Book 3, Chapter 87

Laying The Trap

Salwyn pointed to another spot on the map, “General Hinton, you are to follow this route southward through Bluewater to bar Flintstone Forest. Find ways to delay any reinforcements from the Sequoia Kingdom for as long as possible.”

As Salwyn’s pointer moved along the magical map table, the pieces representing the army shifted accordingly and left behind tracks of their movements. He eventually fixed his eyes upon one last position, a freezing chill in his gaze as he shoved the pointer at a field in front of Bloodflag Valley, “When Richard arrives at Bloodflag Valley, I will personally lead the seventh and eighth divisions of the imperial soldiers as well as three knight regiments in a charge through the Skeletal Plains to battle it out with Richard. The march will take two entire days; Sir Aer, your job is paramount. As long as you can hold Richard off for three days, my army will be able to swallow him whole!”

Sir Aer was a strong, muscular middle-aged man of few words. “I will not disappoint you,” he said in a low voice before falling silent.

However, Salwyn was well-acquainted with this knight’s character. He punched hard at the man’s rock-hard chest, “Alright! Let’s give him a taste of the imperial army!”

Based purely on how the various pillars of the army interacted, it seemed absurd to wish to stop Richard’s mix of elite infantry and cavalry with an army made of pure light infantry. However, the ten or so nobles present and the numerous military officers did not doubt that this could be done.

Sir Aer was one of the Iron Triangle Empire’s most famous generals, extremely skilled at defence. Had it not been for the fact that his mother was once a lowly slave, he would long since have become a viscount. Still, despite his family background, it was publicly acknowledged that he would become a baron one day.

Salwyn stared hard at the Skeletal Plains, suddenly smiling as he muttered to himself, “An army of thirty thousand against your ten. Richard… I’d like to see how you’re actually going to fight this battle!”

Most of the people in the meeting room looked puzzled. Eventually, an Earl could not resist asking the question, “Your Highness, Richard is only an insignificant frontier knight. Is he worth so much effort? Why don’t you stick to your original plan and head north to annex those independent fiefs? That would certainly be a more striking contribution in the eyes of His Majesty.”

This earl had a point. Salwyn’s greatest chip in his contest for the throne was his capability as a commander. However, such a thing could not be demonstrated with mere talk; it needed tangible military successes. In recent years, Salwyn’s military endeavours hadn’t exactly been fruitful. He had led the allied armies in a battle against the invader Sinclair and was forced to retreat, but the same invader had perished at the hands of an insignificant baron of the Sequoia Kingdom. This was no different from a slap on his face!

All sorts of rumours had spread through the Empire after that loss. The other princes had grabbed the opportunity to accuse him of incompetence in front of the Emperor. Fortunately, Salwyn had his past successes to fall back on. In addition, Marquess Rislant had suffered a few defeats of his own in his battle against the Dragon Church. That was the only reason the Emperor had let Salwyn keep control of his troops.

For the past six months, Salwyn had been busy expanding his army and training his troops. He was also constantly trying to think of ways to rope in more nobles to his side. Many did not supply him with the manpower he desired, sending him a lump sum of money instead; he used this large amount of gold for new warriors, equipment, and training.

With a total of five divisions now under him, Salwyn’s army had basically doubled in size. Its ability in combat was more or less boosted to the same extent. This force was originally headed north to annex a number of small countries and independent nobles all the way up to the Andes Promenade. This would give them control of Whale Bay, an important port.

Nobody had expected that Salwyn would change his plan the moment he heard of the Bloodstained Highway project, deciding to go all out to eliminate Richard at the Bloodstained Lands in one go!

But what good would this bring? Richard was basically an outsider without any reputation. He was merely a frontier knight, that title representing an upstart who was capable at war but had no other background. Even if Richard had seen some success in the Sequoia Kingdom, those of the Iron Triangle Empire didn’t consider the Kingdom to be anything more than a bunch of powerful individual aristocrats.

The Bloodstained Lands were barren yet complicated. Bordering so many different races, this region was a natural place for war. It was hard to say how much the Empire could get out of the area, but the maintenance costs of such a war would be enormous. Annexing it wasn’t even all that good a thing; it would bring their borders closer to many other countries.

Everyone thought this was an expensive battle that would not earn them anything even if they won.

Salwyn glanced through the faces of those present and saw mostly confusion and doubt. Indeed, this looked like a battle where the gains would not make up for the losses. However, an inconceivable pair of numbers popped into his mind once more.

2,800 to 310.

This was a ratio of casualties that left him puzzled and bitter. Even the crushing defeat against Sinclair hadn’t left nearly as deep an impression on his mind as these numbers did. After all, he knew why he had lost to her; he was also confident that he would be able to turn the tables in certain conditions. However, Richard was different. A disorderly mob of barbarians and desert warriors had achieved unimaginable results under this frontier knight’s leadership. What would someone like that accomplish if he had control of a true army?

Salwyn had thus made a painful decision the moment he heard of Richard’s plans. He turned his troops around, intending to eradicate the knight with an absolute military advantage!

“Each and every one of you, mark my words.” His voice was deep and solemn, a certain gravity present now that had never shown itself before, “If we do not put an end to Richard now, he will certainly become a major enemy of the Empire in the future! Compared to the Empire’s safety, my personal achievements are worth nothing.”

Everyone present looked at each other in astonishment. None of them had seen the prince this serious before; they followed him not purely because of his title, nor for his skill at command. It wasn’t only because he was a great mage. Salwyn’s acute foresight had earned him admiration from many of the Empire’s nobles.

Although they all knew that the Sequoia Kingdom’s Bloodstained Highway Project was not a good thing for the Iron Triangle Empire, they were confident that they would be able to disturb the plan whenever appropriate. However, Salwyn had actually blown this matter up to a whole new level.

Only the formidable Marquess Yang was deep in thought. Red Cossack, an organisation he owned, had recently incurred disastrous losses in the Bloodstained Lands. An entire third of his core strength had dissipated, millions of coins lost. The Marquess could understand some of Richard’s prowess.

……

A storm was brewing in the north, ready to pounce on the Bloodstained Lands and tear Richard to shreds in one go. However, the runemaster was completely unaware as he lay quietly on his bed, staring at the top of the tent.

In his mind was an extremely detailed map that covered the entirety of the Bloodstained Lands and the surrounding regions. He could see a surging army just setting off from Bluewater Oasis, advancing with irresistible force as they destroyed all the obstacles in their path to reach the Ashen Plateau. Various forces would rush towards this army one after the other, but every one was left greatly wounded by a current of steel!

Richard was simulating the entire war in his mind. The worst case scenario was four attacking armies charging out from the Iron Triangle Empire, each taking one of the four possible routes of intervention. Salwyn’s name was labelled on each possible route these armies took; as the forces were crushed, his name was marked off with a red cross.

The corners of his lips lifted in an icy smile. “Salwyn,” he said lightly to himself, “Don’t you think of running back home if you dare to come over!”

The clock pointed towards ten in the night. Richard leapt off his bed and left the tent, sending a few mental commands. One of the side gates of the barracks was opened, all of his troops leaving the camp in formation and disappearing into the distance.

A moment later, the soldiers under Zim and the Direwolf Duke also left the camp in the dark of the night, their whereabouts unknown.

Only a few thousand footsoldiers were left in the camp by eleven, the exact time when the nobles and captains who had been turned into figureheads came to Richard’s command tent. There was a sumptuous feast prepared here, and they were told that it was to be their supper. Richard’s whereabouts were unknown, but Viscount Zim took his place as host.

It was impossible for Richard to completely hide the mobilisation of his troops from everyone present. They knew he had taken some form of action, but no matter what it was they were just satisfied with not having to go to the battlefield.

Both nobles and generals loved food and drink. Everyone warmed up very quickly, a joyous atmosphere filled the tent.

The clock slowly made its way towards midnight.

……

Camp Bluesquare had already settled into silence, filled with the heavy atmosphere that rose from an impending storm. One could hear almost nothing outside of the footsteps of the patrolling soldiers. The occasional neigh of a warhorse would echo into the distance.

A few light cavalrymen were making their way back to the camp in the midst of the darkness. These were the scouts who patrolled around the army barracks; it was already time for a change of shifts.

Once they crossed a small hill, all of the soldiers could see the city’s lights in the distance. The mere thought of hard liquor and cosy beds left many excited, and the horses were sped up.

*Schlick!* However, a sharp arrow shot out of the bushes nearby. The team captain fell from the horse as the arrow struck him, barely able to make any sound before the beast under his legs gave way as well. The long feathers of an arrow stifled the horse’s neigh.

A rain of arrows then descended upon the patrol team, sending every single cavalryman to the ground. The attack had been far too sudden; only one person managed to let out a scream before they all collapsed, but even that was weak and brief. It certainly would not be heard from the barracks that was a little under two kilometres away.

An army marched out of the darkness, lined up in orderly rows as they snuck into an area less than a kilometre away from Camp Bluesquare using the cover of the dark. All the soldiers sat down in formation, beginning to eat to replenish their strength.

Richard appeared at the rear of the troops, patiently waiting as he gazed upon Camp Bluesquare that was in the distance.

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OMA's Thoughts

Translated By: Hestia

Edited By: Theo

TLC'ed By: OMA