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When King Doldea, sitting on his provisional throne inside the tent, raised a hand and announced, “Begin,” Romania’s First Prince Goldia stepped forward as one of the participants in the western expedition.
“Etiquette is unnecessary even though you might be in the presence of His Majesty! What His Majesty desires the most isn’t decorum, but your honest, unadorned opinion!” Goldia announced sonorously.
Although he might be called prince, he was already close to fifty in age. He had obtained quite a few achievements on the domestic front as his father’s aide, but his military ability was meager at best. Nonetheless, he joined the western war effort to gain some prestige as successor to the throne, but no one present could deny that he felt out-of-place here. Even the armor he was currently wearing seemed like a bad joke as it couldn’t avoid the impression of having been allotted to him out of some armory.
It was a common story among the royal court’s critical gossipers that one of the reasons for King Doldea not having abdicated yet was to be found in the flaky nature of the prince.
“Daraios, commence the war council!” The prince said with a somewhat squeaky, nervous voice.
In response, Romania’s Marshal Daraios, who was at the same time the prince’s guardian and the father of his first wife, stepped forward. Daraios was about to reach an old age where whiteness started to erode his hair and wrinkles dug themselves deeply into his face, but his huge frame was like a boulder of muscles, allowing him to move around lightly despite wearing a massive armor. If Souma were to see him, he’d probably describe him as a human version of Zurgu.
And his most conspicuous feature was his left arm missing from the shoulder down. This was an honorable injury he had sustained during the last western expedition over thirty years ago. Suffering a crushing defeat in front of General Darius, he’d joined the rear guard of the retreating Romanian army. It was said that Daraios had supposedly commented, “It’s fine like this as it makes movement easier,” when his arm got lopped off during the ensuing harsh battle. And, as soon as he had stopped the bleeding by tying up the wound with a rope, he had lifted the spear in his right, held the reins of his steed in his mouth, and cut into the pursuing Holmean soldiers. Even nowadays, this tale was famous in Romania.
Moreover, even in Holmea, following story was being passed down as a sequel to his valorous act: Admiring the courage and bravery displayed by Daraios during the retreat of his army, General Darius retrieved his arm from the battlefield, washed it clean, politely wrapped it up in a beautiful cloth he had imported from the continent’s center, and sent it to Daraios in a wooden box as “Lost Property of a Hero.”
However, the box was returned to General Darius on another day. Out of necessity, Darius opened the box with the intent to bury the arm at a suitable place, just to get startled. Unbelievably, a dignified arm protector had been equipped on the arm which now clasped a sword. It was said that a letter accompanied the arm, curtly stating, “It would be terribly disrespectful to dispossess you of your biggest achievement during the last battle, and thus I ask you to allow me to send this back to you.”
Daraios sending back the arm with its hand clasping a sword was a display of his unwavering determination that he hadn’t lost his fighting spirit, even if his arm was gone now. Moreover, he showed his audacity by identifying his lost arm as the biggest achievement of General Darius in a battle where tens of thousands Romanian soldiers fell on top of General Darius himself having slain many named generals with his own hands.
According to rumors, General Darius broke out in a frank laughter, predicting, “This guy will definitely make a name for himself in Romania.” And that prediction came true with Daraios soon being appointed marshal.
Marshal Daraios currently traced the map of the western regions, which he had spread out on the table with his finger under the careful observation of all present lords and generals.
“The biggest obstacle for our western expedition is to be found in how we cross the Labian!”
Holmea and Romania were regarded as the two major powerhouses of the West, but in reality, Romania was superior in national power. However, the Labian River was the very reason for Romania having been unable to seize Holmea so far. The Labian was a large river dividing Romania and Holmea.
In modern times, the amount of water carried by rivers had been reduced through the construction of dams, and their raging streams had been tamed through river development, but in ancient times, rivers were perilous passes where the water stream surged furiously with their course bending and twisting like writhing serpents. The riverbanks had their soil gnawed away by the violent water currents, resulting in many sections of riversides being steep and dangerous. That was remarkably so for Holmea’s side of the river. Even if one tried to cross the river from Romania, they’d be restricted to locations where boats could land. Moreover, if one attempted to cross the river at places unconfirmed as safe transition points, the boat would be carried away by swift currents, and if unlucky, would eventually sink after having its hull ripped apart by protruding rocks.
For this reason, only three routes were considered as viable to cross the Labian and invade Holmea.
“According to our initial plans, we were supposed to send in a huge army with a fleet from this ferry point.” Daraios pointed at a landing point used for the trade between both countries during peace times.
The riverbed around there was deep enough for big ships, and the current was gentle enough for smaller boats. It was the perfect spot to stow large numbers of soldiers onto a fleet of ships to invade in one swoop.
But, Holmea was well aware of this, and thus they had adopted appropriate defensive measures against it.
“However, at its destination lies Gateway Fort Masalkar. And as all of you know, it’s the base of the 『Black Wall』.”
The instant Black Wall left Daraios’s mouth, the atmosphere inside the tent became tense and restive. None of those present here didn’t know the name of Holmea’s strongest army corps which had made Romania suffer on so many occasions.
“We have informations that their brainfart of a king foolishly transfered the 『Black Wall』 to the west in order to subject the revolting slaves, but at the same time, we heard contradicting information, claiming that the majority of the royal army has been stationed at Holmea’s eastern border. Moreover, we must not forget about Fort Loylops!”
Fort Loylops was a small stronghold located on a cape that protruded out into the river next to the ferry point on Holmea’s side. The name Loylops originated from a giant who was said to throw rocks at humans traveling the mountains. This fort with its name referring to a stone-throwing giant was equipped with ten big catapults. Assuming Romania’s army tried to cross the river with their boats and ships, the catapults would rain a shower of rocks and fire pots down on them.
As a matter of fact, more than thirty years ago, back when King Doldea tried to invade Holmea with a huge army, most of his fleet’s ships were sunk by that fort.
“Assaulting Masalkar while under constant fire by Loylops is impossible. Thus it begs the question whether we should follow tradition by invading from Laphrae?”
A lord brought up the second route which would mean crossing the same river slightly further north and invading a region called Laphrae. Laphrae was a delta where several river branches merged into the Labian. The many river streams also led to the area being divided into several sections. In the past, small countries ruled over each of those sections, but nowadays all of them had been long annexed by Holmea, making the region just another remote borderland disconnected from Holmea’s public road system.
But, Romania’s king from four generations ago had succeeded in crossing the Labian into Laphrae, using a small country’s records and maps as guidance. It allowed the king of that time to deliver a devastating blow against Holmea.
Yet, the lord immediately earned himself an objection to his proposal.
“Out of the question! Nowadays each section of Laphrae has its own fort with all of them ready for us! Not to mention that Laphrae is divided into many areas, which will make it impossible for us to benefit from our large army. If we’re so desperate to consider that option, going through Buljeboa would be much more realistic.”
And the third and last route passed through the small country Buljeboa located even further upstream in the north. Buljeboa was a small nation hidden away in the mountains between Holmea and Romania. Most of its territory consisted of steep rocks, and with no produce to speak of, it was such a poor kingdom that it’d be a stain for Romania to be mentioned with Buljeboa in the same breath.
Nevertheless, those steep mountains served as a natural bulwark, making a capture of the area an arduous and time-costly endeavor. Furthermore, even if you managed to take the area, it wouldn’t result in any worthwhile gains, and because of that, Buljeboa was left alone by both countries for the most part.
“Isn’t Buljeboa the one out of the question the most!? Our objective isn’t beating down a fluttering bat, but killing a lion.”
Buljeboa wagged its tail both ways, pro-Romania and pro-Holmea, infinitely maintaining a state where they’d be able to request the help of one country if the other was to attack them. Because of Buljeboa’s stubbornness based on its insignificance in comparison, the Romanians and Holmeans ridiculed Buljeboa as bats.
“As expected, we have no choice but to attack through the Labian’s ferry point…”
“Are you planning to pointlessly send our soldiers to their death!?”
“We might as well look for a different spot allowing a crossing. How about that?”
“Now? Investigating the river in front of the Holmeans would be like kindly telling them where we’re going to cross the river.”
“How about using the opportunity to capture Buljeboa, also for the sake of securing a route for future invasions into Holmea?”
“If Holmea closes up the narrow paths on their side, our army will be stranded in Buljeboa with almost no food. Are you intending to starve our soldiers to death?”
It had turned into a heated war council where the lords and generals exchanged their opinions so actively that they were on the brink of starting a fist fight, but even so, they couldn’t quite reach an agreement.
Everyone was well aware that the easiest option would be to give up on the western expedition and pull back the army. But, King Doldea had called this his final western expedition when raising the army, rousing the lords and soldiers into action. Therefore none of them was able to tell King Doldea to withdraw without any results whatsoever. Also, even the lords and generals couldn’t afford to retreat in futility after having departed on this expedition with tam-tam.
Still, the expeditionary army raised by the king this time was based on the underlying plan that Holmea would turn its attention and army to the subjugation of the western, revolting slaves. With this preamble having fallen flat, readily coming up with an alternative plan to recover the situation was next to impossible.
Feeling that the war council’s arguments had started to go around in circles, King Doldea drew everyone’s attention by lightly lifting a hand.
“My loyal lords and generals, the discussion has been very heated, so we’ll take a break at this point.”
King Doldea left his tent while accompanied by only a few royal guards and servants. In order to stretch out his legs a bit, he had a carriage prepared for himself, moving all the way to the Labian that divided both armies. And as he stood at the riverside, he told his retinue that he’d like to brood by himself for a short while, keeping them at a distance. After confirming that no one was near him, King Doldea suddenly and decisively threw his eyes wide open.
“All because those cursed slaves pushed their luck! In addition, that incompetent moron Lobnas! Seriously believing in the suggestion of a retard like him has turned into a huge disgrace for me!”
For a while he continued to vent a flurry of insults and condemnations. He hadn’t shown it on his face, but a seething rage had been festering deep down in his heart like a tumor, now gushing out to the surface.
But the king’s rage was only understandable. In his eyes, the man calling himself Divine Son of Destruction cheated a huge amount of 50,000 gold coins out of him, just to turn on him and reject any further instructions, effectively breaking off all relations. As far as the king knew, the perpetrator was a young man around twenty. In other words, he, who prided himself to be the king of the major power Romania, had been ridiculously fooled by a youth who could have been his grandchild.
Nonetheless, King Doldea possessed enough indiscretion to lock these raging emotions away in his heart in front of his retainers. In the past, he had forced a western expedition out of youthful ardor, resulting in Romania not only suffering a devastating defeat, but the king also losing a man whom one could have easily described as his closest and most trusted friend. This experience had taught the king to tread carefully and act prudently.
After having vented for a while, he finally calmed down a bit, and then took another look at Holmea on the other side’s shore.
“We must make this western expedition a success no matter what it takes…”
Deep in the king’s heart still burned the dream of suppressing Holmea and reviving the unified great kingdom of old, but naturally, even King Doldea couldn’t escape the ravages of age. Just as he had declared in front of his lords and officers, this would likely become his last western expedition. That alone was reason enough to spur his desire to leave behind a lasting achievement, even if it wouldn’t go as far as subjugating Holmea. Also, seeing how he had pulled off a grandstanding with his Final Western Expedition act, he’d lose all dignity as a king unless he had some kind of achievement to show for it.
And yet, thanks to the boss of the revolting slaves, they were left stranded in front of Holmea, only able to rely on their own devices. This maddened the king to no end.
However, it wasn’t only bad news which had reached King Doldea’s ears. Among the citizens of the border town on the other side of Masalkar existed many collaborators whom Romania had previously won over with money. Those sources reported that King Warius, in a fit of anger over the theft of his copper, had summoned the Black Wall to subjugate the revolting slaves. The information didn’t end there either. It also contained the news that even the royal army, which had been stationed at the border, was currently heading to the capital.
Yet, ever since then, the surveillance in the town had apparently become quite strict, stopping the inflow of information from Romania’s collaborators. Thus Romania’s side had no way to ascertain the validity of those claims. However, if these pieces of information proved to be true, it’d be a golden opportunity. No matter how firm Gateway Fort Masalkar might be, and no matter how many catapults Fort Loylops might possess, either could only display its might if they were manned by elites. Random ordinary soldiers would be nothing to fear.
But, King Doldea gazes at the opposite shore, Loylops stands tall on the cape protruding into the river that separates both our sides. Countless flags are crowding the walks along the battlements, and I can see the spears of soldiers stabbing into the sky like trees in a forest. Going by this sight, it’s preposterous to think that the royal army has been ordered to move towards the slave subjugation. Although it’d have been just fine if they had ignored our side and hurried to their slave subjugation in the west.
The king experienced an unjustified, selfish pang of anger at Holmea not doing as he’d like them to.
“At any rate, what an aggravating fort it is…” King Doldea spat out his hatred.
Just then he spotted birds preening themselves atop the saw-shaped crenels (unevennesses created to allow archers to hide themselves) added to the fort’s chest wall. This calm scenery suggested Loylops to be a work of peace, but King Doldea knew that huge stones and fire pots would rain down on them like pandemonium if his fleet should try to cross over. To this very day he couldn’t forget the sight of the fleet led by him being utterly crushed by Loylops.
It’d give me so much joy, if only we could roast the fort alongside the grooming birds, King Doldea dreamed.
When hating lions, you also beat up cats was a saying in Romania. The proverb meant that while excessively hating Holmea, which had a lion in its national flag, you’d end up hating even the cats walking at the roadside, but then again it’d likely be quite inconvenient for the birds to be regarded as a target for roasting just because of an excessive hate towards Fort Loylops, the king suspected.
King Doldea was lost in his delusions of the fort burning down when he suddenly felt something being out of place. Trying to grasp the source of his discomfort, the king stared at Loylops for a while, before finally realizing what had been bugging him.
“…I see. So that’s how it is.”
The corners of the king’s mouth lifted beneath his long, white beard as he broke out into a daring smile. Then he called his attendants over.
“I don’t care who, just summon the lords and generals to my tent at once. We’re going to resume the war council!”
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