“Are you sane?”
Marchronis’ words represented the feelings of everyone present and even Shyemul, who would usually flare up at such remark, apparently couldn’t find any fault with them.
“With only the zoan, we have around 800 troops. Even if we add the released slaves to that, we still fall short of 2000 troops. Challenging the national army that has more than 4000 soldiers would be suicide.”
Only Jahangil got worked up and said “They will be scattered by my kicks!”, but the others stayed silent while uniformly showing bitter expressions.
“If we face them from the front, we won’t stand a decent chance. I also believe this.”
Understanding that Souma hasn’t given into despair, Marchronis let out a sigh and tried to calm his emotions.
However, while revealing a provocative smile, Souma asks Marchronis,
“Mister Marchronis, I think that you are closest to understanding the thought process of the commander of the punitive force among those present here. If you were the punitive force’s commander, would you expect us to pick a fight with you by departing from the city?”
“I would be cautious at the level of They might come attacking after getting excited having taken the city, as fools who can’t even understand the difference in combat power between both sides.”
Marchronis deliberately used a sharp manner of speech, which implied that he was remonstrating Souma’s hasty act. Guessing Marchronis’ intention, Souma returned a wry smile.
“I also think that it’s a dangerous gamble. But our side is overwhelmingly inferior on the side of combat power. Sooner or later it will become necessary to take some kind of risk.”
“That seems correct, certainly, but…”
Taking into account the hypothesized difference in combat power, they will definitely lose if they fight normally. If they want to win despite that, they have to take a dangerous bet. Even Marchronis can understand as much.
However, Marchronis thinks. Even if the punitive force were to be careless, for argument’s sake, only that won’t be enough. Moreover, on top of that they have to obtain victory with their own hands.
“What are you planning to do?”
Souma changes his expression after Marchronis’ question and,
“Before I tell you that, there’s something I’d like to confirm—.”
Souma points at a place on the map.
“This is a river and this a bridge, right? How deep is the water and how much water does the river carry here?”
The map showed a river, which streams from the northern mountains to the south after passing between Bolnis and Luoma, and a bridge that spanned over said river at the place he pointed at.
“Currently there isn’t that much water due to the dry season. Especially the place where this bridge is located at, has a wide river width making up for its water depth that at most reaches to one’s knees.”
“I guess it’s impossible with this amount of water. Besides, we probably won’t have the time either…”
What Souma thought of first was to wash away the punitive force with a muddy stream after making a dam that would be built upstream burst while matching the time with the punitive force’s river crossing. It’s a move often used in manga and light novels about military history, but even the dwarves, who possess a high engineering skill, would probably be hard pressed to build a dam that can accumulate enough water to wash away the enemy troops in a short time.
If that’s the case, I will confirm whether I can realize the other move I came up with.
“What kind of bridge is it?”
Marchronis answered while digging up the bridge’s structure from within his memories.
“It’s a bridge that was created by laying many logs that were split vertically across rocks that protruded out of the river. If I remember correctly, its width has an extent that would be filled up by one largish carriage or wagon, I think.”
Among the bridges of this era there are many such simple constructions that only laid planks or logs across rivers. It bases on the preamble that the bridge will be dropped to hold back an invasion when getting attacked by an enemy.
“Are there other places, besides this bridge, where it’s possible for people to cross the river?”
“There sure are. The current isn’t that rapid, so if one doesn’t mind getting soaked with water, up to around the waist, even if they don’t swim, it’s possible to cross almost everywhere.”
For Souma that became increasingly convenient.
Adding the information he learned just now to the strategic plan he had devised, bustling simulations repeatedly played back within Souma’s head.
What will the other side do against our actions?
What are our advantages?
What are disadvantages for our enemy?
When everyone started to get impatient due to him having sunken into a deep brooding, Souma finally lifted his face.
“I’m planning to throw the punitive force into terrible chaos.”
Within the gazes gathering on him and asking him to explain what he means by that, Souma asked Marchronis a question instead of addressing those inquiring looks.
“What would be the most troublesome action we could take as far as Holmea is concerned?”
Upon this sudden question, Marchronis places his hand on his chin, and answers after careful thinking,
“Let’s see. — If it was me, I would be afraid of you going around defenseless cities and villages and pillaging them one after the other like bugs devouring fields.”
Shyemul got angry due to that.
“Do you think that the proud zoan would do something like that!?”
For the zoan a battle is a place to demonstrate their own bravery. Something like assaulting those who don’t possess any combat strength is nothing else but a disgrace. Just the fact that they are regarded like that is an unbearable humiliation for Shyemul who has a high pride to the extent of holding the nickname of 《Noble Fang》.
Souma threw a lifeline to Marchronis who is baffled due to Shyemul’s menacing look.
“I don’t believe that the zoan would do something like that.”
“… Then it’s fine.”
She pretends to act really reluctant, but her desperately resisting forming a smile gave it away immediately.
Feeling embarrassed due to Marchronis’s look praising him for grasping the heart of a zoan girl, Souma played it down with a cough and continued his words,
“However, I intend to use that misunderstanding.”
Unable to comprehend the meaning of Souma’s words, all of them had questioning looks.
“The foundation of the plan I have come up with is a hit & run that capitalizes on the zoan’s mobility. Umm… I mean, a repetition of delivering a blow and withdrawing afterwards.”
Souma points at the picture of the bridge that was placed on the river which was drawn in the upper half of the map.
“First off, at the moment when a certain number of the punitive force’s soldiers – a number allowing us to damage them with an attack – crossed the river, we will attack.”
“You mean you will limit the number of enemies that can actually cross swords with us by using the river, right?”
Souma nodded at Marchronis’ conclusion.
“And, at the same time of attacking them, we will set the bridge on fire. Once the bridge has burned down, the pace of the soldiers crossing the river should slow down, even if the water’s depth only reaches up to their knees. We will withdraw speedily before the following units manage to cross over.”
No sooner than sliding his finger towards Bolnis’s side at the upper part of the map, Souma moves it towards the river’s upper reaches as if drawing a U turn.
“Then, while the punitive force is fixing and rebuilding the bridge, we will search for a place allowing us to cross upstream or downstream, and go across at that place.”
At that point Zurgu raised a question.
“The river isn’t that deep, right? Won’t they advance without fixing the bridge?”
If it happens as Zurgu says, the punitive force will invade the city of Bolnis with the main force of the zoan not present.
However, there was a voice immediately denying that.
“That’s very unlikely.” Marchronis declared.
“There won’t be any issues if it’s only the soldiers. But there are going to be wagons filled with things such as provisions and siege weapons. It’s impossible for those things to enter the river just like that.”
It’s an age where wagons and such end up stranded just due to getting stuck in the road’s mud. It’s difficult to imagine that the punitive force will make those wagons forcibly cross through the river even if the depth is only at the level of reaching up to the knees. Besides, as food preservation techniques haven’t been developed either, they are sure to avoid something like exposing their precious provisions to the river water.
Souma, who obtained Marchronis’ certification, continued while feeling relieved in his mind.
“And, once we cross the river, we will show ourselves at this fortress and the next city.”
“We won’t attack?”
Garam is surprised after being told that they will only show themselves even though he was certain that they would attack the city in the rear.
“Yes. To the bitter end we will only show ourselves close to the city and the fortress.”
“Why do something like that?”
“The news that the city of Bolnis was taken by us has already circulated. So what do you think will the people think after seeing the zoan showing up close to their city?”
With that reply, Garama comprehended.
“I see. They will be afraid of getting pillaged by us, just like Marchronis said. And, because they know that the punitive force is nearby, they will first request rescue from them, right?”
“Having received the rescue requests, the punitive force should prioritize subjugating us over the liberation of Bolnis. After all, it would be intolerable if cities and villages were attacked one after the other due to them neglecting the zoan that invaded deeply into the country.”
Once Souma lets his gaze wander after saying so, Marchronis shows his agreement.
“To use the misunderstanding; so that’s what you meant, huh? — I guess you are right. If they sacrificed other cities and villages in exchange for regaining this city, it would be meaningless. Even I would turn around the army promptly.”
“Accordingly, once the punitive force goes back, we will strike them again.”
“… I see. How interesting.”
Having understood the strategy, Garam faces Zurgu after saying that. Once he does, Zurgu bares his fangs and grins broadly.
“I also consider it to be interesting. It means that we will lead the human troops by the nose by capitalizing on the speed of our legs.”
Souma looks hopefully at the two great leaders of the zoan who were full of motivation.
“Let’s teach Holmea a lesson, that we can appear all over Holmea at any time. Once we do, it will become difficult for them to easily meddle with this city.”
However, right after that, Souma dons a serious expression.
“Even I don’t believe that we can rout the punitive force with only this much. But, it will buy us some time. What we require the most right now is the time to amass power.”
Souma turned to the back and called out to Shahata who is standing at a slightly distant place without having joined the sitting circle.
“Please call Mister Hopkins.”
Souma slightly lifts the corners of his mouth in a meaningful way towards all those present who are puzzled why the name of the human peddler has come out at this point.
“Alongside passing him the reward I promised, there’s something I’d like to request from Mister Hopkins.”
The king of Holmea, Warius Sadoma Holmeanis, overlooked the orderly ranks of the royal army facing his way while sitting on an impromptu throne on a formal podest that had been set up in an open field in the royal capital’s outskirts.
King Warius, who will reach the respectable age of forty this year, is an impressively skinny man with goggling eyes and sunken cheeks. Because he was continuously combing down his Fu Manchu moustache, which he had grown in favor of gaining dignity, with his fingers since a while ago, it emphasized his nervous expression all the more.
Darius, who went up the stairs of the formal podest in front of King Warius, puts down the helmet he wore under his arm, kneels down on one knee and bows his head.
Standing up from his temporary throne, King Warius received a treasured sword from a chamberlain and immediately disposed the sword of its scabbard. King Warius’ hand that holds the sword, which shines glaringly after being struck by the sunlight, trembled slightly as he bears the sword’s weight, but of course there’s no one who would point that out.
“Darius Brutus. I expect you to slay the foolish rebels with this sword in my stead.”
King Warius announces with a slightly shrill voice and places the treasured sword, which was put back into its scabbard, on to of Darius’ hands which he held out in order to receive it reverently while bowing his head.
“I shall humbly receive your official appointment. All for the sake of His Majesty.”
Darius affixed the treasured sword to his waist, stood up while still bowing and backed off several steps in that state. After that he put on his helmet and turned around to the soldiers, who are watching the ceremony of departure, while making his mantle flutter with a sound.
And, while letting the violet tuft of his helmet, that signifies him being the general, trail in the wind, Darius unsheathed the treasured sword at his waist and thrust it towards the sky.
Seeing that action, the soldiers thrust out their spears and swords in the same manner and raise fervent cheers.
“”King! King! King!””
The fervent cheers chanted by several thousand people all at once made the atmosphere vibrate with a rattling.
Darius, who sensed the soldiers’ high morale, descended the formal podest’s stairs after nodding once in satisfaction, and boarded the chariot that had been parked there.
It’s only natural, but although it might be called tank*, it’s not an armored combat vehicle running on caterpillars and possessing a rotating gun turret like the ones existing in the modern world.
If you speak of chariots in this world, they are wooden boxes with two wheels, which are pulled by horses or other mounts. The wooden box, which carries people, has a slightly tall part at its front and its rear has been left open for boarding. It can carry two people, a driver and a soldier who stand shoulder-by-shoulder, and it’s pulled by two kiryu or horses. If it enters battle, the driver takes the reins while protecting the soldier with a small, round shield, whereas the soldier fights by using a bow or throwing spears.
There are also four-wheeled chariots that can carry four people. These have a higher offensive ability than the two-wheeled versions because the number of boarding soldiers increases by one in exchange for a loss in maneuverability.
And the chariot boarded by Darius is a big version with six wheels that was pulled by an astounding six horses.
A chair for the commander has been installed in the centre of the chariot that was covered by a roof to protect the passengers against arrows. A great drum to relay commands had been placed beyond a partitioning screen in the back of that chair. The boarding passengers are in total five: the commander and the driver, one soldier on the left and right side of the chariot each, and moreover one person to hit the drum.
Once it has reached this point, it’s probably better to call it a mobile command post rather than a chariot.
“Play the signal for departing to the front!”
Hearing Darius’ order, the drummer starts to hit the drums as powerfully as he can.
Accompanied by the drum sounds and a little shock, the chariot with Darius on it started to move. Following that, two-wheeled chariots boarded by the regimental commanders, who wore helmets with green tufts that indicated their military rank, and the infantry regiments, which moved in two columns, begin to march.
The nobles, who came to see off the punitive force on both sides of the marching route, cheered while hoisting many flags that had big crests drawn on them in order represent the respective noble household.
“How foolish. That’s nothing more than horseplay.”
His personal guard, who was nearby, calmed down Darius, who spat that out due to the uproar, with a bitter smile.
“It can’t be helped. It’s the parental love of those who wish to grandly celebrate the first campaign of their own child.”
This time there were many noble youngsters, for whom this will become their first battle, included among the commissioned officers of the army led by Darius.
That’s because the nobles had their children, who didn’t have the chance to experience their first battle so far, join the punitive force together in a group.
As even the battle with their bitter enemy Romania stayed in a lull most recently, there weren’t any major battles to be fought. What suddenly came up in this situation is this rebel subjugation in Bolnis. According to what they heard, the rebels consist of a small force that doesn’t exceed a thousand by much. Moreover the one heading out to subjugate them is General Darius who is highly acclaimed as great commander. No matter where the nobles looked, they couldn’t find any factors that would point towards a defeat.
For the parents, who wish to adorn the first campaign of their sons with a magnificent victory, there would be no other such convenient battle.
As result of that, the army heading out to subjugate the rebels of Bolnis had reached a scale that exceeded the initially planned estimate with a total number of a nominal 10,000 troops. The real number swelled up to a large army corps of 7,000 troops.
Even Darius himself considered a rebel subjugation as just the right opportunity for the young commissioned officers to gain experience in combat, but having said that, he can feel that they are too light hearted due to their numerical superiority. Sensing a need to slightly pressure the young chicks, Darius called the commissioned officers, who stayed at the sides of his chariot, together.
“We will make a short break in half a koku. After that we will fix the formation of the army’s ranks.”
“At your command! Can I request permission for the soldiers to remove their equipment at that time?”
The soldiers were completely equipped because of the troop dispatch regulations. Moreover, because each of the soldiers carried provisions and water bags for several days on top of that, the total gross weight of what they carried was quite a burden. Just walking with this caused them to quickly accumulate lots of fatigue.
Hence, the soldiers would change into lightweight equipment as long as they don’t have to fear an imminent enemy contact, and depending on the situation, they would place all their gear on the wagons. Reducing the soldiers’ burden is a common marching practice.
This suggestion of a commissioned officer was something very reasonable in this area that was still far away from the city of Bolnis where the rebels are.
However, Darius stares at this commissioned officer with a glare.
“The soldier’s equipment will stay as it is. The ranks will switch from the two columns formation into a tight formation. In addition you will choose a scout unit from among the cavalry and have them go ahead.”
They will link up into a tight formation while fully armored and advance as they search the area with scouts. That’s the common method of the royal army once they don’t know when they might encounter enemy forces. However, in that case the soldiers will end up wasted before the battle due to fatigue. Putting aside doing that close to the city of Bolnis, it’s not something you would do in a situation where the army hasn’t really left the area of the capital yet.
Upon the order of Darius, which he hadn’t even expected, the commissioned officer let a reply leak that showed his feelings, which might also be interpreted as disrespect towards the general. The commissioned officer immediately notices his own error and straightens up his back in panic.
“As you wish! Certainly!”
Darius smiles wryly at the commissioned officer who cannot hide his confusion despite answering like that.
“Chick, it will probably turn into a nice training allowing you to lead your subordinates while stifling your own exhilaration.”
The commissioned officer consented to that reply with a “I see.”
Seeing off the retreating backs of the commissioned officers, who are going to relay his orders to the units following behind, Darius mutters,
“… Though it’s not only that, you know?”
Darius twists his mouth, that was hidden by a full beard, into a broad grin.
At that moment a cavalryman, who ought to be close to the head of the ranks, approached Darius’ chariot with his horse.
“A strangely dressed woman handed me this letter for you, Your Excellency.”
Due to the words of the cavalryman, who holds out a beautifully folded letter, Darius is reminded of the woman in male clothing who serves her armless master.
“It’s a messenger of an acquaintance of mine. Hand it over.”
Once he opens the letter which he received through his personal guard, who is riding the chariot next to him, only a concise sentence was written in Tutu’s handwriting, which Darius recognizes.
『The enemy might be the strongest army. Make absolutely sure to not be careless.』
The strongest army.
Due to that phrase, Darius recalls the time when he passionately debated the strongest army he dreams of while drinking booze together with his fellow young commissioned officers, at the time when he was still a greenhorn.
However, his indulging in that nostalgia only lasted for a mere moment.
“The enemy might be the strongest or the weakest; it won’t change what I have to do. I will simply pulverize the enemy with all my might, without even the slightest fraction of conceit or carelessness.”
Saying that, Darius audibly tore up the letter.
Souma’s strategic outline
Souma will try to repel the punitive force with a strategy of striking once and then withdrawing while making use of the river.
It seemed as if everything is proceeding as planned.
However, at that time there’s a slight feeling of discomfort that hit Souma.
“You don’t say…!?”
What Souma felt was a chill he couldn’t identify.
Next story: 「Chill」
Explanation of the Novel’s Setting
Chariots are used preferably over cavalry in this world.
As of yet things like horse tacks haven’t been developed in this world. For that reason, an advanced skill is necessary to mount a horse. Moreover, there are kiryu that have spread instead of valuable horses, but those are animals that are even more difficult to handle as mounts.
Because kiryu are running on two legs, just like the epic Cho●bo of a certain RPG, the impact and swaying will become far more intense than when riding a horse. On top of that, since the part where one can sit on is far smaller than with horses, it’s difficult for the rider to stabilize their body.
Hence the rider makes sure to strongly hold onto the torso of the kiryu with both legs when sprinting with it. They will end up being thrown off if they don’t stabilize their bodies by firmly grasping the bump that sticks out at the front of the saddle with one hand (depending on the situation, with two hands).
Therefore, shooting arrows or swinging one’s sword or spear while riding a kiryu, as it often happens in movies and manga, is almost impossible.
Compared to that, a chariot can be boarded easily by anyone, and on top of that it’s possible to attack through soldiers while moving at high speed. There’s also the advantage that the burden on the kiryu or horses is low.
For those reasons chariots are used more often than cavalry.
However, that doesn’t mean that cavalry won’t be put to use at all. The branches of an army, which require quick actions such as messengers, are mostly composed of cavalry.
Just as mentioned above, kiryu are far more difficult to manage than horses. Also, since they are weak to cold and inferior in speed, they are regarded as one rank lower than horses.
However, there’s a single point in which the kiryu are overwhelmingly superior compared to horses.
That’s the fact of the kiryu being omnivorous.
One has to prepare large amounts of fodder when using war horses for things like cavalry, chariots or transport. Because they are forced to transport that fodder, even more warhorses are necessary… a fact like this exists as well.
But, since the kiryu and niryu are omnivorous, they can be fed with the same provisions as human soldiers.
Given that especially meat excels much more in energy efficiency than fodder, the amount of given feed becomes far less than that of a horse’s fodder. That turning into a reduction of fodder that has to be transported also results in the labor required for that transport to become less.
For poor commissioned officers that cannot buy a horse, the relative affordability of the kiryu’s price and breeding costs carry a huge appeal, even if they are difficult to manage.