The March of Guzzle in the Carpa Kingdom.
It was the most southern domain in the Carpa Kingdom. Amongst the countries in the western part of the South Continent, the Carpa Kingdom had the largest territory, but despite of that, there was hardly any difference in temperatures in the respective regions.
That said, it applied to the whole western part of the southern continent, not just the Carpa Kingdom alone. In other words, just as the capital was currently welcoming the season with the strongest sunrays within the year, so the March of Guzzle was undergoing the murderous heat as well.
This season was life-threatening to children or elder people when they stood in the sun for an hour without protection, and unsuitable for large-scale battles, only topped by the rain season.
These circumstances made it extremely unlikely that a war “amongst humans” would break out during this season according to a mutual understanding between the rulers of the South Continent.
However, there was a hostile existent on the continent that paid no attention to the conveniences of humans.
A species that adopted the best to the hot and humid South Continent. The predominant animal on the continent, which surpassed humanity by far in the term of simple habitat.
The carnivore dragons.
The Guzzle army marched out during the second most unsuitable season for battles, in order to restore the business on the “Salt Road” that was assumed to be disrupted by these carnivore dragons.
With a troop strength of around a hundred soldiers, they slowly advanced north on the “Salt Road”.
In the morning it was still relatively cool, but the descending sunlight already had an aggressive tint and vividly lightened up the green of the trees standing left and right to the road.
Although the “Salt Road” was a peerless state road in the Carpa Kingdom, it was built quite plainly in the eyes of a person from the modern age.
The middle of the road was levelled a bit elevated and shallow ditches were trenched on both side of it, so there was little chance that it became flooded even during the rainy season, but even so, next to no one from the modern age would agree to call this gravel-less path an “important traffic route of the Kingdom”.
It didn’t even compare to the gobbled state roads of the Roman Empire that have existed before the Common Era, much less the concrete highways of modern Japan.
Never mind that the technology was low in this world, they had magic that could manipulate the soil, so they should have better preconditions than the ancient Rome, yet the current state of affairs might be an evidence that the forces of nature were so much stronger here than on Earth.
Not to say that the flourishing road works of the Roman Empire might just have been an exceptional case in the history of Earth, considering the road conditions in Europe or Middle East after old Rome.
Anyway, the army of the March slowly proceeded along the “Salt Road”.
The vanguard was composed of knights mounting big and green “Raptorial Dragons”.
There were five in total of them. Each knight always had one squire accompany him.
The other soldiers, all carrying short spears, were following behind them on foot.
The whole infantry wore a thick cloak with a hood over their leather armour against the sunlight, but the vicious sun blazed down on them regardless and pressed out the water from their body.
More than half of the troops had already emptied their drinking bottles hanging from their waists.
The only exception was the supply corps at the back. They travelled on freight wagons pulled by ‘Hulking Dragons’.
Compared to “Raptorial Dragons”, the “Hulking Dragons” moved at a snail pace, but they were much stronger in compensation for it. They easily pulled the freight wagons, which were loaded with spare weapons, rations, water, firewood and cauldrons for cooking, and left big and deep tracks in the ground.
There were a couple of these wagons pulled by “Hulking Dragons”. A haul of this size was certainly necessary, considering the dietary needs of the hundred-strong army until the end of the operation.
If anything, the capacity of transporting from the “Hulking Dragons” was abnormal when faced with the common practice during the Middle Ages on Earth, as they could carry the estimated supplies for a hundred soldiers during a long-term operation on just a few wagons.
Five knights. Five squires. Ten Suppliers. Fifteen escorts for the supply corps. And lastly, a little bit more than seventy foot soldiers.
Compared to a typical formation, the number of knights was somewhat small, but the operation this time assumed that “the carnivore dragons had to be suppressed inside the forest” after all.
The knights were a branch of the army, who unfolded their high offensive power and mobility on open terrain, but on the other hand, they were underachieving in an area, where movement was restricted like on this occasion.
In reality, the five knights would dismount from their raptorial dragons and entrust the reins to their squires when it was time to fight.
One of these five, a young knight with a small build and black hair and eyes, was repeatedly taking short, deep breaths for a while now, careful that no one nearby would notice it.
That was the name of this fledging knight.
He was the third and only living son of Marquis Guzzle.
On a closer look, Xavier’s facial features closely resembled the Marquis’.
However, his physique was completely different. Unlike Marquis Guzzle, who wasn’t all that tall himself, but sustained his efforts to keep his body muscular even at an advanced age, Xavier’s body looked frail and extremely unreliable on a glance.
Right now, he was riding a raptorial dragon, so his height was hard to tell, but it seemed like he was even shorter than Zenjirou. Zenjirou was a hundred and seventy-two centimetre tall, so Xavier’s height must only amount to a little less than a hundred and seventy or around a hundred and sixty-five at worst.
A young lad with a small and meagre build.
He definitely didn’t look like a reliable commander. As he himself was aware of that, he was excessively straightening his back on top of the raptorial dragon this whole time so as to appear taller even just a bit.
Riding as the vanguard with his raptorial dragon gave him the illusion that all the hundred soldiers behind him were observing his every action.
Of course that was entirely his imagination. Even though the sun was only just starting to raise, the foot soldiers had to march on and on amidst the brutal heat, so they could hardly afford to pay any special attention to their spearheading commander. Thus Xavier’s effort was in vain.
The young and fair-skinned squire, walking next to him with a spear, looked worried up to Xavier on the raptorial dragon, but Xavier wasn’t composed enough to notice his look right now.
Nonetheless, it was rather impressive how well he sat on the dragon despite his nervous state. A proof that he was well trained in the military arts in spite of his frail appearance.
That said, it would exhaust him sooner or later when he kept up a riding position with strained shoulders over a long time, and provoke mistakes.
“Xavier-sama, it may it bit a early, but I suggest that we take a break. There will be a suitable place for an encampment a little bit ahead, so how about we set up our camp there?”
The one making this proposal while concealing a wry smile, was a middle-aged knight riding on a raptorial dragon at an angle behind Xavier.
His age was probably forty-some. The knight with a deep black moustache was in the prime of his life. Xavier trembled his body with a shiver in reaction to his words and looked over his shoulder.
He uttered the name of the knight, a retainer from his father.
Knight Joseph was a veteran soldier with a long military service, who had become renowned in the previous war.
Normally he acted as a close aide to Xavier’s father, Marquis Guzzle, but Queen Aura had sent him, carrying the power of attorney to command the March’s army and the movement order in hand, to the March with her magic.
There was no reason to have a knight of his standing deliver the mere power of attorney and order.
His father most likely sent him to ease the burden on his son for his first operation a little bit.
Xavier appreciated his father’s concern, but at the same time, he felt ashamed.
Shaking off his thoughts that tended to wander into an abject direction, Xavier called out to Joseph.
“Isn’t it a bit too early for that, Sir Joseph? I think the original plan was to cover a bit more distance during the morning.”
The veteran knight had aligned his raptorial dragon next to the son of his lord and spoke with a polite tone to persuade the fledgling, who was tense from nervousness and a sense of duty.
“Indeed, Xavier-sama. That was the plan, but the temperature exceeds our presumption today. The soldiers are already starting to become tired. I believe it would be dangerous to push on any further.”
“I, I see.”
Hearing his subordinate’s suggestion, Xavier raised a voice as if he was caught off-guard.
It was said that the power of observation came with years of experience.
If Xavier had been walking on his own feet, he probably would have noticed the fatigue of the soldiers through his own, but unfortunately he had to preserve his dignity as the commander, so he was riding a raptorial dragon.
Riding a dragon for a long time was quite tiring in itself, too, but it still didn’t compare to the fatigue of the foot soldiers, who were walking under the blazing sun on their own feet.
The young son of the Marquis, properly educated in leadership, nodded with “okay”, then turned around on the back of the dragon and declared to his men following after him with a voice as loud as possible.
“We will set up a camp at the clearance ahead! It’s not that far off, so hang in there!”
They would get to rest when they proceeded just a little farther.
As soon as the soldier understood that, their faces showed delight for the first time today and they weren’t hanging their heads all that much anymore.
Witnessing that, Xavier became aware of his own incompetence once again.
(Oh yeah, looks like everyone’s really tired. I’m just no good. I’ve to notice something like that myself before Sir Joseph mentions it…)
He must have been born with an earnest disposition.
The third son of Marquis Guzzle, Xavier clenched his fists so tightly that his delicate body shook on top of the big raptorial dragon and admonished himself like that.
* * *
Several days later at noon.
The hundred-strong army from the March of Guzzle, lead by Xavier Guzzle, had set up a camp after they had marched considerably far north on the “Salt Road”.
The thick forest on both sides of the “Salt Road” was growing trees in abundance and there were no natural spots to encamp with a hundred people, but the “Salt Road” was still a state road of the Carpa Kingdom in a way.
At set intervals, wide areas had been cleared by cutting down trees, so that a large number of people could pitch up their camp.
The voices of the soldier resounded all over the place on this man-made lawn.
“Hey, the sunblock wall’s too short here. I need someone, who can perform ‘Earth Wall’!”
“We want to start cooking! Someone give us a hand with ‘Ignition‘!”
“We’ve brought the water! Please perform ‘Water Purification’!”
The most noticeable thing for making a camp was “magic” as expected.
Although there were few people worth of the title “magician” by having mastered a lot of spells, there was still a relative great number of people, who could use just one spell convenient for the day-to-day life, even amongst the commoners.
These kind of people were rather useful for pitching up a camp like this.
On the other hand, there was hardly any use for magic once the battle started. After all, the magic required the “correct intonation”, “correct perception” and “correct amount of magical power” to activate.
The “correct intonation” and “correct amount of magical power” aside, it was extremely difficult to sustain the “correct perception” in the middle of a battle.
Only when you were one of the handful elite like the royal court magicians, you could perform offensive magic from the rear of the battlefield, but performing magic while swinging a spear around was principally impossible.
Due to that, the relative importance of magic in the military mainly inclined towards matters outside the battlefield like this.
A temporary headquarter was built by putting up four walls with the “Earth Wall” magic and spanning a white tent over them. Inside of it, Xavier Guzzle sat on a wooden folding chair and was craning his neck after he finally got off the raptorial dragon.
Relieving the tension of his whole body from the long ride, Xavier grimaced in both pain and ease and a sound escaped his mouth.
He had experienced riding for a couple of days during his training numerous times, but he still ended up like this.
As expected, he must have been too worried about the eyes of his men, straining his body more than necessary.
Right now, he was all alone with his trusted squire inside the tent. Since Xavier didn’t have to worry about his men seeing him now, it was an irreplaceable time for him.
A mere tent couldn’t really block off the intense sunlight, but the earth walls raised with magic could perfectly shut it out.
In the shadow of the wall, Xavier doused himself with the water from the small wooden washbowl, which his young squire had prepared for him.
The water drops dripped from his short, black hair down onto his neck and from there into his clothes.
“Oh, thanks, Andrés.”
Remaining seated on the folding chair, Xavier took the offered towel from the youthful squire and wiped his wet face with it.
A bit of water like that would dry in no time under the blazing sun, but it would still felt uncomfortable regardless.
After he had wiped his face and neck, the young squire— Andrés took the used towel back in a casual manner and offered him a wooden cup filled with lukewarm water instead.
Xavier drunk the content of the taken cup in one gulp half out of reflex. At that very moment
“Xavier-sama, it’s me, Joseph. The advanced reconnaissance party has returned. I would you to hear their report at once. May we come in?”
A low, but clear voice could be heard from beyond the cloth of the tent.
“Oh, Joseph? Yes, come in.”
While instructing Andrés, standing at attention next to him, with a glance to tidy up the interior, he called out like that to the knight standing outside the tent.
Inside the makeshift headquarter with its earth walls and cloth ceiling, Xavier Guzzle still sat on the simple folding chair and heard the report from Knight Joseph and a soldier supposedly in his thirties, who was the captain of the reconnaissance party.
“What!? You’re saying you found the corpses of the salt merchants?”
Hearing the information from the captain, Xavier leaned a bit forward on his chair and raised a surprised voice.
“Yes, we found a few toppled wagons and dead hulking dragons as well as the corpses of humans on the road ahead! Each of the corpses were heavily injured and it is self-evident that the cause of their deaths was an attack from the carnivore dragons!”
The soldier replied with a loud voice, so that the three-day-old beard around his mouth vibrated.
The advanced reconnaissance party consisted of several light-footed soldiers. It was pretty unlikely that they would be able to retaliate when they encountered the powerful carnivore dragons, which were disrupting the salt road. Therefore, the man said, they had immediately turned on their heels once they discovered the dead merchants.
A wise decision.
Reporting the fact that “the salt merchant were dead on the road ahead” as quickly as possible to the main force took far more priority than gathering more information in that situation.
Sitting on his folding chair, Xavier unconsciously clenched his fists tightly on his lap.
The real battle would finally commence. Of course he was going to be nervous, since it was his first battle.
“I see… Then we can’t waste any time. I guess, I ought to put the entire force on the alert.”
The young commander said that and stretched his small and frail body on top of the chair.
So as to advice the fledgling knight with the tensed shoulders, the veteran knight spoke.
“Xavier-sama, the soldiers are still preparing lunch. I fear the younger soldiers without experience will be on the edge and unable to get a proper rest when we disclose this information to them now. Shall I proceed nevertheless?”
Xavier was just about to stand up from the chair, but upon the words from the experienced knight Joseph, he lowered his bottom onto the chair again and mused with his hand against his chin.
It could indeed prove to be difficult for the young and inexperienced soldiers to execute the command, when they were told “The carnivore dragons might be near. Be careful and take a rest”.
To make matters worse, the contingent of “young soldiers” in the body of troops was so large that it couldn’t be ignored.
Die-hard soldiers, who fought in the previous war, were a minority here.
“…Joseph, what’re the odds that the dragons will attack us here?”
The question of the youthful commandant made the long-established knight raise an eyebrow, then
“Well, I cannot say for certain, but I would say it is quite unlikely. We more or less have an army of hundred fully equipped soldiers. The dragons in this area should be fearing us humans quite a bit after all.”
he answered smoothly like that.
“Hmm, I see.”
For a moment, Xavier was about to make some kind of decision after hearing that answer, but Knight Joseph continued and interrupted that resolve.
“However, even if the possibility is low, it does not mean there is ‘none at all’. Who knows what a hungry dragon will do.”
Xavier closed his opened mouth again upon Joseph’s words and became absorbed in thought once more.
If they were to put the entire body of soldiers on the alert, a bunch of soldiers would be unable to make the most of the long-awaited break. But if they didn’t do it, they were at risk of being attacked off-guard by the carnivore dragons.
Put them on the alert, or not?
Xavier suppressed the impulse to ask the veteran knight in front of him what he ought to do, and pondered.
Joseph already had given him his objective opinion. As the commander, Xavier himself had to make a decision.
While he was thinking, the numbers “1, 2, 3, 4…” started to dance in the back of his head.
That was a habit, which was drummed into him by his teacher for military leadership.
Contrary to the duties of a landlord, who was supposed to consider matters carefully, a swift decision from the commander on the battlefield was often better than an elaborated one.
“A decision on the battlefield should always be made within ten seconds. And at the sight of the enemy, it is required to make a decision within three seconds.”
His military teacher had driven that doctrine into Xavier till he was blue in the face.
Before long, Xavier exhaled a big breath and straightened his back on top of the chair, then gave his orders to his subordinate before him.
“Okay. No need to put the soldiers on the alert. Only pass on the information to the knights and unit leaders. Let the other soldiers finish their lunch and recharge their energy as always.
In the afternoon, we’ll head to the scene of the assault. It’s quite likely that fighting will break out.
Once the lunch break’s over, we’ll disclose the report from just now to the entire body of soldiers and march along on the alert. That’s all.”
The captain of the advanced reconnaissance party and Knight Joseph respectfully affirmed the decision of their commandant.
Having given his order, Xavier strained his faced so much that his cheeks were seized with cramps, doing his best as not to show his anxiety.
Right after he finished his sentence, a doubt towards his own decision swelled up inside of him.
Was this really the right decision?
Now that he had given the order, it would undoubtedly be his fault if the “carnivore dragons” were to attack them during their break.
However, it would also be his fault if the new soldiers didn’t get to rest due to the announcement of the information, interfering with the operation in the afternoon as a result.
Whether they knew of these worries of the inexperienced commander or not, Knight Joseph and the captain of the reconnaissance party bowed once, then quickly left the tent.
“…..Fuh. The fighting hasn’t even started yet and I’m already like this…”
The tactful, young squire pretended to have not heard the unwitting grumble of his lord at all.
* * *
The hundred-strong army from the March of Guzzle, led by Xavier Guzzle, had halted in the middle of the “Salt Road” under the blazing sun.
Approximately one hour had passed, since they had resumed their march after the break at noon.
To put the scene in front of Xavier’s party in a nutshell: “Horrific”.
Several freight wagons were toppled and blocked the road.
The hulking dragons were dead, still hitched up to the wagons with leather straps.
The torn burlap bags with salt were scattered all around.
And lastly, the corpses of many humans laid near the wagons.
The sad end of the salt merchants.
Quite a few days must have passed since the attack. The corpses were slowly decaying and gave off a strong stench.
It was unapparent to the untrained eye whether the missing parts on the corpses were due to the carnivore dragons’ bites or due to the decomposition of the flesh.
The black insects crawling here and there through the rotten flesh, which had dissolved into a reddish brown colour, were a swarm of flesh flies and the white spots in patches were a colony of eggs laid by the flesh flies.
The sound of several wing beats, the kind that tingled inside the ear, could be heard in the wind when one pricked up his ears.
“Don’t throw up! If you let this wear you out, you’ll be a drag in the battle later on!”
“Just you dare to throw up the good food! I’ll beat it back into you until it comes out of your ears!”
At the rear, the veteran soldiers were giving the fledgling soldiers, who struggled against nausea, a harsh pep talk.
Notwithstanding their greenness, they were all born in the borderland, where the forces of nature were at work. The majority of them must have seen the corpse of a dragon before, not to mention the one of a human.
Thus the reason for their nausea ought to be the stench.
When flesh decayed, it brought about a putrid smell. The stench tainted the air so much richer than a sweet-and-sour or fishy smell could ever hope to achieve. So it was only understandable that the young soldiers were seized with the feeling of wanting to vomit their stomach contents all over the road, as they weren’t used to it.
In fact, even Xavier would have succumbed to the boiling urge of his stomach, if not for his “sense of duty” and “vanity”, which corded up his gullet.
While the young commandant fought an inner battle with his stomach on top of the raptorial dragon, the veteran knight spoke as expected, to remind him of his duties.
“Xavier-sama, your orders please.”
The middle-aged knight skilfully steered his own raptorial dragon near Xavier and urged the novice commander with a slightly harsh tone.
Recalling the duty he had to fulfil through Knight Jospeh’s frank words, Xavier suddenly seemed to come back to his senses and took a deep breath. Then he gave his orders.
“Y- Yes. Have the inspection team come to the front and examine the corpses. I want a report once they analyzed the situation. The other soldiers will keep watch on the surroundings.”
“You heard the man, guys! The first squad will keep a watch on the east of the road, the second squad on the west! Third and fourth squads will guard the supply corps at the rear!”
“Clear the road. The inspection team is coming through.”
The troops went into action as soon as they heard the orders from Xavier in a slightly falsetto voice.
The men of the inspection team trotted over to the corpses, whereupon the swarm of flesh flies, which had huddled together on the corpses like a layer of mud so far, took off all at once. The vicinity turned dark as if covered by a black fog.
The term inspection team sounded rather scientific, but in reality, it wasn’t anything that fancy. Their members were actually “skilled hunters”.
But there was no one, who was more knowledgeable about this kind of thing than the hunters with hands-on experience.
They could determine the species in question from evidences like bite marks or excrements, and estimate their numbers from the state of the victims. Moreover, they could even give a rough estimate for how long the victim had been dead based on the progress of the decomposition of the corpse.
That knowledge wasn’t acquired through systematic studies, but rather through practical experiences, but it didn’t hurt its credibility in any way.
Before long, the hunters of the inspection team came up to Xavier.
If this had been the royal capital or the mansion in the March, it would’ve called for the proper etiquette, but laxity was more or less tolerated on the frontlines.
A middle-aged man with a brown three-day stubble spoke as the representative of the hunters standing in front of Xavier.
“Reporting in. We believe it were ‘Pack Dragons’ that attacked the salt merchants.”
Xavier’s cheeks twitched upon hearing the words from the middle-aged hunter.
Everyone here had heard of that name before. The carnivore dragon was that popular in the western part of the South Continent.
There was always an exception to the rule, but as a rough classification, the majority of herbivore dragons like the “Hulking Dragon” or “Raptorial Dragons” walked on four legs, whereas the carnivore dragons usually walked on two. And the “Pack Dragon”, a carnivore dragon, was no exception to this, either.
When full-grown, the dragon was a head or two taller than a human.
It stood upright on two thick legs, which had a strong jumping power, and balanced its body out with a long tail. Besides the sharp claws on its short forelegs, it also had jagged fangs. It used these to prey on its target.
To match it with an animal from Earth: A “kangaroo” would probably mirror its silhouette the most.
Amongst all the carnivore dragons, the “Pack Dragon” belonged to the smaller kind, but it didn’t change the fact that it was still a threat to humans.
Just like the name “Pack Dragon” implied, these dragons usually stayed together as a pack.
It was a common problem that the livestock from villages in the borderlands, namely the “Hulking Dragons” and “Meat Dragons”, were assaulted by the “Pack Dragons” and when a villager was attacked by a carnivore dragon inside the forest, then it was in all likelihood the “Pack Dragons”, too.
However, Xavier knew a bit about the nature and ecology of the “Pack Dragons”, so he inclined his head puzzled on top of his raptorial dragon in reaction to the report from the hunter.
“‘Pack Dragons’, you say? Are you sure?”
The bearded hunter confidently agreed with the question of the commandant.
“Yes. There is no doubt. We could not really tell anything from the corpses of the people, because they were too decayed, but the skin of the hulking dragon does not decompose so easily. We found marks from bites and claws. The assault came undoubtedly from ‘Pack Dragons’.”
The hunters, experts on the topic, assured it with such emphasis. There could be no doubt then.
However, it still didn’t clear up Xavier’s doubt.
“I see. If you say so, I shall believe you. But I don’t get it. The salt merchants were all killed by mere ‘Pack Dragons’? Their escort was supposed to be quite numerous and skilled.”
Xavier said that and let his gaze wander over the corpses of the salt merchants lying around.
The corpses were already so decayed or eaten up that it was no longer possible to distinguish between a merchant or a guard, but judging from the scattered wreckage of short spears and bows, there had been an substantial fighting force.
As part of his training, Xavier had once repelled “Pack Dragons”, but based on this experience, he found it hard to imagine how a force of this size failed to repulse these “Pack Dragons”.
However, the bearded hunter shook his head with a stern expression.
“Xavier-sama, the size of a pack solely depends on the calibre of the alpha leader. Most of the alpha leaders only make packs with a size of ten, at best, but some old and full grown alpha leaders can have twenty to thirty dragons in their pack.
The alpha leader of such a huge pack doesn’t just have to be big and strong. The important part is whether he can feed all of them or not. In most cases, the leader is abnormally smart and they hunt cunningly.”
“Then the pack that attacked these merchants…”
Comprehending the situation through the explanation from the hunter, Xavier darkened his expression.
“Yes. It must have been a large pack led by a great alpha leader. It is easily conceivable that even the good escorts of the salt merchants were defeated, when twenty or thirty coordinated “Pack Dragons” attacked them.
As you can see, the road is flanked by trees.
So it is not all that strange if they were killed without resistance in a surprise attack.”
“Twenty to thirty, huh.”
The hunter with the stubbles explained, whereupon Xavier mumbled and made a serious expression with a wrinkle between his eyebrows.
However, the hunter shook his head once more while keeping an indifferent face.
“Not quite. Xavier-sama. The twenty to thirty would be the bare minimum. But this time, I would at least estimate the pack to actually have over ‘fifty’ dragons.”
“Fifty, you say!? Your reason being?”
As the number exceeded his forecast by far, Xavier made no secret of his surprise.
On a closer look, even the other hunters were looking surprised upon the utterance from the bearded hunter. In other words, it was the sole opinion of the hunter with the beard.
As if he had waited for Xavier’s question, the stubble hunter eloquently presented his own theory.
“I’m sure you can see it from here. Please take a look at the dead hulking dragons that were pulling the freight wagons of the salt merchants. Although it’s not all of them, various of them have bite wounds on their back, right?
The flesh there is chewy and unappetizing. Most of the carnivore dragons wouldn’t eat that part, unless there’s not enough.
But they got quite a bit of humans and eight hulking dragons here. Despite that, they even mangled the backs of the hulking dragons. That means…”
“The pack was so big that the tender meat from the numerous humans and hulking dragons wasn’t enough to satisfy all of them?”
“Yes, that’s what I believe.”
“And you say there are more than fifty of them?”
“That’s merely a rough estimate from me, though. But I think it needs to be at least this much, considering that the merchants, coachmen, back staff, soldiers and the tender and delicious meat from the eight hulking dragons didn’t fill their stomachs.”
Even if it was a rough estimate, the words of the bearded hunter were convincing, so Xavier bit his bottom lip and pondered with a serious expression.
A pack of fifty dragons.
If that forecast turned out to be true, then it was a formidable enemy even for the hundred-strong army led by Xavier.
Of course they wouldn’t be defeated. However, young soldiers were a valuable asset to the Carpa Kingdom, since it wasn’t all that long ago that the previous war had ended.
The acceptable loss of human resources was slim.
Marquis Guzzle had deemed the current incident as a “beneficial obstacle for getting his son an achievement”, so he had kind of forcefully pushed it through that his own army would get to resolve the incident, but depending on the future development, Xavier might have to pick the lesser evil.
There were basically two choices: Prioritize his achievement and let valuable soldiers of his domain die. Or throw away his achievement and request the help from the royal army to protect the lives of his soldiers.
(It’s not easy.)
At heart, Xavier put the lives of his soldiers over his own achievement, but he was aware that he was in no position to make such a decision based on emotion.
In the not so distant future, he would inherit the Marquis title and “gaining a reputation” was directly interconnected with protecting the interests of the March of Guzzle within the Carpa Kingdom.
His reputation or the lives of his soldiers?
Of course the best outcome would be when he earned his reputation without letting his soldiers die, but it was more than unlikely that he would be able to complete the subjugation without casualties if the enemy really was “a pack of fifty Pack Dragons” like the bearded hunter had speculated.
Xavier realized that his train of thought was hitting a dead-end, so he concentrated on comprehending the situation before his eyes for now.
“Okay. Either way, we have to dispose of the corpses and wagons first or we can’t march on.”
He skilfully turned around the dragon he was riding on the spot and declared that in a loud voice to his subordinates standing in the back.
Hearing his orders, Knight Joseph immediately added more detailed instructions.
“You heard the man. Those with an axe, clear an area big enough for cremation.
Those that can use ‘Parch’ or ‘Wind Blade’, chop the felled trees into firewood for the cremation.
After that, carry the corpses and wagon wreckages over there and use ‘Ignition’ on them. Don’t forget to wear masks and gloves when you move the corpses. Don’t you dare to touch them with your bare hands, unless you want to die from the poison in the corpses.
Also, burn the scattered salt, too. It’s likely to have been polluted by the corpses as well.
And be careful that none of the fires spreads to the surroundings. Have someone with ‘Spring of Water’ be on standby just in case.
The rest of you keeps a watch on the vicinity.
Got it? Good.
…Do you have anything to add, Xavier-sama?”
Even while being a bit overwhelmed by the precise instructions from Knight Joseph, the addressed Xavier didn’t forget his own position and took a deep breath, then
he declared the execution with a loud voice.
* * *
By the time the intense sun of the hot season started to decline in the west, black smoke was trailing over the decayed corpses and wrecked wagons on the side of the “Salt Road”.
The young soldiers were sweating all over as they pulled the ropes tied around the stinking corpses over “rollers” made from felled trees cut into the right length.
The abrasive rope cut into the shoulders of the soldiers, who were clenching their teeth and bending over so much that their chests nearly touched their knees.
The sweat streamed down their cheeks and dripped from their chins onto the dry soil, soaking it black here and there.
However, these sweat blotches dried up in no time.
And the scorching sun wasn’t the only reason for that. The decayed corpses and wrecked freight wagons were burned together in one big fire.
A heat that wasn’t even found in a forge, hung over the clearing on the site of the road, improvised by cutting down some trees.
Smoke was raising and the air was flickering from the red flames.
“Seems we’ll get to clear the road without problems.”
Xavier said that while he wiped the sweat from his forehead with a dry towel.
The rotten corpses had all been thrown onto the fire. At first, the horrible stench had brought tears to his eyes, but now he didn’t feel anything in particular.
The stench from the rotten flesh had certainly become weaker, but more likely, his nose had quit the service and he just couldn’t smell the stench anymore.
Anyway, the functionality of the road was restored for now.
As the criteria for one task were met, Xavier regained a bit of his composure and averted his gaze from the blazing flame.
Then he noticed something.
The hunter with the beard stubble, who had explained the assault earlier, was tilting his head puzzled with a wrinkle between his eyebrows.
He must have felt Xavier’s look on him. Without even being called, he came trotting to in front of Xavier.
“Xavier-sama, I’ve something to report.”
Judging by the sour face he made, it surely were unpleasant news again, but in his position, Xavier had to listen to it regardless.
He immediately urged him to speak up with an expression as if he had swallowed a bitter medicine.
Called upon, the bearded hunter briefly lowered his head with “Yes, Sir”, then started in a slightly quick tone.
“Something is weird, Xavier-sama. At first I thought it was just a coincidence, but the wheels or axles of all three freight wagons were broken, so that they couldn’t move anymore.”
Xavier gave a short affirmative reply to the words of the bearded hunter.
As a matter of fact, he had noticed that, too. At first, he had wanted to use the broken wagons to transport the corpses.
However, there wasn’t a single wagon left that was functioning properly.
He simply dismissed it as “bad luck”, but the hunter with the beard seemed to have a different opinion on it.
“Sure, it isn’t all that strange that all wagons get damaged beyond functionality by chance, since it was a large-scale assault. But as far as I can see, it seems that the ‘Pack Dragons’ destroyed the wheels of each wagon by trusting their ‘claws’ and ‘fangs’ into it.”
The wheels didn’t break from a driving error of the coachmen, but were deliberately attacked by the Pack Dragons.
There was only one reason why they would do that.
“You mean, they wanted to immobilize them? Are the Pack Dragons really that smart?”
“Yes. I find it hard to believe, too, but it would be better when we assume so. There are actually a few more points that confirm their high intelligence.”
“What do you mean?”
In reaction to Xavier’s enquiry, the bearded hunter deepened the wrinkle between his eyebrows and continued with a grim tone.
“Look around. There isn’t a single corpse of a Pack Dragon. In other words, that means the escorts of the salt merchant were one-sidedly killed without even defeating one dragon.”
“And that’s something impossible?”
The hunter with the beard mused over Xavier’s question, then shook his head.
“No, I wouldn’t go as far as calling it impossible. As you can see, the road is small and flanked by densely growing trees. If an coordinated pack of Pack Dragons attacked from both sides at the same time, it’s conceivable that the escorts were wiped out without getting to retaliate.
Though, only on the assumption that all the escorts had let their guard down.”
After finishing his sentence, the bearded hunter inclined his head as if he himself wasn’t quite convinced by what he had said.
It certainly was weird. Of course it was inevitable that the soldiers would grow weary when they advanced on a peaceful road for a long time, but even so, it would mean that the soldiers hired by the salt merchants were extremely weak when they let their guard down so much that the “Pack Dragons” could perfectly carry out a surprise attack.
Something was clearly fishy about that, even if it wasn’t impossible.
That in turn naturally raised the plausibility of another theory to explain the current situation.
“With this in mind, I believe that the reason why we didn’t find any dead Pack Dragons, lies with the dragons, too, not the ‘off-guard escort’.”
“The reason lies with the dragons…”
Xavier was about to ask “what reason specifically?”, when it happened.
“A flying dragon in the sky from north-north-east!”
The loud voice from the outlook soldier resounded through the vicinity.
Xavier’s look reflexively turned to the north-north-eastern sky. There it was.
A black spot was hanging all alone in the glorious blue sky of the hot season.
The silhouette only looked like a black dot at first, but it gradually grew bigger and its finer outline became noticeable.
A long neck. A long tail. And wings so big that they probably could cover eighty percent of its whole body.
It was without a doubt a winged dragon. And one in a different league than the “Small Flying Dragon” that humans used for communication: A genuine Flying Dragon.
“All hands, prepare for anti-air combat in small groups! Archers, nock an arrow and wait for the signal!”
Xavier gave the whole team orders so smoothly that it even surprised him inwardly.
His orders were nothing but the standard protocol for when the army encountered a flying dragon, but his speed of reaction was quite alright for a greenhorn on his first mission.
“A flying dragon!?”
“Damnit, was it lured here by the smoke!?”
Even with shouting all over the place, the soldiers took up a defensive stance like Xavier had ordered. They formed small groups and put up their short spears above their heads, so that it looked like hedgehogs.
“Xavier-sama! Over here!”
“Yes, Andrès. You, too!”
Xavier jumped off his raptorial dragon and pulled on the hand by his squire Andrès, he slipped into the phalanx formation of the commandant’s personal squad.
Surrounding by his subordinates with readied spears, Xavier got his favoured short bow from his squire Andrès and took a deep breath. Then he mumbled to himself while keeping his eyes on the Flying Dragon in the sky.
“I didn’t expect a Flying Dragon. What’s it doing here in the forest…”
He wasn’t whimpering or anything.
The large Flying Dragons mainly hunted on plains with good visibility and rarely appeared in a forest like this.
Because it was nearly impossible for them to land in the dense forest with their enormous, membranous wings.
Due to that, the party was pretty much equipped with short spears and short bows, not expecting to fight against a Flying Dragon like Xavier had mentioned.
If they were going to fight against a Flying Dragon, they ought to have long spears instead of short spears and longbows instead of short bows.
“Based on its flight characteristics, it does not seem like it’s hunting here. I think it’s on its way to hunt on a nearby plain.”
The bearded hunter had appeared next to Xavier at some point with a short bow in hand. He was taking a knee and said that to Xavier with a tensed voice while watching the Flying Dragon in the sky.
“It isn’t after us?”
Xavier asked him, whereupon the hunter nodded shortly while cautiously keeping the dragon in sight.
“I doubt it. Of course we can’t be careless, but hunting humans inside a forest is quite dangerous for a Flying Dragon, too.”
It normally tended to be misunderstood, but in reality, the large Flying Dragons weren’t all that much of a threat to an army.
Of course its kind was without a doubt a tough enemy and extremely difficult to deal with for humans, since it swooped down on them from the untouchable sky domain, but the damaged inflicted on an army that way wasn’t all too severe.
Think about it. The Flying Dragon was a dragon that flew through the sky. Its prey was limited to ones with a weight that the dragon could lift up with its claws after all.
So even when a Flying Dragon attacked a group of humans, the actual damage usually amounted to one or two people, three at most.
In fact, travelling merchants, who couldn’t hire enough escorts, normally brought one or two old “Hulking Dragons” along as a “sacrifice” to the Flying Dragon when they crossed over a plain.
To paraphrase it with heartless words: This army would lose not more than three people, even when they were attacked by a Flying Dragon now. From the “military” point of view, it was impossible to sustain any major causalities, unless a vital and irreplaceable person like Xavier or Knight Joseph was amongst the victims.
Nevertheless, it was hardly a comfort for the individual soldier.
There was a chance of 1:100 or 2:100 to get killed by a Flying Dragon. Be it spearman, archer or supplier, “everyone” alike watched the Flying Dragon and focussed on the “sky” in fear of that.
Amidst that nerve-wracking silence, only the sound from the flapping wings of the dragon flying in the sky rang out loudly.
A few archers were readjusting their aim in a posture that looked like they would fall flat onto the ground of the road at any moment. The point “right above the head” was a blind spot for an archer. An exceptional skill was required to shoot straight upwards while standing.
Fortunately however, their alertness came to nothing now.
Considering the eyesight of the Flying Dragon, it was impossible that it didn’t notice them. Just like the hunter had said, the Flying Dragon must not have wanted to dive into the narrow road with trees densely growing on both sides, either.
The Flying Dragon flew past them, far over their heads.
Once the silhouette of the dragon was completely out of sight, Xavier unwittingly made a sigh of relief.
And he wasn’t the only one.
The tension from the encounter with an unexpected difficulty eased in the entire body of soldiers when they got out of that difficulty without any problems. At that very moment.
A couple of large silhouettes attacked Xavier’s party from both side of the road.
“They” jumped with their two thick legs from the shadow of the trees high into the sky over the party’s heads in a single bound and squashed the totally off-guard soldiers from above just like that.
Crushing the soldiers underfoot, “they” revealed their appearance on the road.
The whole body was covered by green scales and it was one head taller than a human: A two-legged carnivore dragon.
The Pack Dragon.
Seven Pack Dragons in total, three from the right and four from the left, flattened seven soldiers under their thick legs and drooled from their mouths that were showing off their sharp fangs.
When did they had hidden themselves on the side of the road? Maybe they had closed in from the forest while the party had been distracted by the Flying Dragon in the sky?
In that case, the alpha leader of these Pack Dragons even used the movement pattern of the Flying Dragon, which was actually supposed to be their feared enemy as well, to their advantage.
Whatever the real circumstances were, it still took a few more moments until the novice commandant aka Xavier adopted to the sudden development.
The Pack Dragons had made a surprise attack while everyone was focussed on the Flying Dragon in the sky.
They succeeded in such a cunning assault that it was hardly imaginable that these dragons lived based on instincts. The first wave of their attack had hit several soldiers with their claws.
Now it made sense. If they could perform such a perfect surprise attack, it was understandable that the guards of the salt merchants ended up dead without resistance, too.
To the point that the young commander Xavier considered such heedless things in the back of his otherwise blank mind.
However, even if the escorts of the salt merchants had been quite skilled, they neither were as good as the proficient knights, nor as numerous.
There was no way that the surprise attack from the Pack Dragons, which had wiped out the merchant party, would also be able to slay the hundred-strong March army led by Xavier.
“…All hands, engage! The shield soldiers take position towards the forest, the spearmen attack from behind them! The archers shoot from within the formation! Don’t let the Pack Dragons near the wagons!”
Snapping back to his senses, Xavier issued commands with a cracked voice.
“Understood. Supplier! Make sure to replenish the arrows!”
Upon hearing their commandant, the soldiers seemed to recall their duties now and gradually acted like they were supposed to again.
The battle had started with the surprise attack by the Pack Dragons, but the tide was slowly changing.
Xavier was leading a pure military party with the mission to subjugate dragons. Once they recovered from the surprise attack, they were not beaten so easily.
“Shield soldiers, form a wall!”
“Spearmen, fall back! Focus on keeping them in check rather than attacking them!”
“Archers, shoot! Dragons that are attacking a fallen comrade take priority! Don’t hesitate to shoot! Your fellow soldier will be done for anyway when the dragon drags him into the forest!”
As soon as Xavier and the others changed over to an organized counterattack after coming back to their senses, the battle was locked in stalemate.
The soldiers had taken up position with short spears and large, wooden shield at both side of the road and the Pack Dragons had quickly retreated into the forest, where they were sticking out their long necks from in-between the tress and raising shrill GYAA noises that hurt the ears.
The archers with their short bows at the rear were sometimes sending arrows when they saw an opening, but the branches or the leafage of the trees were in the way and barely any arrows hit the Pack Dragons.
In some rare cases, an arrow slipped through the territorial defence and hit a dragon, but in the end, it lacked power, since it was shot with a short bow.
Its draw weight lacked the power to kill the dragon, who had a thick skin and a sturdy skeletal structure despite his medium size, with one shot.
An unlucky Pack Dragon was hit by an arrow and red blood shed from the wound as it shrieked, but it was far from being a lethal injury.
Xavier kept his gaze on the Pack Dragons and his subordinates, who were glaring at each other at the boundary line between the forest and the road, while he called out to the knight aiming with a bow next to him.
“Joseph, how many did we lose?”
“Only one for sure. He was dragged alive into the forest earlier. Otherwise we have five wounded from the initial surprise attack. They can’t fight anymore, but their lives aren’t in immediate danger. Right now, they’re resting on the supply wagons.”
Knight Joseph replied like that with a plain tone while he kept the arrowhead and his sharp eyes aimed at the Pack Dragon in the shadows of the trees.
As a veteran knight, Joseph was using a “Dragon Bow”.
It wasn’t any bigger than the short bow from the other soldiers, but its draw weight and range was even higher than a longbow, not to mention the short bow. Truly a masterpiece.
And it was even possible to kill a Pack Dragon with a single arrow as long as it hit the right spot.
As a matter of fact, one of the dead Pack Dragons lying on the road right now was slain by Joseph’s arrow.
Xavier, too, was itching to use his bow, but his reasoning suppressed that urge and he was getting a hold of the situation instead. Going on the attack would mean to concentrate on a single target for at least a moment.
When an inexperienced commander like Xavier narrowed his field of vision like that, it could cause fatal troubles for the force.
Xavier only exerted himself to get a grasp of the current situation.
(Counting the dead and wounded, we lost six men in total. Not a number that leaves us unable to fight. We already set up a perimeter defence. After that… it became a stalemate.)
At present, Xavier’s army couldn’t lessen the number of Pack Dragons as these had retreated into the forest, but likewise, the Pack Dragons were unable to make a successful attack on them, too.
“We do have prepared the suitable equipment to get into the forest when the situation calls for it…”
Maybe he had gotten impatient over the stalemate, but Xavier unconsciously muttered that.
“I can’t say I agree. These Pack Dragons are better organized than we thought. I’m not saying we would lose when we fight in their territory, the forest, but it would undoubtedly cost us dearly.”
However, the experienced knight standing next to him dismissed the utterance from the young commandant.
Xavier himself must have realized how dangerous his idea was, too.
He simply replied with a short “right” to Knight Joseph and abandoned his plan.
“But what do we do then? At this rate, the stalemate won’t break. And our supply of arrows is limited.”
“I think we can keep it like this for a while. Sure, they’re strangely numerous and coordinated, but that‘s all to it. If the stalemate continues, the first one to get impatient will surely be…”
their side, was what he was going to say when one Pack Dragon stuck out its long neck from the forest to snap at a short spear and exposed its head on the edge of the road, as if to meet Joseph’s anticipation.
Knight Joseph didn’t let this opportunity slide. He quickly let an arrow loose from his dragon bow, which went into the head of the Pack Dragon.
Pretty much like a horizontal flash of light, the arrow perfectly pierced the Pack Dragon’s skin on its head and dug deeply into the skull. In contrast to the human brain, the brain of a Pack Dragon was incomparable small, so even a headshot was often not lethal, but luck seemed to be on his side this time.
Shot in the head by Knight Joseph, the Pack Dragon protruded its upper body beyond the shades of the trees and tumbled down.
“Nothing less from Joseph-sama!”
The soldiers morale went up remarkably when there was finally a triumph after the long stalemate.
“Well done, Joseph. I thought they were clever, but some of them are quite careless, too, I guess.”
While praising him, the young commandant spoke out his doubt with an inclined head, whereupon Knight Joseph quickly drew another arrow from the quiver on his back and showed an audacious grin.
“In the end, they’re just dragons. No matter how smart the alpha leader is, the underlings are just animals acting on instinct. They won’t comply with a ‘waiting’ order forever, even if its an order from their scary leader.”
“I see. So they cracked under the pressure of the stalemate first.”
The wrinkles between Xavier’s eyebrows slackened a bit upon the first bright news after the start of the battle.
He observed the forest with a bit calmer look and it certainly felt like the silhouettes of the Pack Dragons, hiding between the trees, had moved somewhat closer to the road than before.
In the meantime, another Pack Dragon reached the limit of its patience and leaped onto the road while roaring and spilling drool from its widely-opened mouth.
But when a single Pack Dragon came out onto the road, it was playing directly into the hands of the waiting soldiers.
The archers let it rain arrows from their drawn bows and the closest spearman threw the short spear in his right hand with all his might at close range in order to finish it off.
The careless Pack Dragon looked like a hedgehog with all the arrows stuck in its entire body and breathed its last when the thrown spear deeply pierced his torso in the end.
“Good, keep it up!”
These encouraging words unwittingly left Xavier’s mouth.
If the impatient Pack Dragons came out little by little like this, they could conveniently slay them one by one.
Such an optimistic hope took shape in his mind. However, a loud roar resounded over the road from the forest, nipping that hope in the bud.
That roar was more than just loud. It had a clear intent and order embedded in it, which distinguished it from the simple howling of a beast.
“Xavier-sama, to your right!”
In reaction to the words of the young squire Andrés, Xavier reflexively turned his eyes to the forest on his right, where he saw a silhouette deep inside the forest.
Xavier unconsciously swallowed his saliva.
The trees were thwarting a clear sight, but from its silhouette alone, it became apparent that “it” was not a common creature.
It ought to be standing far behind the other Pack Dragons, which had come as close to the road as possible, but on a glance, it looked like it had the same size like the other dragons or was even a bit bigger at worst.
Normally, the alpha leader of the Pack Dragons was one head bigger than the typical Pack Dragon, but this one was probably even two heads bigger than the typical alpha leader.
The Pack Dragon was usually classified as a “medium-sized carnivore dragon”, but this alpha leader was a bit too big to be called medium-sized. With its size, it was more fit to be called a “large-sized carnivore dragon on the small side”.
While Xavier and the others were captivated by its huge silhouette, the alpha leader let another loud howl resound through the area.
In the next moment then, the Pack Dragons, snorting in the shadows of the trees near the edge of the road, were backing off all at once.
They were retreating? The soldiers instinctively started to relax, so Xavier reflexively called out to them.
“Don’t let your guard down! All hands, stay alert!”
His instructions were by no means wrong. If anything, it was praiseworthy that he, as a fledgling commander, immediately felt the tension of the troops plummeting and decided to reprimand them at once.
Fortunately however, that caution turned out to be futile.
RUSTLE. The noise of swaying branches and undergrowth gradually faded into the distance.
Once the noise had completely vanished, Xavier slowly counted till ten, then asked Knight Joseph and the bearded hunter next to him for confirmation.
“…Did they… really retreat?”
The two of them nodded in unison.
“Yes, all their presences have vanished.”
“The howl earlier was the sign to retreat. The Pack Dragons basically don’t come back for the same prey right away when they’ve given up on it once.”
With the certification from the knight, a professional soldier, and the hunter, an expert for dragons, Xavier finally relaxed his shoulders, too.
“I see. Everyone, stand at ease. Give me a report on the casualties after treating the wounded.”
As soon as Xavier uttered these words, the soldiers, now a little less than a hundred, relaxed as they sunk down to the floor.
* * *
The sun was sinking to the west and its reddish rays shone upon Xavier’s party while they were dealing with the aftermath of the operation.
Treating the wounded was especially difficult.
“Okay, I’m going to rinse it. Clench your teeth.”
The clothes of the wounded soldiers were ripped, the laid open wounds were rinsed with a lot of water and the bleedings were stopped by wrapping a clean cloth around it.
Those with a fracture were held down by a few people and had their bone set, then it was stabilized by tying a splint to it with a piece of cloth.
Right now, only this kind of treatment was possible here. But depending on the time and place, even this treatment could make the difference between life and death.
Before long, the supply corps had finished treating all the wounded soldiers and their captain came over to Xavier for a report.
“Xavier-sama, we have finished the treatment of the wounded. For now, no one’s life is in immediate danger. Time will tell their fate.”
Xavier replied to the captain of the supply corps with “well done”. His face showed an obvious complexion of relief.
After all, it were good news that the injuries of the wounded soldiers weren’t fatal.
But of course there was no knowing what would happen, just like the captain had said. People that were wounded by the claws or fangs of dragons, often caught a high fever later on. A fever attack was a sufficient cause of death for a soldier weakened by an injury.
Xavier felt the urge to visit the wounded, but on a second thought, there were other things that took priority, so he continued the conversation.
“What about the wagons? Can you repair them?”
“Yes. Luckily only one wagon has its wheel damaged by claws, so we can get it running again with a spare wheel for now. Well, we need to exchange the whole wagon when we reach a town, though.”
The captain answered Xavier’s question like that and scratched his head.
The supply corps wasn’t just responsible for transporting supplies. It was a group of specialized personnel from which some could repair armours, weapons or broken wagons on the spot when necessary, too.
In a way, all the men from the supply corps had the most outstanding performance in this battle.
Because they had kept the “Hulking Dragons”, which were pulling the wagons, under control the whole time when they were surrounded by the Pack Dragons.
The squires had accomplished a similar deed by soothing the “Raptorial Dragons”, the mounts of the knights, but it sure didn’t compare to the troubles of the coachmen. The “Raptorial Dragons” of the knights were trained for combat, whereas the “Hulking Dragons” were only drilled for manual labour. Their adaptabilities towards combat were in different leagues.
Their effort deserved some kind of reward later on. As not to forget it, Xavier made a memo in his mind and questioned the captain of the supply corps.
“Okay. We’re moving out as soon as the wagon is repaired. Sorry, but be quick with it. It’ll be no laughing matter when the spilled blood attracts other dragons now. Ah, another thing, I want the wounded to be transported on the wagons. Is that possible?”
The captain of the supply corpse mused for a bit upon his question, then approved.
“Yes, that should work out. We haven’t utilized the full capacity of the wagons to begin with and the freight lessened as we have used large amounts of water here, even if that‘s not something to be happy about.”
“Right, the water is a problem, too… Okay. I’ll leave the repairs of the wagon and the transport of the wounded to you. Do what you can.”
The supply corps’ captain replied with a loud voice, then rushed back to the freight wagons.
Xavier watched the back of the leaving captain for a bit, but before long, he turned his gaze forward again.
“It would be reckless to give chase with what we have, right?”
Rather than a question, Xavier’s sentence was closer to confirming what he was already convinced of. The veteran knight nodded short in response.
“Yes. We do know the identity of our enemy now, so we may succeed to some extent when we proceed with caution, but our casualties would definitely exceed a tolerable level.”
The forest was the territory of the dragons. Slaying close to fifty coordinated Pack Dragons with a bit less than hundred men was a bit too difficult.
Thus, Xavier made a decision, albeit biting his bottom lip regretfully.
“…Okay. My subjugation is a failure. We will ask the royal army for support.”
Knight Joseph was about to add “a wise decision”, but swallowed these words.
The young commandant had thrusted aside his regret at the last moment and made a rational decision, so these words might have only sounded like sarcasm to him.
Even if these words were meant as a genuine praise, it was better not to speak them out when there was a possibility that the other party would misunderstand its intention.
As Knight Joseph stayed silent, Xavier spoke while still gazing beyond the road.
“Once the wagon is repaired, we march on. Have them get ready, so we can leave any time.”
“Roger that. Are we going to turn back to the main town of the March?”
Xavier retained a rigid expression and shook his head to Joseph’s question.
“No, far from it. We’ll follow the road into the royal domain. That way, we can have a doctor look after the wounded more quickly.”
The veteran knight concealed his inner thoughts on the decision of the youthful commander and raised an impressed voice without protesting.
In fact, Xavier was by no means wrong.
If they simply wanted to reach the nearest settlement, then making an U-turn here would be the fastest way, but following the road straight ahead like this towards the border of the royal domain was the best choice if the aim was “the nearest place with a physician”.
There was a relatively large military installation on the border of the royal domain and these installations in the Carpa Kingdom had at least one physician stationed there.
The worry about the wounded soldier undoubtedly occupied a majority of Xavier’s mind.
But at the same time, Joseph was thinking.
(The reinforcements deployed by the capital will definitely pass through that military installation. Xavier-sama surely wants to regroup with them there and set out himself again.)
Considering Xavier’s position as the successor of the March of Guzzle, it wasn’t a fantasy that he himself would lead the reinforcements as well, depending on the status of the commander of the reinforcements.
Most likely, Xavier hadn’t given up yet on getting himself a clear achievement in this battle.
His action seemed a bit dangerous to the experienced knight Joseph, but likewise, it could be said that his struggle for fame and military recognition was proof that he perfectly understood what his father or subjects expected from him.
“The wounded worry me. I want to hurry as fast as their condition allows it. Joseph, would it be a problem when we let the soldiers that can’t walk anymore, ride behind us on our raptorial dragons?”
Joseph felt the strong impulse to support the youngster again as the green commandant tried to get the best outcome for the mission entrusted to him with all his might.
“Should be alright. Strictly speaking, it would be against the military law to let a foot soldier ride a raptorial dragon, but right now, we are still more or less in action. And it’s a tacit agreement that adaptive decisions on the battlefield are above the military law.”
Knight Joseph nodded slightly and approved of Xavier’s idea by saying that.
The “Raptorial Dragon”, ridden by knights such as Xavier or Joseph, had an even bigger physique than the horse commonly known as Heavy Breton, and roughly twice its strength.
In terms of resilience, it could carry two fully armoured people for a long period without any problems. Even three people were possible with periodical breaks and feeding without making it run.
“Good. Then we’ll go across the ‘Salt Road’ as fast as the condition of the wounded allows us to. We need to revise the schedules for breaks, drawing water and night watches. Now that I’ve failed my mission, I’ve the obligation to report it and request reinforcements as soon as possible.”
Xavier declared while he stared into the distance of the “Salt Road”, which was bathed in the red sunlight of the setting sun.
It kind of sounded like the youthful commandant was trying to hide his weakness, whereat Knight Joseph shortly responded with a faithful voice.