Oukoku e Tsuzuku Michi Chapter 381
–Third Person POV–
South Yuguria Frontline Headquarters – Occupied Trisnia.
Men dressed in military uniforms decorated with gold ornaments all salute in unison.
Zaphnes returns a simple salute and takes his seat in the center.
「Everyone, at ease. Report the current situation.」
All but one person sits down after Zaphnes says his order.
「The western army of 80 000 have already departed Trisnia. Although resistance from the Goldonia side is sporadic, things are going as planned and we should be able to set up camp on the south of Arkland by the week after next.」
「Well done Acevedo. Your western army is the crux of our invasion on Arkland, so while I know this may be unnecessary concern on my part, I want you to remain focused.」
When Zaphnes replies, the brusque man sits down with a straightened back.
「The central army of 50 000 have deployed several corps in a wide area, gradually occupying the various territories between Trisnia and Arkland, and are also keeping the enemy army from trying to gather together. The feudal lords’ armies are generally quite weak, mostly avoiding combat, abandoning territory and retreating to the north. As soon as we control the area, we will try to siege Arkland in support of the western army as planned.」
「Understood, Maestus. The mobility of your central army may decide the outcome of battle. Only one more step was needed in Roleil …… so in Arkland, show me you can thoroughly annihilate the enemy.」
The brazen-looking man smiles fearlessly and sits down calmly.
「Supplies are steadily also being gathered by the transport corps for the upcoming great battle.」
「Trained recruits have also arrived. They should be able to withstand a series of battles.」
「Umu, don’t let the logistics hold back the frontline army. Ensure it goes well.」
After Zaphnes nods in content, he clears his throat once and his eyes sharpen.
「Now then, I’m waiting for one more report.」
Everyone’s eyes concentrate on one point.
The bearded man at the end of their line of sight stands up while keeping his large frame small.
「T-the eastern army of 70 000…… the capture of Zan Dora in Hardlett’s territory…… has failed. They were defeated twice in battle and suffered major losses…… upper level commanders died in battle one after the other…… unless officers and men are replenished in large amounts, further advance would be impossible.」
「To what extent do you mean by major?」
Zaphnes makes a point to keep his voice calm, questioning with a rather plain tone.
「D-deaths amount to 20 000, wounded amount to 30 000…… 20 000 of who suffered severe enough injuries to render them incapacitated and require transportation to headquarters.」
There was a brief moment of silence, then Zaphnes slams the desk with his inherent brute strength.
「40 000 lost? That’s basically annihilation!」
A cup placed on the desk falls over and spills its contents.
Western army commander Acevedo doesn’t change his expression, while central army commander Maestus quickly rescues his own cup.
「So how much damage was dealt to the enemy?」
Zaphnes threw another question before the man finished apologizing.
The man answers with a face that looks close to tears and a feeble voice, both in contrast to the size of his body.
「I-important enemy base, Zan Dora, has been completely destroyed……」
「Zan Dora is a crucial point for our operation’s logistics, what good does destroying it do?」
Acevedo growls at the man who emphasized the word “important”.
「I asked you what kind of damage was dealt to the enemy.」
Zaphnes repeats himself.
The man slumps his shoulders in resignation.
「Of the approximately 25 000 in Margrave Hardlett’s army…… the damage dealt in this battle was…… a-about 10%.」
Maestus spits out his drink after just saving it.
「Attacking with three times the military force and suffering 20 times the amount of casualties in defeat…… goodness, it’s surprising how you lost like that.」
Zaphnes lets out a long and heavy sigh.
「Dabol……I’ve known you for a long time, but I didn’t think you would be this incompetent.」
Zaphnes shakes his head as he stares at the man named Dabol.
It was then that a graceful voice rings out like a bell.
「Wait right there. A battle’s outcome can also be attributed to luck at the time. Is there any meaning in censuring him now?」
Appearing is Wilhelmina, wearing a thinner and more decorated dress than usual.
All those present stand up from their seats and greet her with a salute. decorated.
「Dabol, you have something to do before giving excuses or apologizing, don’t you? Report the cause of defeat and details of the enemy, then suggest what the next steps are. That is what will lead us all to victory.」
Dabol turns to Wilhelmina with tears welling up in his eyes.
Then he erases his servile attitude and pushes his chest out.
「Neither morale or skill of Hardlett’s soldiers are inferior to that of Goldonia’s legitimate army, their arms surpass that of a typical legitimate army, and they are outside the realm of a vassal lord’s forces.」
Those who criticized Dabol could not interject in the face of such beneficial information.
「The greatest feature in Hardlett’s army, the mounted archers, total several thousand and are not only naturally gifted in shooting on horseback, but also show prowess in small skirmishes, acting in groups the size of families, almost like a tribe…… most likely the people living in the mountains――」
Dabol faces Zaphnes again after he finished reporting his findings.
「Currently, our eastern army is unable to make a move. At this rate, we will not only fail to keep Hardlett in check, we allow him to possibly interfere in our plan to conquer Arkland. I respectfully request for reinforcements.」
Zaphnes receives the gaze lacking any submissiveness and puts a hand to his forehead.
「……we cannot spare any troops for a defeated army right before a big operation. However, it would be bad to leave it alone as well.」
As Zaphnes’s eyes drop to a map, a pale slender finger reaches out to point at a spot.
「This squad doesn’t look like it’s moving.」
Wilhelmina pointed at the Malt Kingdom.
One man bounces up out of his seat and steps forward.
「The second eastern army has, after accepting Malt’s surrender, stationed in the capital, Biado! They can move at anytime!」
「That’s what he says.」
Zaphnes and the other commanders don’t react positively.
「The second eastern army…… they are certainly an army in name.」
「They were a mishmash group put together for the purpose of controlling a small kingdom like Malt…… can they really match up against Hardlett’s army?」
「……at the very least, there are 40 000 of them.」
Wilhelmina speaks to the reluctant group without breaking her smile.
Her gaze was not directed at Zaphnes.
「Leading a defeated army of 30 000 and an inexperienced group of 40 000 to strike down a powerful opponent. Do you not have the confidence to do so?」
Dabol, the one at the end of her line of sight, closes his eyes and shakes his head side to side.
「A general of a defeated army like me does not have such wit.」
Wilhelmina smiles at Dabol then swiftly turns her gaze elsewhere.
A few brief moments of silence later, a woman nominates herself.
「With all due respect Your Majesty, I am confident enough to fulfill that duty.」
The surprised Zaphnes places a hand on his chin and contemplates.
「It’s true that you have outside-the-box tactics and clever schemes which nobody else has. But you have no experience mobilizing tens of thousands of soldiers. Suddenly imposing the responsibility of 70 000 may not be……」
Patricia brings herself close to Zaphnes in an instant.
「I have no experience, but I have confidence. I ask that you trust in me, someone who has accompanied you to many battles.」
The way she sticks out her chest with confidence goes beyond fortitude and even seems arrogant.
However, she seems to instill a sense of relief to those around with how definitive she spoke.
「Isn’t it fine? There are firsts for everybody. This just happens to be hers.」
Patricia gains more momentum with Wilhelmina backing her up.
Zaphnes, who was still undecided, gets one final push.
「She should experience this. Her first, under you.」
Zaphnes’s body twitches as Wilhelmina whispers inaudibly to everyone else.
「Where did you learn of Patricia’s relationship with me? Don’t tell me, you asked her.」
Zaphnes turns to face Patricia with a bitter face.
Meanwhile, the woman’s eyes are sparkling, brimming with confidence.
「……understood. Patricia Raleigh. I appoint you as the commander of the eastern army. Meet up with the squad in Malt, engage Hardlett’s army, and if possible, capture Rafen.」
「It is an honor, Your Excellency!」
Zaphnes turns to Dabol next.
「Dabol. Despite fighting to the best of your ability, you were defeated, so you must take responsibility. You are dismissed as Corps commander and will be demoted three ranks to Battalion commander. Got it?」
Dabol silently lowers his head, almost touching the ground.
「War council is now over. All of you, return to your respective armies.」
At the end of the meeting, Dabol follows after Zaphnes as he was about to leave the room.
「What do you want? I don’t need any worthless pleas or apologies.」
「It’s not that, I actually have something I want to tell Your Excellency. It is information yet to be confirmed so I did not want to invite unwanted confusion by telling the others.」
Dabol whispers to Zaphnes.
「Se-…… you said you saw that woman!?」
Noticing he raised his voice enough to make it echo, Zaphnes hurriedly covers his mouth.
「It was during the chaos within the city so it isn’t certain. The one who spotted her is a staff officer under my direct command so I believe it is her without a doubt.」
「Alright. I will investigate on my own. Until then, not a word to anyone.」
After Dabol leaves, Zaphnes ensures no one is around him and talks out loud to himself.
「I thought you disappeared with the waves of the river…… I didn’t think I would see you here in the Central plains.」
Zaphnes turns eastward and stares off into the distance.
「According to Dabol, you’re fighting as a common soldier. If you are acting like a mercenary in order to survive…… then I can send notice that I hold a high position and you will come to me for help. If I do that, you――Sekrit, you will become my woman. Your brown breasts and ass will be mine to freely…… fu, fufufufufu.」
A belligerent smile emerges on Zaphnes’s face and he hastens his steps while slightly leaning forward.
A harsh bellow resounds in the royal palace.
「Your Majesty, why can’t you understand!? This is not the time to be wasting even a single soldier on pointless duties!」
「Lord Radhalde, refrain from speaking so rudely to His Majesty.」
Erich yells back at the Minister of Justice of Kenneth’s faction who admonished him.
「Rude or not, there is something more important to discuss than manners. The enemy army is closing in on Arkland with great numbers! If that place falls, not only will Goldonia lose the entire southern area, but its national power will drastically lower.」
The Minister of Justice recoils at Erich’s threatening look, to which the king smiles wryly in response and speaks.
「I understand what you are saying. But to leave the treacherous insiders who targeted me and the one I love――」
「With all due respect, Your Majesty, it’s wrong to focus on that.」
The minister, the close aide, and even Kenneth gulps.
Nobody expected Erich to interrupt the king.
The king’s slight smile disappears and he directs a cold stare typically meant for enemies at Erich.
Nevertheless, it doesn’t stop Erich.
He knew that stopping half-heartedly would really lead the nation to ruin.
「We should defeat the fierce tiger in front of us before exterminating insects. Right now, we should ignore the mere itching and engage the main enemy resolutely.」
「……do you intend for me to fall prey to those insects?」
「First and foremost, they are not man-eating insects. The same cannot be said of the tiger. If we continue doing side jobs, the tiger will no doubt destroy the kingdom and harm Your Majesty.」
He couldn’t bring himself to tell the king that those insects all over his body were nothing more than his own delusions.
「Doing something about that is your job! It is clear that the one responsible for the defeat in the first battle is yours, Military Commissioner, that is why I insisted on settling this through diplomacy from the start!」
One of the civil officials belonging to Kenneth’s faction shouts at Erich.
Not even one second passed and a yell was returned at twice the volume.
「Shut up! Can’t you understand that peace is no longer an option!? You’re incompetent if you don’t and a traitor if you do but are still saying that!」
The large rebuke held bloodlust which put it on a different scale than ordinary arguments between officials, and that made the civil servant’s hips give out.
Kenneth felt like speaking out now would mean losing, so he silently watched the events unfold.
「Of course, it is a fact that my inadequate ability has led to the loss of Trisnia and Roleil. That’s why we must pour our entire force into the next battle to attempt to overturn the situation. We should not station soldiers for a rebellion which hasn’t even happened like we are doing now. Your Majesty, please allow me full control of the royal army. I will definitely take back the battle.」
Erich appeals to the king as if he wasn’t scared of anything.
The close aides gradually distance themselves from the king, fearful of how the king would react to Erich’s unrestrained speech.
「Erich……I trust in you. I trust you, that’s why I bestowed you the rank of Marquess and entrusted the Royal army to you as Military Commissioner. Though the battle we face is tough, I have not lost faith in you.」
The king stands up from his throne and approaches Erich.
Unlike past times, he did not bend down or pat his shoulder, he simply continued speaking while looking down.
「However, my faith is not the same as that of a religious devotee. I will waver and doubt. While considering how ridiculous the possibility may be, I will think to myself, “is he acting on my behalf?” or “is he pulling the strings behind the attack?”」
A painful silence surrounded the throne room.
Nobody dared to utter a word.
The Kenneth faction, which opposed Erich, suppressed even their breathing sounds.
A sense of tension, that thought a cough could set off sparks, filled the place.
Erich lifts his head and looks at the king’s eyes. The king does not avert his gaze.
「I have no intention of rebelling. If you have any suspicion of me, investigate as you please, and if you find any particle of cloudiness I will accept any punishment.」
Erich and the king would lock eyes for a while.
It can practically be considered a stare off.
Eventually, it was the king who broke eye contact first.
The tension eased ever so slightly. Regardless, the most anybody could do at that point was breathe. Nobody dared to move their bodies.
「Domestic affairs Commissioner, you have attempted peace negotiations with South Yuguria, right? What are the results?」
The king holds up a hand to stop Erich who raised his voice.
Everyone focused their eyes on Kenneth this time.
「There are no substantial results. Currently, the enemy keeps repeating they will comply with a ceasefire using the frontlines as a temporary border and will only withdraw their troops if we do so first.」
「And, what do you think?」
The king asks Kenneth.
Kenneth glances at Erich before answering.
「Unfortunately, South Yuguria does not appear to have any intentions to agree to peace. Everything they say is meant to stall us so they can catch us with our guard down. At the very least, we need to defeat the enemy on the battlefield and overturn our current situation in order to have any room to negotiate.」
Erich speaks up again.
「Your Majesty. The choice is not between peace or war. It is between fighting or surrendering.」
The king stares up into empty space for a while.
Following that, he turns to the giant cage enshrined behind the throne.
A soft clang sound can be heard from within the cage.
「……very well. I shall summon all of the Royal army back to the capital and entrust the troops to the Military Commissioner. Do not betray my trust.」
「I will carry out your will with my life on the line.」
Erich’s face loosens up considerably, but tenses up again after hearing the king’s next words.
「Still, I cannot let the feudal lords whose intent to rebel are unknown have free rein. Thus I command that all the feudal lord nobles lead all able soldiers to participate as well. Surely, they would not attempt to try anything foolish with the Royal army surrounding them.」
「But the logistics―― no, I understand.」
Erich stops himself.
He knew that a jumble of soldiers from the feudal lords would be of no use and would only put a larger strain on logistics.
However, getting the entire Royal army to assemble is a huge deal and he didn’t want to be so stubborn that the king would take back everything he said.
「I ran the calculations…… I can’t be the hero after all. Maybe he could have gone through with it and said everything to the end.」
Erich sighed and called to mind the only man he could rely on.
Demolished Zan Dora.
「”Lead all able soldiers and come to the capital”, how can he say that with no understanding of our situation……」
Celia complains unhappily and tilts the letter to one side.
Nothing you do is going to change what is written.
Although the letter was sent by Erich, the command came from the king.
This isn’t a request to come if possible like before, it is an order summoning us to the capital.
Not only that, the way it was written makes it seem like all the other feudal lords were addressed as well, not just me.
「Are they in need of soldiers that much?」
「No, setting us aside, I do not believe there is any other meaning in gathering feudal lords, big and small, besides increasing the burden on logistics. Therefore, I believe this is a political move rather than a military move.」
If it’s politics, I’m clueless.
「In any case, we have to obey the king’s orders. The concern is that the enemy eastern army, while defeated, is still within our territory. Further, the army that attacked Malt is also showing signs of moving north…… mumu.」
Myla racks her brain.
She must be thinking of how many soldiers to leave here and how many to take to the capital.
「I’ve already come up with how to distribute the soldiers.」
I declare boldly.
Seeing Leopolt curiously look to me is amusing. Well, it doesn’t show on his face though.
Tristan seems to be sure that I’ll say something ridiculous. I’ll have Celia kick him later.
「Fufufu, listen and be amazed!」
――Some Time Later. Capital: Goldonia.
「300 proud mounted knights of the Great Dragon Order from the household of Count Krahne, present themselves!」
「200 knights of the famed Raging Bull Order from the household of Count Boldon, respond to your call!」
「100 members of the Fierce Pig Brigade, who many people paved the way for, from the household of Viscount Metaboll, at your command!」
The feudal lords who were called like I was introduce their troops with vigor.
I could have sworn something delicious was said, but I won’t interrupt.
「Umu, gentlemen, your contributions are indispensable during a national crisis like this. His Majesty has said a reward will be given without stint to those who achieve outstanding merits…… there may have been other things which complicated matters, but please disregard them and only focus on fighting for now.」
Erich spoke to each feudal lord, praising them one by one, though his face appears tired to me.
「I guess it’s obvious, these guys don’t look useful at first glance.」
Those “dragons” are overly bulky and their horses are breathing hard.
Such heavy equipment kills their mobility.
Those “bulls” are wielding swords, greatshields and crossbows, but don’t have spears.
It will be hard to use them on offense and on defense, if the enemy has even 20 heavy cavalry, they will be punched through easily.
As for the “pigs”, they’re out of the question. I get hungry when I look at them.
「What do you mean we’re useless? How rude!」
Oops, he heard me.
A man who looks like the follower of some feudal lord grabs my shoulder.
「Bastard, which feudal lord do you…… Margrave Hardlett!?」
「Oh, did you hear me? Sorry about that.」
When I turned around, the man quickly lowers his head.
「I had no idea it was Lord Hardlett, my humblest apologies! Please spare my life…… no, I beg you not to steal my beautiful newlywed wife!」
Why is he so scared?
I haven’t had many chances to visit the capital lately, so I wonder if the rumors about me have gotten more outrageous.
「Ooh, Lord Hardlett. So this is where you were. Goodness, I was looking all over for you.」
「I thought I could identify Lord Hardlett’s grand army right away, but you probably have them waiting outside the city.」
「Hahaha, with numbers like yours, it isn’t so simple to line up next to us, right?」
The ones who called out to me next were the poor trio of Count Monashi, Viscount Binbo and Baron Gokhin.
That reminds me, I think they asked in a letter for us to head to the capital together. I forgot about it, sorry.
Those three proudly stick out their chests and introduce their armies to Erich.
「The three of us are one in body and soul.」
They’re really close, aren’t they.
「Our armies are one as well.」
Right, their armies are shared only because they’re broke.
「Behold, our elites.」
500 soldiers appear with quick footsteps.
All of them are donning steel armor and, although they don’t look pretty, appear quite practical, plus the army has a nice balance of army branches.
Their ranks seem properly formed and their soldiers look well-trained.
A tiny sparkle glittered in Erich’s eyes.
「You’ve gathered some fine soldiers. I can tell they are a unit not only for show, they can fight.」
They expressed a desire for their soldiers to be trained, so I sent Myla over.
She came back depressed after dropping a wallet filled with money, but I’m sure that is unrelated.
「So, what is your army named?」
Erich unusually asks for the name of the squad.
I don’t know the name either. I’m a little curious.
「「「Monashi-Binbo-Gokhin joint army, the 529 members of the Starving Dog Army, who will not lose to anyone in terms of pride, are here before you!」」」
Erich and I both let out a somewhat disappointed sigh.
「Not a hungry wolf?」
「Lord Hardlett’s name is derived from a hungry wolf. It would be presumptuous of us to use that.」
I don’t really care if they do though.
「Still, we would like to share Lord Hardlett’s military fame! That’s why we settled on starving dog!」
「……is that so?」
Erich stared dumbfoundedly at the trio.
“Hungry wolf” gives off a sense of ferocity, whereas “starving dog” is a poor-sounding name which only reminds people of famine.
Besides that, 529 soldiers is a number which gives the impression that they’re all you could muster, and isn’t very cool.
Couldn’t you make it 550 or at least get one more soldier and round it off to 530? No, they probably didn’t have enough money for one more.
Erich’s eyes meet with mine as I was thinking of such things.
「Good of you to come. I know your territory is under attack by the enemy too…… I truly apologize.」
「Please don’t. The battle in the west is one where we must also win after all.」
Erich and I exchange a firm handshake.
「Honestly speaking, I do not consider the armies of the other feudal lords as part of our military force. Haha, you are the only exception.」
Being evaluated so highly is going to make me blush.
It makes me want to do all I can.
「Now then, introduce your soldiers.」
Erich tells me with a smile.
The feudal lords around me stop introducing themselves and pause their idle chatter to look in my direction, gulping audibly.
I should make an effort to stand out here.
「From the household of Magrave Hardlett, I, myself, have come alone!」
My voice was louder than all those who introduced themselves before me.
Such an unexpected statement shocked those present into an unpleasant silence different than before.
There was a clang made from the dropping of one’s sword.
It was the sound of the poor trio dropping their swords.
「Is this a joke? Are you serious?」
I reply immediately to Erich’s creeping growl.
Erich strangles my neck unreasonably and takes me away to his office.