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Drumming sounds could be heard from far and away. Lending an ear with closed eyes, Shyemul listened to the drum’s beat for a while, and then faced Souma.
“They did it, Soma. It sounds like they assaulted that mine called Marven or something, and also secured the dwarves’ cooperation.”
Souma felt deeply relieved after having Shyemul interpret the drum signals for him.
“Wonderful. ――You think I was able to return some of the favor to Knurl with this?”
Recalling the face of the dwarf who had sacrificed himself for the sake of saving him, Souma mourned over his death. After a while he turned his face towards an elven court lady who waited on him nearby.
“It’s also thanks to you and your friends for having told Garam and his men where they’d be able to cross the river unnoticed. You have my gratitude, Erika.”
The elf he had addressed was Erika who had followed Souma as court lady to take care of his personal needs during this military campaign, although she was currently wearing an archer outfit and shouldering a bow.
“No, I am delighted to hear that we could be of use to you, Lord Soma.” Erika said with a faint blush dyeing her cheeks.
Nowadays she had become so meek that Souma actually wondered where the willfulness she had exhibited when they first met had vanished. For her to have become so skilled at serving as court lady was owed to Eladia, as the Chief Court Lady, having personally trained her. At first Erika had screamed with teary eyes, “That’s no teaching, it’s torture! She’s clearly trying to break me in!”, but recently she had been perfectly performing her duties as court lady.
Her degree of perfection went so far that Souma wondered just what kind of training she had undergone, but when he’d asked her for details, Erika’s eyes turned into those of a dead fish as she answered mechanically like a robot, “I fEeL deEP GratItUde foR LAdY ElaDiA’s kINd guIdaNCe.” Thus Souma had decided to not probe any further.
Shyemul teased Souma who smiled at Erika, “That means you being on the verge of death and me worrying about you so much didn’t come to waste.”
Souma’s face cramped up in response. So far Shyemul didn’t leave out any chance to stress how much she had been worried about him back then. It had gone so far that he seriously wished that she’d forgive him anytime soon.
Then again, it wasn’t as though Shyemul was blaming him for real as shown by her immediately changing the topic.
“However, Soma, how’s Holmea going to react? I mean, even wolves would howl if a warrior of ours enters their territory.”
Shyemul didn’t seem overly happy with the team around Garam having intruded deep into enemy territory so easily. However, Souma himself was surprised by this as well.
“The results follow my predictions, but I hadn’t expected that things would proceed so smoothly either.”
Even if they might have chosen a deserted place to cross the river, they still had moved more than 500 people. In reality, Souma had anxiously considered the possibility that his forecast would turn out to be wrong with Garam’s troops being surrounded and captured by Holmea’s royal army before they’d be able to take Marven. For such a case, Souma had prepared a second plan where they’d give up on the copper mine and stage a guerilla warfare centered around Holmea’s east, creating a situation that would compel Romania to attack without waiting for Souma’s side to accomplish their agreement of taking a city. But, them being able to obtain Marven so easily made even Souma feel somewhat let-down.
Souma scratched his head, pulling a troubled expression.
“It looks like King Warius’s popularity has taken a harder blow than I’d anticipated.”
“I see. ――But I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t want to be told that by you, the main reason for this drop in popularity.”
Souma could only return a wry smile at Shyemul’s pinpoint retort. Then Souma gazed in the direction of the distant, eastern horizon ― the place he suspected Marven to be ― and said, “If Garam and Zurgu handle things skilfully, messengers informing the palace of the attack on Marven should need around three or four days to reach the capital. They’ll then need another day to prepare the soldiers, and another day to reach Marven, no matter how much they might hurry. ――But well, I wonder whether it’ll really pan out so smoothly.”
Despite voicing this out, Souma wasn’t overly worried. After all, it was Garam, Zurgu, and Dvalin ― three men whom Souma deeply trusted ― who put the plan into practice. He was confident that they’d definitely be able to carry out the plan as intended.
And just as Souma had hoped for, the zoan under Garam’s command hunted down any messengers dispatched to the capital during the attack on Marven, blocking the roads and killing the horses they rode. However, even Souma couldn’t have predicted that a messenger, who should have had his means of travel killed would meet Baron Kantbias after the zoan pulled back, confident of their success.
The messenger from Marven arrived at the capital faster than Souma had anticipated thanks to Baron Kantbias, but it was impossible for King Warius to know about that, nor was he delighted about it. On the contrary, King Warius jumped up from his throne without even noticing that he’d dropped his bishop’s staff.
“What in Genobanda’s name is the meaning of this!? Why has the enemy invaded so deeply into our country!? Don’t you have any information where that enemy came from!?”
King Warius had sneered at the report that the revolting slaves didn’t even try to cross the river a little while ago, belittling the slaves as cowards. And just when he thought that the lords army would crush those pathetic worms in one swoop, he received the news about Marven. It was almost as if his cheek had been slapped by a hand that suddenly came out of nowhere.
Just that alone was enough for King Warius to fume in anger over the weak defenses of his country that allowed this to happen.
“Someone explain!” King Warius snarled madly, sending his spit flying.
The courtiers looked at each other, pushing the responsibility to answer the king around with their eyes. However, as King Warius would only grow more enraged at this rate if no one replied, an elderly vassal spoke up reluctantly and timidly, “With all due respect, Your Majesty, no such reports have reached us so far.”
And just as the courtiers had predicted, King Warius exploded.
“Then you’re telling me that the fall of Marven is a construct of lies and fiction!? Or did the sub-humans crawl out of the soil or fall from the sky!?”
All of the courtiers wanted to ask those very same questions, but as it was unthinkable for them to actually voice it out, they had no choice but to remain silent. One among them suddenly looked as if he had realized something. He stepped forward in a hurry, imploring the king, “If you allow me to explain. Your Majesty.”
“If I remember correctly, my servant remembered that a Jeboan merchant had come to Holmenia to buy up copper the other day…”
King Warius was having one of his fits, but hearing that, he opened his mouth, leaking an “Ah.”
Most of the copper mined at Marven was minted into coins, and used to enrich the national treasury. Also, a huge amount of copper rivaling the share used for coin minting was sold to Jeboan merchants, traded for precious metals other than copper such as gold and silver, or used to buy rare treasures ordered from foreign countries. And just like every year, the biggest metal dealer of Jeboa, Cornelius, had visited the capital to buy the copper from Marven the kingdom would put up for sale. Just the other day, Cornelius had visited King Warius to extend his greetings.
The king had heard that the gold, silver, and treasures, which Cornelius had brought over from Jeboa, had already been deposited in the kingdom’s treasury. Thus it was now too late to tell Cornelius that they had no copper for him.
As might be expected, King Warius’ anger was blown out like a candle, and he exposed his uneasiness as he asked the soldier who had arrived at the palace as messenger from Marven.
“W-What about the copper!? I’m certain that I had ordered for the copper to be transported to the capital. So, what’s the state of the copper!?”
“The copper had been prepared for transport, but…” The soldier flinched away from continuing, but he didn’t need to finish his words.
“The copper…my copper is still at Marven, you say!?” King Warius felt shocked by the all too sudden chain of events.
“Your Majesty, this is a matter of utmost importance!”
Without even the vassal mentioning it, it was obvious that this spelled a serious crisis for the country. Holmea had signed a contract with Cornelius, a member of the Jeboan merchant guild’s Committee of Ten, that they’d prepare the copper for him. They had to fulfill that obligation at any costs. It was an agreement leaving no doubt that it’d be fulfilled. For this very reason, Cornelius had started to deposit gold and silver at the palace before obtaining the copper. Therefore it’d be unforgivable for Holmea to be unable to provide the copper at this stage. If they did something like that, Holmea’s dignity as a state would take a heavy blow.
“T-The copper…! Get my copper back!” King Warius thundered with a loud yell immediately after having calmed down a bit. “Hurry and dispatch soldiers to Marven! Hurry! I’m telling you to hurry!”
At once, Holmenia’s guards were allocated to a new unit composed of 500 soldiers centered around cavalry and light infantry, heading to Marven as quickly as possible. The unit, which had been strictly ordered to recover the copper whatever it took, continued a forced march with almost no rest, arriving at Marven on the next day.
When they got there, a fort seemingly enclosing Marven town, where a simple fence should have been, had already been erected. On top of that, the royal soldiers could see armored figures carrying spears, which seemed to be dwarves, on the other side of the gaps plastering the fort that had been built by simply piling up the materials on hand.
Although they tried to demand surrender just in case, there was no sign of an answer to that. Apparently the enemy had resolved themselves to resist to the bitter end.
“Those shitty, little worms.” The one hurling abuse at the dwarves was the battalion leader Kuffner. “All they have to do is to obediently follow our orders, and yet they’re trying to oppose us out of some conceit. How ridiculous!”
Kuffner was still young as a commissioned officer with his age being slightly above 20. Because he’d become an officer at such a young age, he was proud of his own ability, and his patriotism was far stronger than that of other people. That alone made him feel a seething rage at the filthy sub-humans as they were the reason he had to leave his prestigious post at the guards in the capital and come all the way out here to deal with those pesky bugs.
He was driven by the fervent desire to immediately annihilate the sub-humans and then triumphantly return to the capital. But, he had still enough reason left that he knew how reckless it’d be to attack the fort with just 500 soldiers. He had his men pitch camp at a position allowing them to monitor the situation at the mine, watch out for surprise and night attacks, and block the road, waiting for the succeeding unit to arrive.
Two days later, reinforcements of 2,000 men led by his colleague Rudophus finally arrived. At once Kuffner headed over to Rudophus for talks about their future strategy.
“Rudophus, if we join our troops, we’ll have 2,500 men. How about we give it one attempt to attack the mine together?” Kuffner suggested to Rudophus, probably spurred on by his youthful hotheadedness.
Rudophus, who was much older than Kuffner, carefully answered, “But, I heard that the number of zoan, who attacked, is a little less than a thousand, and the dwarves at the mine number several thousand as well.”
He had heard that the dwarves living at the mine went beyond 5,000 in the past, but over the many years of tolling as slaves, they lost many of their kin. And yet they should still have more than 3,000.
Even under normal circumstances, the defender’s side is at advantage in a siege battle, and on top of that, we’re inferior in numbers, too. We’d very likely suffer heavy losses if we attacked here imprudently. Rather than taking such a risk, I think we should send a message to the capital and wait for reinforcements.
Kuffner pressed on the reluctant Rudophus, full of zeal.
“What, isn’t the majority of them old folks, women and children who can’t fight anyway? With our forces we’ll easily be able to take the mine back.”
This made Rudophus ponder.
Certainly, Kuffner has a point in what he says. Besides, it’s not an accomplishment whatsoever to merely look at the town from a distance while doing nothing. It might be an option to give attacking a chance to measure the enemy’s strength before informing the capital.
“Very well. Let’s go with your suggestion, Kuffner.”
Rudophus and Kuffner then panned out the details. As a result, they decided that they’d attack in the early morning of the next day. First, Rudophus would have his infantry charge the fort to destroy it. Then Kuffner’s cavalry would storm the town, routing any dwarves turning their blades at them. Lastly they’d take total control of the mine town with the infantry while slaughtering the dwarves.
On that day, Kuffner and Rudophus treated their men not only to lavish provisions but also plenty of wine. Moreover, they kept the nightwatch to the bare minimum, allowing their soldiers to rest up so that they’d save up as much energy as possible.
And then, when dawn broke the next day, Rudophus sat on his horse in front of his soldiers who were holding spears and shields while lining up separated by squads. He thrust his sword into the sky, and inspired his men with a loud voice, “Listen, men! Our opponents are lowly sub-human slaves! There is nothing to fear! I shall hand a reward to the one scaling that fort first! If you desire fame and money, show me what you’ve got and climb that fort as fast as possible!”
The soldiers all hoisted their spears into the air while loudly cheering. Satisfied with their high morale, Rudophus looked in the direction of Kuffner who had been getting ready for the attack in the same way. Noticing Rudophus’ look, Kuffner pumped his right fist high into the air, signaling that they were ready to go at any time.
“Alright! Blow the horns! Hit the drums!”
Following Rudophus’s order, horns and drums started playing the signal for attacking all at once. The soldiers, who had their greed and belligerence fanned by Rudophus’ speech, roared war cries like unleashed beasts, and began to run, accompanied by the sounds of the horns and drums that made the atmosphere tremble.
Rudophus spurred on his horse amidst the throng of soldiers heading for the fort, but after a little while he noticed an abnormality.
Several of the spears visible on the other side of the fort moved about in confusion, doubtlessly having perceived the ongoing attack. And yet, no arrows came flying, and even though the Holmean troops had long entered the range for stone throwing, absolutely no counterattack came at them from the enemy side.
While being suspicious about the meaning behind this, the soldiers leading the charge easily scaled the fort’s wall. Following that, one soldier after the other climbed the wall without any problem whatsoever. However, Rudophus couldn’t hear any jeers or bellows accompanying the clashing of weapons as it should follow right after his soldiers ran into the sub-humans. And not only that. Even the war cries of the soldiers, who had climbed over the wall, kept vanishing successively.
Something is wrong!
Judging so, Rudophus got off his horse, drew his sword, and ran up to the fort. And when he was finally standing atop the fort’s wall, Rudophus first felt dumbstruck, before loudly screaming, “W-What in Genobanda’s hell is going on here!?”
“Rudophus, just what are you doing…?” Kuffner hissed in irritation, eagerly awaiting Rudophus’ signal to charge.
As far as Kuffner could tell, many soldiers had already entered the fort. Nonetheless, no signal had come from Rudophus so far. On top of that, the roars of Rudophus’ men, who had been moments ago so loud that they thundered across the sky, had completely stopped at this point.
Just when Kuffner started to suspect that some abnormal situation had occurred, he spotted a single rider approaching from the front. Once the rider had closed the distance to the extent of making him distinguishable, Kuffner realized that it was Rudophus himself, who should currently lead the vanguard.
“They’ve got us, Kuffner!”
Kuffner asked Rudophus after he rode up in front of him, “Tell me, just what’s going on over there!?”
“The town is completely deserted!”
Kuffner’s understanding couldn’t catch up with the overly unforeseen news, resulting in him looking dumbfounded. Rudophus, who got pissed off about his colleague’s slow uptake, raised his voice once more, shouting, “Leave alone dwarves, there’s not even a single kitten left in that damn place! They’ve abandoned the town and scurried off!”
“W-What was that!?” Kuffner screamed out in shock, finally having grasped the situation.
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