“I see them! We’ve found the dwarves and zoan!”
Rudophus and Kuffner finally were able to visually confirm the dwarves, who had escaped Copper Mine Marven, after racing across side roads for day and night.
I was certain that the dwarves would try to get away from us after we’ve caught up with them, but these impudent worms seem intent on challenging us. They’ve formed a circle with their wheelbarrows in a lousy attempt to block off the road and are now hiding themselves within. But, in the end it’s just a shabby stopgap measure.
Their circle is situated near a mountain on the right side, but gentle-sloping hills are spreading out on the left. In this situation it’ll be perfect to surround their barricade by deploying our soldiers from the hills, and thus cutting off their path of retreat. A wall made out of wheelbarrows loaded with copper is easily scalable thanks to its low height. It’ll all be over once we tear through that wall like through thin skin. I’m sure it’ll be a breeze to scatter the dwarves, seeing how they’re bogged down with many non-combatants hindering their movements.
At this point, the recovery of the copper is just a matter of time.
However, Rudophus forced those feelings of elation back down. Once he looked at the soldiers under his command, all of them were gasping heavily with fatigue having deeply carved itself onto their faces. Believing that the soldiers wouldn’t be able to put up a decent fight in this state, he had them halt their advance for a moment.
Of course, the soldier’s exhaustion wouldn’t be alleviated by such a short break. But, after they had at least caught their breath again, Rudophus yelled, “Listen, you lot! All the troubles you’ve gone through over the last few days are their fault! Because of those beasts and worms, we had to run around the whole country, giving us such a hard time! Right now is the moment for you to let all the pent-up anger explode! It’s the time for you to beat all your grudges into them!”
Faint vitality returned into the eyes of the soldiers, who should be completely exhausted by now, due to Rudophus’s encouragement. The fanned rage towards the zoan and dwarves let them forget their fatigue for a moment.
“And let me promise you this: If we kill those pests and recover the copper, all of you will be given a special big reward!”
He stirred the soldiers even further by luring them with a reward. After making sure that his soldiers were brimming with fighting spirit, Rudophus accepted a spear from a subordinate, and pointed its spearhead at the dwarves’ encampment.
“All hands! Get theeeemmm!”
Upon Rudophus’s order to charge, the soldiers started to run while roaring.
Garam calmly glared at the Holmean soldiers approaching them like that from within the circle of wheelbarrows. And choosing the proper timing, he thrust his right hand into the air. This caused Shishul to furiously hit her hand drum next to him.
Due to the drumming reverberating from within the enemy encampment, Rudophus screwed up his eyebrows into a frown, wondering what was going on.
Don’t tell me…are they planning to leave their circle and assault us?
At the very moment he thought this, the mountain on the right side of the road rumbled. War cries that made the atmosphere tremble, drums that were hit in response within the circle, countless footsteps thundering like an earth-shake, and trees that were swaying violently as if hit by a storm. All of this triggered the hallucination that the mountain itself had come to life.
“W-What’s going on!?” Rudophus looked up the mountain, obviously knocked out of his wits.
Thereupon, on the dim mountain slope where the sunlight got blocked by the dense leaves and foliage, he spotted how glittering lights moved about while reflecting the few sun rays that found their way through the leaf canopy. Once he strained his eyes and took a closer look, he realized those to be roundish objects with a metallic luster.
“Those are…steel helmets…? ――An ambush!?”
Moreover, their numbers aren’t limited to just a hundred or two. They field enough numbers to shake a mountain, albeit a small one. If we’re unlucky, they might even exceed a thousand. Such a number of steel-helmet-wearing soldiers is about to run down the mountain.
All blood drained from Rudophus’s face within a breath.
“S-Shit. This is a trap!”
Haven’t the revolting slaves been awfully well-prepared until now, beginning with the attack on Marven? Thus it’d be only logical for them to have prepared measures in case of their enemy catching up on them. Rather, it’d be weird if they didn’t prepare for that possibility. And now we’ve completely fallen for their trap!
Rudophus wasn’t the only one to be shocked. Of course, the soldiers led by him were the same. Moreover, the soldiers’ fighting spirit got utterly crushed before they even crossed swords with the enemy thanks to the ambush troops taking them completely unaware. They had forgotten about the exhaustion afflicting their bodies and minds because their fighting spirits were doped by the powerful drugs called anger and reward, but now all of it came crashing down on them in one swoop. At this point, their will to fight was all but gone with some of them even breaking down on the spot, flopping down on the ground.
Let alone taking back the copper, at this rate we’re going to get annihilated!
Rudophus immediately decided to order a retreat.
“Fall back! Everyone, head south! We’re withdrawing!”
Upon his call for retreat, the soldiers panicky threw away their weapons, and started to flee, everyone scrambling to get away first.
Rudophus shouted towards Kuffner who was leading the vanguard with his cavalrymen, “Kuffner, retreat! It’s an enemy ambush!”
The copper was right there, in front of his eyes. Kuffner hesitated to withdraw, and thus, abandon the copper right in front of his nose after they had searched high and low.
The zoan, who finally descended the mountain, appeared one after the other, just to attack the flank of the cavalry unit led by Kuffner.
“Kettle them in! Crush them! Overwhelm them with the power of our numbers!”
The one dashing at the front while yelling this was Zurgu, a giant with red fur that seemed to be on fire.
“Aye! I found the enemy general! His head is mine!”
As soon as he spotted Kuffner, Zurgu roared with an expression as if licking his chops right before a feast. He kicked off the ground with a loud booming sound, jumping into the air close to Kuffner’s horse. While airborne, Zurgu slashed his machete down from above his head, adding the momentum of his fall to his attack. Kuffner blocked the machete with his spear on the spur of the moment, but Zurgu’s blade easily cut through the spear handle and subsequently Kuffner’s torso.
However, Kuffner bending backwards out of surprise over Zurgu leaping at him proved to be fortunate. Zurgu’s slash was limited to only shaving off the leather armor’s surface. But, because of that, Kuffner lost his balance and fell off his horse.
Rudophus threw his spear in light of his colleague’s danger. The spear embedded itself in the ground between Kuffner, who was lying on the ground, and Zurgu who was about to leap upon him, saving Kuffner’s life in the nick of time.
“You damn beast! I’ll take you on!”
Hastening his horse, Rudophus quickly got close and struck his sword, which he had drawn in exchange for his spear, at Zurgu from atop his horse. The sword, which he had recklessly slapped down with all his power, was tough to deal with for just the reason of him being seated in an elevated location. Even Zurgu was forced into a one-sided defensive battle.
Yet, where only strength was concerned, Zurgu was said to exceed Garam who was highly praised for being the strongest hero on the plains. The instant Rudophus averted his eyes for a moment to check on Kuffner, Zurgu repelled the sword swung down at him especially powerfully.
Because of this, Rudophus’s stance was drastically thrown off-balance, although he didn’t fall off his horse. And Zurgu was not one to miss such an opportunity. Sweeping his machete sideways, he deeply cut through Rudophus’s thigh.
Holmean cavalrymen, which hadn’t yet received the stirrup introduced to this world by Souma, affixed their bodies on the horse by tightly pressing both legs against its flanks. However, with his right thigh having been cut so deeply, Rudophus had become unable to stabilize his posture in such a way.
Zurgu tried to capitalize on the golden chance to finish the job. But, of all things, Rudophus suddenly threw his sword at him. Even Zurgu couldn’t help but get startled by that unforeseen counterattack. As he barely warded off the sword with his machete, he ended up stopping his charge.
Using that opportunity, Rudophus spurred his horse on by powerfully slapping its butt, and called out to Kuffner.
“We’re running, Kuffner!”
With things having gone so wrong, Kuffner had no choice but to give up on his attachment toward the copper. He got on his horse, and escaped together with Rudophus as if chasing after the soldiers who ran away first.
Zurgu tried to pursue the two, but he stumbled a step or two forward and came to a grinding halt, muttering with a discouraged expression, “What a waste. I missed my chance to reap the enemy general’s head.”
And then, after getting ordered to cease their pursuit, the zoan warriors gathered around him.
“《Mad Claw》, we’re not going to chase after them?”
Killing the enemy in battle was an honor for warriors. Zurgu loosely waved his hand, and replied, “Don’t be silly,” to the zoan warrior who looked unhappy over missing out on a great chance to earn some honor on the battlefield after a long time.
It’d have been fine to chase after them, but things would have turned ugly if the enemy had resolved themselves to fight back for real. If it took too much time, their trick would get exposed.
Zurgu exaggeratedly gestured towards the mountain they had descended earlier, beckoning someone over. In response, groups of dwarves came down a short while later. However, their numbers were nowhere close to reaching Rudophus’s estimations. Saying they totaled 50 people was already an overstatement.
Another strange aspect was how all dwarves wore pots and kettles on their heads. And not just that. Many pots and kettles had also been tied upside-down on their arms and shoulders. Marven’s Norðri, the one leading those dwarves, burst into loud laughter, his red beard trembling.
“This was a huge thrill. Those filthy humans tucked their tails between their legs and scurried away after getting surprised by pots and kettles!”
The ambush troops, which had frightened Rudophus and the other Holmean soldiers, actually were around 50 dwarves in addition to 100 zoan warriors, or in other words, less than 200 altogether. On top of that, the dwarven group also included women who didn’t look like they’d be able to fight at all.
However, these 50 dwarves had shouted loudly, shaken the trees, and deliberately run around the mountain while stomping their feet, all to fake the presence of a huge number of troops.
Holmea’s side completely fell for that deception.
“It’s because we’ve thoroughly led them around by the nose until now, resulting in them jumping at shadows. In addition, their brains didn’t work properly because of their exhaustion. By abusing that and simply pretending that there was an ambush waiting for them and that we had laid out a trap, we gave them the impression that these things actually existed.” Zurgu proudly explained the reason why Holmea’s soldiers ran away.
Norðri raised his voice in admiration, but having just arrived, Garam said with an amazed look, “Aren’t you just repeating what Soma told you?”
However, Zurgu brazenly answered, “Now, now, isn’t that okay? In reality I’ve been the one who carried it out.”
Garam became lost for words when confronted with such a reply. He had heard so even inside the encirclement, but Zurgu had shouted in a way making others believe there were many on his side when attacking the Holmean soldiers. However, this hadn’t been included in Souma’s instructions. Garam was sure that Zurgu had come up with this by himself.
While cutting into an enemy army that outnumbered their side by far, he pulled off the bold bluff of faking his side having numerical superiority. That hardihood, or rather, nerve is something I can’t imitate at all. I don’t feel that I’d lose in individual prowess, but I might be unable to match him only when it comes to the resourcefulness of leading a big army.
Those were Garam’s thoughts, but――
“How about it, oh Grand Clan Chief? I’m awesome, right?”
――once he saw Zurgu proudly thrusting out his chest with these words, it terribly grated him to honestly admit as much.
“Shut up, idiot. Rather than that, hurry up and gather the warriors. We’re going to quickly cross the river before they come back.” He spat out and turned around all of a sudden.
In response, Zurgu couldn’t help but to mutter, “What a crabby guy.”