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A terrifying explosion roared across the Labian. Just as everyone turned their heads towards the river, a huge column of water rose in the middle of the broad water stream. And, visible even from afar, the remains of a ship that had been smashed in half rode atop the pillar’s peak.
Once the pillar fell apart, reverting into normal water, the wreckage that used to be a ship allowing twenty to board fell towards the river’s surface while whirling through the air like a wood splinter, just to cause another big water spray when it impacted.
King Doldea recalled having seen such a scenery before.
“Don’t tell me…no way…!”
It happened during his first western expedition, more than thirty years ago. The sight of that day when the catapults, which had just been constructed by General Darius, exhibited their might for the first time during the western expedition the king launched against his friend’s pleas.
Even as King Doldea was caught in his recollection of that day, whistling that signaled the atmosphere being ripped apart filled the sky, and objects kept raining down one after the other. Those objects were huge stones which blazed crimson red.
The ship that got hit first was apparently unlucky. Most of the stones fell into the river, only causing a loud sizzling as it’d happen when water was dumped on a fire. However, even just the waves caused by their impacts caused the shallow river boats to sway violently, being more than enough to throw off the people riding on them.
Moreover, several stones directly hit the crossing boats. Something like a small boat would be easily pulverized by a hit of such magnitude, scattering the wreckage alongside its passengers over a wide area. As might be expected, bigger ships wouldn’t sink unless directly hit beneath their waterline. However, after opening up huge holes on the deck and flank, the burning, brittle stones would burst apart, their fragments shooting into the surroundings. Those fragments were easily able to penetrate the armor of soldiers if they hit directly. Thus many officers and soldiers got injured or lost their lives to those stone splinters. On top of that, the hot, burning fragments set any flammable material like wooden planks or sails ablaze, continuing to trigger fires all over the ships.
The lords and commanders pointed their fingers at huge clusters of fire which were launched high up into the sky from Fort Loylops. They were bulky objects tied up by ropes. Those objects contained small jars which had been filled with oil and closed up by stuffing cloths into their opening ― or in other words, Molotov cocktails as they’d have been called in the modern world.
Those bulky objects, which had been released by the catapults after setting them on fire, disassembled in mid-air as their ropes burned away, scattering the jars over a wide area.
It was a disaster for the ships below. As the jars fell on decks, masts, and even the heads of soldiers, they cracked open, dispersing their oil into the vicinity and catching fire at the same time.
Until moments ago, Romania’s fleet was about to cross the Labian in a majestic display of might. But now pandemonium had broken loose, with ships and boats getting pulverized, capsizing, and burning down before being swallowed by the dark waters.
“My…My fleet is…!”
Unlike King Doldea who was dumbstruck in front of this carnage, Daraios was quick to make his decision after comprehending that it was an attack from Fort Loylops.
“Beat the drums and signal retreat! We’re stopping the river crossing! Call back all the ships at once!”
“But, Your Excellency! At this point several thousand soldiers have already reached the opposite shore!”
Daraios thundered at the general objecting to the call for retreat, “You idiot! Do you plan to sacrifice ten thousands to save those few thousands!? Give the signal for retreat! At once!!”
“A-At your will!”
King Doldea stood stock still in a daze, watching his crumbling fleet as one of the generals behind him went to give the signal while falling and stumbling.
“W-Why? Just how in Genobanda’s name did it turn out like this…!?”
In order to answer King Doldea’s question, we need to go back in time a bit.
“Lord Lobnas, Holmea’s soldiers are heading this way!”
If one looked south from the watchtower installed on Fort Loylops, they’d see Holmea’s soldiers forming lines and heading towards Fort Loylops on the direct, unforked road from the cape. However, they roughly numbered a bit more than a thousand.
Our side doesn’t have more than 400 soldiers either, but we’re protected by the sturdy walls of the fort, and above all, we possess ten huge catapults which are the pride of Holmea. It’s unthinkable that we wouldn’t be able to hold our own against such a small enemy force.
“Have those bastards eat some stones as soon as they enter the catapults’ range!”
At this point, Lobnas’s men had already turned the catapults away from the Labian, pointing their aim at the road which Holmea’s soldiers currently traversed. They also had finished their test firing and thus they just needed to wait for the enemy to enter the firing range.
However, Holmea’s side stopped its force right in front the impact site of the stones fired by Lobnas as a test, seemingly being well aware of the power of their own catapults. Then they started to hit their drums, apparently trying to threaten Lobnas and his men.
“What are those morons doing?”
Lobnas felt suspicious of their actions. At a time when Romania had started to send its ships across the river, recapturing Fort Loylops should be of utmost urgency. And yet Holmea’s army limited itself to the systematic beating of drums at such a big distance. Lobnas couldn’t make head or tails out of their behavior.
If they’re trying to threaten us with that, they should have the soldiers hit the drums randomly and much louder while possibly accompanied by the soldiers’ shouting too. And in spite of that, they’re merely doing something as weird as a regular, drum beating. It’s almost as if…
Just when Lobnas started to think about another possibility, he suddenly heard screams and weapons clashing behind himself.
Once he turned around in a hurry and looked down at the fort from the watchtower, he spotted soldiers fighting down below, all over the place. For an instant Lobnas considered the possibility of allies killing each other by mistake, but he immediately realized this to be wrong. After all, his soldiers were being cut down by soldiers wearing Holmean armor and helmets.
“No way!? When did we allow them to get in!? And from where!?”
As if to answer his question, a captain of the suicide corps arrived at Lobnas’s location to give him a report while profusely bleeding from his right hand.
“Your Excellency, please escape! We fell for a trap!”
“A trap, you say!? Tell me, just what has happened here!?”
“A great number of Holmean soldiers had been hiding inside the walls of the fort’s underground storage, the armory, and even the stable! Those assholes all came out at once, and killed many of our men by using the moment of surprise!”
As he realized that the earlier, systematic drum beating might have been a signal for the soldiers hiding out in the fort, Lobnas now heard the blaring of horns behind him. Accompanied by those, Holmea’s army resumed its march towards the fort, their military boots’ stomping being audible all the way up to him.
“T-The catapults! Attack them with the catapults…no, burn them down! Destroy the catapults at any cost before they arrive!”, ordered Lobnas, but the captain powerlessly shook his head at that.
“It’s too late, Your Excellency. The first ones falling to their swords were the soldiers we had stationed around the catapults. By this time, they already have the catapult under their control.”
When Lobnas shifted his attention towards the catapults upon his captain’s reply, the Holmean soldiers were just in the process of slowly turning their alignment back towards the Labian.
“Shit…so you’re saying we utterly fell for a trick by the enemy…?”, muttered Lobnas in shock
Underneath him, he could watch Holmean soldiers attacking the square in front of the fort’s main gate while brandishing their swords and spears in order to open the gate. Lobnas’s soldiers desperately struggled to fend them off, but in the end it proved to be in vain as they were all slain. Before long, Holmea’s soldiers removed the sandbags at the gate’s door, and opened it inwards. Immediately following, the Holmean soldiers, who had attacked from outside, flooded the fort. And on top of that, Lobnas could hear several footsteps of people running up the watchtower’s stairs.
“Your Excellency, they’ve already reached all the way here. Please resolve yourself!”
The second he finished speaking, the first Holmean soldier showed up after having finished climbing the stairs. The captain mustered his last ounce of strength, brandished his sword, and assaulted the enemy, but he was outnumbered from the very start and got killed in no time.
The Holmean soldier, who had brought down the captain, directed a glare full of bloodlust at Lobnas.
“S-Stay away! I…cannot afford to die in a place like this! I cannot!”
Those were Lobnas’s final words.
The 3,000 Romanian soldiers who had already reached Holmean shore, fell into a state of extreme turmoil when the catapults started to attack the fleet as it was in the process of crossing the river. The unrest was especially conspicuous among the 1,000 soldiers under the command of General Lobnas. After all, the attack came from Fort Loylops which their own general had supposedly captured.
Watching the catapults still continuing their attacks, it couldn’t be attributed to accidental shooting anymore. If this meant that General Lobnas had switched sides to Holmea, it’d be an exceedingly grave matter. Assuming they were to be suspected to have betrayed Romania as well, all their allies around them would immediately turn into enemies. On top of that, they’d lose any chance to return home if things went totally south.
But, they quickly realized this to be a needless worry. After all, the proof for General Lobnas not having betrayed Romania dropped down from atop the cliff.
While bouncing off the cliff’s protruding rocks like a ball, that landed right in front of the lieutenant general’s feet who had been leading General Lobnas’s men in his absence.
The thing laying on the ground while spouting blood was the head of Lobnas. Its face was twisted by anguish and terror.
“No good! The plan has failed! Board the boats and retreat at once!”
“But, Lieutenant General, isn’t it suicide to row back under the catapults’ firing!?”
“You fool!”, thundered the lieutenant general at the soldier who had objected, “If our boats are destroyed, we’ll become unable to escape even if we want to! Do you plan to remain stranded in enemy land!? Hurry and get back to the boats!”
“But, shamefully running away after His Excellency was defeated is…”
“You can worry about that only if you’re still alive! For now, put all your effort into survival!”
Just as the lieutenant general hurried his soldier along by kicking him in the butt, he heard voices causing a stir from the soldiers at the end of the line, closest to Barrier Fort Masalkar. When he wondered just what was going on, things immediately became clear.
“The gate of Masalkar has opened!”
It looks like Holmea is trying to use this chance to thoroughly trash us. Apparently they plan to finish us off by directly sending out their soldiers instead of settling for catapult attacks alone.
For an instant, the lieutenant general was about to lose all hope, but he immediately switched his thinking.
“No, this is actually a golden opportunity for us!”
At this rate, we’ll be exposed to the catapult attacks without any way to fight back. However, catapults are weapons lacking precision. If we enter a melee with the soldiers coming out of the fort, Holmea won’t be able to indiscriminately use its catapults against us. And if possible, we might be able to rout the enemy soldiers and invade Masalkar. If we then hole up ourselves in there, it might become a new chance for Romania’s fleet to try another river crossing.
The lieutenant general was about to order his soldiers to get ready to intercept the enemy forces right away, but the instant he saw the soldiers coming out of the fort, he realized just how naive his thinking had been.
“T-Those are――,” uttered the lieutenant general, despair oozing out of his voice.
It was less than a thousand enemy soldiers who had come out of the fort. Their high discipline and skill was obvious from their movements which were so orderly that you could even tell from afar. However, in terms of numbers, Romania had three times as much on this shore, albeit they were currently in chaos.
However, what had shocked the lieutenant general despite their numerical advantage was the uniform, all-black equipment of the enemy soldiers.
“――Holmea’s 『Black Wall』…!”
The only ones allowed to wear black equipment within Holmea were members of Holmea’s strongest army corps, the 「Black Wall」. The captain commanding the 「Black Wall」, which had adopted a horizontal battle formation in front of the fort, shouted, “All hands, ready your shieeelds!”
The shields were hoisted up with a single, loud clunk. Those shields didn’t budge even a tiny bit, like perfectly sculpted statues. With the shields lined up, the front row had turned into a single, impeccable wall.
“――Ready your speaaars!”
Next, countless spears were thrust forward with their spearheads dazzlingly reflecting the white sunlight.
“――All hands, advaaance!!”
A drum began to be beat at a rhythm that signaled advance alongside the captain’s order. The drum beating, which was intermittent at first, gradually increased its tempo. In accordance with that, the pace of the 「Black Wall’s」 advance grew as well. And, at last, their speed became something equivalent to a full sprint.
But, despite running at full speed, the wall of shields didn’t show a single irregularity or shaking, as if being one entity to begin with. It was the very definition of a wall.
“Get in ranks! We have to intercept them! Prepare for the enemy’s charge!!” The lieutenant general frantically shouted at his disorderly soldiers, somehow managing to have them form up a horizontal battle formation to intercept the enemy.
The 「Black Wall」 plunged into that battle formation. Loud impacts of spear hitting spear, shield hitting shield, and flesh hitting flesh filled the air.
However, the ones unilaterally being blown away by the impact were Romania’s soldiers. Many soldiers were bashed by shields, and stabbed by spears, resulting in Romania’s battle formation instantly falling apart despite the lieutenant general having struggled so much to set it up.
“No mercy! Annihilate the enemy!”
The 「Black Wall」 advanced further so as to answer its commanding officer’s order.
Romania’s side had broken down after just one collision with the enemy formation. The Romanian soldiers pushed their comrades aside or down, heading backwards, all in an attempt to get away as far as possible from the looming「Black Wall」. Because they tried to board the boats at the ferry landing point all at once, the boats became overloaded on one side and capsized. Many Romanian soldiers were swept away by the river, or vanished underwater after jumping into the river out of their own accord.
Holmea’s Prince Alexius voiced out his admiration as he watched the battle, or rather, onslaught from Masalkar, “Nothing less of my 『Black Wall』, the strongest unit of Holmea!”
Among the Romanian soldiers, some tried to oppose the 「Black Wall」 gallantly, but the 「Black Wall」 didn’t even take any notice of them and simply routed, trampled, tore down, and dispersed any resistance as if it all was a foregone conclusion.
Their execution could truly be only described as a masterpiece.
“That is too much praise, Your Highness.” The one refuting Alexius’s words was the vice-commander ― the commander in reality ― of the 「Black Wall」, Hiakis. “A battle like this is equal to knocking away garbage that was washed ashore. Being praised for such a fight would actually hurt the feelings of our soldiers instead.”
For the sake of deceiving Romania’s collaborators, not only the royal army, but even most of the 「Black Wall」 had been moved westwards. The ones pushing Romania’s soldiers into the river were the relatively young and inexperienced units among the 「Black Wall」. It’d be upsetting to regard such units as the true might of the 「Black Wall」. Declaring his discontent about the prince’s praise was a disrespectful act that usually wouldn’t be allowed for a retainer. However, the 「Black Wall」 possessed enough strength to invalidate such lese-majesty.
Even Alexius, who was known for his hate of Darius, desired the 「Black Wall」 to the extent of twisting his own principles.
“Those are big words, Hiakis. ――Very well, can I have you exhibit that might of yours to the fullest during the subjugation of the rebellious slaves in the west?” Alexius revealed a nasty smile, “But then again, those very slaves defeated Darius who had commanded you in the past. Will you be able to win against such opponents?”
“…It’s said that age changes even a lion into a foolish cat. In the end, Darius is no more than an old man who’s delving in his past glory――” Hiakis tightly clenched his fists in a place not visible to Alexius, “――I’ll show you how our 「Black Wall」 will rout the rebellious slaves without fail!”
Liking Hiakis’s way of phrasing, Alexius laughed out loudly after saying, “I’m looking forward to it.”
Alexius’s laughter echoed across the Labian’s ferry landing. Not a single living Romanian soldier was to be found there anymore.
In such a manner, the fight, which would go down in history as “Battle of Labian,” came to an end with an overwhelming victory for Holmea.
Around a time when the battle at the Labian’s ferry landing was still raging, the figure of a single man could be seen atop a small hill slightly away from the ferry landing. While being surrounded at a distance by men and women wearing chamberlain and maid attires, that man was facing a drawing board installed on a wooden rack. Dipping his own fingers in the colorants instead of brushes, he was single-mindedly drawing on the canvas, sometimes using his nails and sometimes relying on the balls of his fingers.
Suddenly the circle of maids and chamberlains watching over him opened up, and a man in a Romanian uniform stepped inside.
“Your Majesty, I have returned just now.”
The man referred to as majesty spoke to the Romanian soldier, who was kneeling with his head lowered, while keeping his attention to the canvas, “So, how did it go?”
“Romania’s army led by King Doldea was crushed by Holmea’s plan. Many ships were sunk by Loylops’s catapults, and even the soldiers, who managed to land on Holmean soil, were driven back into the river by the 『Black Wall』. At the moment, Romania’s army is still encamped near the Labian, but it is foreseeable that they will withdraw in the near future.”
“I see. Good work,” said the man and put the finishing touch on the canvas with his pinky.
Afterwards, the man sighed in satisfaction, and stood up while wiping his fingers with a towel that had been provided by a maid after she had soundlessly approached him.
“Put the painting away.”
After the man left while leaving those words behind, the man in Romanian uniform finally lifted his face, just to throw his eyes wide open. The canvas left behind depicted a fleet which was suffering from catapults as it tried to cross a big river that appeared to be the Labian, and Romanian soldiers as they were dropped into the river at the riverside by Holmean soldiers who wore uniform, black equipment. It was a perfect replica of the scenery the man had witnessed just a little while ago.
Leaving the shocked soldier behind, the man chuckled as he descended the hill with his maids and chamberlains, “Now then, I guess I’ll go and console the heartbroken King Doldea.”
In front of the man were fifty soldiers. All of them wore a uniform differing from that of Holmea or Romania. A man looking like a general stood in front of the soldiers.
He turned towards them, and yelled, “Hoist the flag! His Majesty is departing!”
Obeying the general’s order, a soldier raised a flagpole. Immediately the big flag was picked up by the wind, fluttering furiously. A snake winding around a wine cup was depicted in the center of that flag. It was the national flag of Buljeboa.
“Everything went down as illustrated in my drawing…,” said the young king of Buljeboa, Cesar Buljeboa.
This man was generally rumored to be a foolish ruler who slighted national politics while immersing himself in his paintings.
But, those belonging to the dark side of the West called him: “Poisonous Serpent of Buljeboa,” a poison master who had usurped the throne by poisoning all his siblings to death.
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