders.

“They have stolen the enemy’s horses and the infantrymen used those. Setting up camp, they protected the enemy’s horses. And, they took their enemies by surprise using a detached force consisting of only riders. Even in the series of battles with the imperial army’s forces they apparently obtained victory by capitalizing on the mobility of light cavalry.”

There are things one can understand by forming them into words. Balcello regarded the enemy corps called Royal Guard Unit as an army mainly consisting of cavalry. Even so, they aren’t heavy cavalry like a knight order, but light cavalry apparently placing their focus on tactics. Among all components regarding battle, it means they are an army that attached particular importance to mobility.

“They are an enemy completely… like us.”

“I believe so as well. Which reminds me, wasn’t the general called Akseli Anel a cavalry commander of the feudal army?”

While letting the words of his two subordinates sink into his ears, Balcello felt a strange sense of discomfort. Thinking of the enemy’s praiseworthy deed, there is a faint nostalgia remaining in his chest at times. While being the enemy, their military gains are nothing but amazing… and, on the other hand, thinking that it’s not something you can aim for, I remember that there was once a man who forcefully aimed for such military gains.

“… Where was the leader of the Royal Guard Unit?” (Balcello)

That was an unusual act for Balcello. He rarely asked his subordinates a question. He allows them to make various remarks, but he derives a conclusion after storing all of it within himself. I want my subordinates to execute my orders completely unselfishly. If they go against the unit’s standard, I will execute a severe punishment beyond military law. Conversely, if they raise achievements, I will prepare special rewards that go beyond military law. That’s the reason why I’m diligently amassing wealth and it’s connected to the improvement of the unit’s war potential, Balcello believes.

“Up to the second battle his figure, leading heavy cavalry in the centre of the unit, has been witnessed. As for the third time, the enemy was only the light cavalry, but… well…”

“Heavy cavalry was confirmed in that encampment. Did they alter the armament? Or, did he change the unit he led…?”

It seems the deciding piece of information is missing. Of the units, which were deployed in the northern Plain of Wandering Calamity, many officers didn’t return, and it was mostly just ordinary soldier who made it back alive. That made the accuracy of the intelligence decline drastically. It’s said that there are also many soldiers who are still scattered and haven’t returned yet. They might have ended up running away just like that.

“Make sure of it. Was the leader at the encampment? Or did he lead the detached force?”

One of the subordinates darted away after bowing to Balcello. Outside the fortress Balcello’s unit is building a camp-site. I wonder whom I will send on a fast horse towards the south?

“Which was the main force? That’s what it means?”

“… The way to look at it changes depending on where he was.”

Avoiding to explain any further than that, Balcello made progress towards a section of the mountain of wreckage. Coming across relatively large embers, a wooden pillar, which probably supported a stone, is flickering with orange colour and a small glimmer. He gazes at that.
There was a person he recalls in the former colour of fire.
There was a man who gave the soldier called Balcello the impression that he can’t win unless he makes a disadvantageous bet using his own life. A war genius possessing strategic eyes exceeding Balcello’s and tactical eyes at the same rank of Balcello. The arch-enemy of the Eberia Empire who devoted himself to killing a great number of imperial nobles, with the crown prince as first on the list, with his troops. And a sinner who was sentenced to death by burning at the hands of the Asuria Kingdom as an evil man who killed the hero.
Salomon Hahato.
In the previous war, Balcello confronted Salomon three times. He wasn’t able to win a single time. He didn’t lose on the side of tactics, but those were just battles where he lost strategically once he included the outlook of future effects. And, no matter what battle it was, Balcello kept the outcome unsettled as he didn’t make a mistake in the moment to quit. In other words, it was substantially close to a defeat. If he showed even a bit of greed, it would have likely resulted in him taking large damage.
Balcello remembered such a man. He is reminded of his former arch-enemy due to the military gains of the Royal Guard Unit. They are military gains which Balcello can’t believe could be aimed for even assuming he was in the royal army. It’s probably absolutely impossible if they weren’t assisted by coincidence countless times. However, Salomon is definitely a person who pulls off such uncommon situations.
Balcello recalls in fear. That battle, where the imperial army’s main force was completely annihilated, including the crown prince… who except Salomon is able to lead such a battle? It’s impossible for Balcello. To say nothing of it being impossible for that hot-spur called hero or such. In that meaning, even Balcello was somewhat able to agree with the church branding Salomon as an evil man. I see, he wasn’t a normal human after all was he?
There were hints of that man.
At the time when he figured out all of the actions of the Royal Guard Unit, Balcello felt somewhat nostalgic. One battle after the other connecting to the next battle, they have established a result in the end that one couldn’t imagine before the first battle. Completely as if using the ideal way of deploying light cavalry… it’s an offensive movement that can’t be stopped if it’s made to advance once.
Balcello tasted this countless times in the past, too. That’s what it means to fight against Salomon. It was like resisting spiritual pressure that won’t be stopped by the battle spirit of one army. In reality, his intestines got chilled as well. The matter of Balcello not being at the location of that horrible great annihilation battle isn’t something he aimed for. It was no more than coincidence.
That man died. Balcello prays silently for that in his heart. He hated to be swayed by a dead man. A battlefield is a place where life and death can be easily reversed, thus those, who feel drawn to the deceased, have their life pulled to that boundary. Wishing the dead complete happiness in the next world while exceeding the limitations of countries, it will be fine as long as I fight only the living with as much power as possible. In the first place, since the numbers are overwhelmingly larger on the side of the dead than the living, it won’t do unless the living continue to be the leading actors of the world as they possess a strong will.
However, similar things are similar. If he experienced it once, he won’t be able to forget about it. Balcello doesn’t know what kind of person the man called Akseli Anel is. If that man led the light cavalry and rushed into the fortress, he might be a person similar to Salomon, he believes. That’s because the crux of the series of strategies lies in that charge.
If that fortress didn’t fall, the light cavalry or the lined-up soldiers would probably have returned alive. It’s just a short time for the northern part of the Plain of Wandering Calamity to be in a state of military vacuum. Furthermore, with it being something temporary, the imperial army put in a lot of war preparation into mobile war potential including Balcello. If a fortress was exposed to an attack, they would immediately move at high speed and probably attack the units, which were exhausted from continuous battles, one by one. They wouldn’t let them get away.
Even so, since the fortress fell and was burned, it’s a chaotic situation. The imperial army moved its deployment in order to at least protect the other fortresses. It’s a superb tactic to hit an aspect the enemy has to deal with, but this time’s actions of the Royal Guard Unit can be said to have succeeded at a scale extending over the whole area of the Plain of Wandering Calamity.
That’s why it won’t do if Balcello doesn’t confirm it. The matter where the man called Akseli was at. If he was in the encampment, this time’s military gains are completely a product of coincidence. A detached force merely captured a fortress unexpectedly after being assisted by luck. It won’t be a problem at all if I regard it like that, Balcello assesses. Whichever it was, he wanted to know it immediately.
The fire burst open.
Confronted by the strange pattern of the way that spark dispersed, it brought a single premonition along.
He noticed that there was yet another possibility. Balcello tried to laugh it off, but he kept watching the fire unable to do so. The other possibility, which glittered like a spark… that is, the existence of someone, who led the detached force and who is the true commander. It’s possible that there’s a person who planned that series of battles. It seems foolish, but it’s not uncommon to begin with. If they tried to obtain those military gains by planning to do so. And, the military gains of the Royal Guard Unit have been mostly accomplished by the light cavalry. The key to everything lies in their mobility.
(No way, have you still not died within the flames? Or…) (Balcello)
Balcello continued to stare.
Within those embers, it is as if Salomon has left something behind.

 


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