Book 4, Chapter 59

A Pointless War

The bell tolled a total of nine times! This was a sign of the highest level of emergency, requiring all troops to assemble immediately. Everyone in the barracks and castle immediately sprung to action, dashing to the armoury regardless of personal circumstances to arm themselves as quickly as possible. Carrying rations and supplies for their warhorses, the soldiers then rushed to the training grounds that were shadowed by the castle building.

The castle gates opened a short while later, Alice riding out in her fiery red and gold armour. All of her important generals were gathered behind, ready to take action immediately. It had been no more than twenty minutes since the alarm was rung, but the grounds were already filled with armoured warriors. Outside of the heavy cavalry that needed more time to equip themselves and their horses, the remaining soldiers were arrayed into formations. In a mere five minutes, the rune knights and heavy cavalry would be present as well.

The Earl flourished her longsword, crying out, “Warriors, the time for war is upon us once more, and our enemies will taste defeat again! The first, second, and fourth battalions are to follow me and my rune knights. The third will defend the castle, and the fifth will patrol the city. Follow me!”

She pointed her longsword outwards, and the rows of warriors started marching out on the road exiting the city. The sheer discipline of these soldiers made it evident that they were all battle-hardened veterans.

However, these troops had pathetic equipment for a noble’s standard, especially the footsoldiers whose equipment was clearly seized from their enemies. The mottled army had become something of a symbol of the Archerons; the faster their expansion, the more colourful their soldiers became.

The deployment was sudden and completely unexpected; some of the soldiers had to scramble from the middle of a meal. Still, their morale was high with no signs of hesitation on their faces. The Archeron war goddess had led them to countless victories in the past, and they trusted her to continue on that path. Although mobilising troops close to dinnertime was strange, Alice’s strategies were often elusive and required being able to fight at any time. They were no strangers to marching in the night.

The soldiers might have been confident, but the generals were just confused. They wracked their heads for an answer, but couldn’t think of any issue lately that would demand a military response. Alice had recently won several major battles, getting everything she could want for the time being. With their surroundings all calm, who were they going to fight?

A heavily bearded warrior approached Alice once they left the city, one of her most trusted generals, “My Lady, who are we fighting this time?”

“I don’t know! We’ll think of it when we enter Sacred Tree territory!” The general was stunned by the answer. They had mobilised most of the army but they had no target? Alice knew she had made a mistake the moment the words left her mouth, but without the ability to change the past she silently continued to have the army forge ahead at full speed.

The generals exchanged glances, their faces grim. There were only two possible explanations for which their lady would keep information about the target from even them: there were traitors in the ranks, or the enemy was so strong they would need to use unorthodox strategies to win. Either way, this battle would need them to give it their everything. They started to make their own preparations seriously, no one noticing that Alice looked more like she was fleeing an enemy than chasing one.

……

As the shadow of the night covered the Undying Volcano, a few clear shrieks rang through the sky. A navigational whistle came from below and four griffins descended upon the castle’s landing platform. Richard dismounted and stretched his stiff body, handing the griffins and his luggage to an attendant that had rushed over before scanning his surroundings.

“An elegant design,”  he said with a nod, “Even better that its cost was kept so minimal.”

The general left behind to guard the castle was naturally delighted at this evaluation. Hearing such praise from the acting family head, the royal runemaster, would bring pride to anyone serving the Earl.

However, Fuschia was completely baffled instead. The Archerons were a young family that were expanding far too swiftly, not waiting to accumulate capital on their way up. Frugality was thus necessary in many areas, and had become second nature to every powerful Archeron. This was especially true amongst those branches that were only a generation old, like Alice’s and Gaton’s. But none of this applied to Richard. His army was already well-established, powerful followers controlling masses of elite troops. With his talent at runecrafting, gold was flowing into his pockets every day. Even without actively seeking information one would see all sorts of equipment and other materiel being moved in and out of the Archeron island’s warehouse, a massive flow of cash. Richard earned fast and spent even faster.

One could even say the royal runemaster had no concept of frugality at all. He constantly spent gold to improve his soldiers’ weaponry and augment their combat prowess, his army already on par with most other top families of the Sacred Alliance when it came to equipment alone. Still he showed no signs of reining it in, set on the path to crush his opponents with superior weapons and armour alone. How could such a person even understand the concept of being frugal?

Thus, when she heard praise for frugality coming from Richard’s mouth, Fuschia was left with her hair standing on end.

In the meanwhile, Richard exchanged a military greeting with the general and continued to speak, “I am Richard, and have an appointment with Earl Alice tonight. Please bring me to her.”

However, he was met with an unexpected flash of awkwardness on the general’s face, “About that… Apologies, Lord Richard. There was a military emergency just now, and my Lady just set off with her troops.”

“Military emergency?” Richard’s face grew animated for a moment, but he quickly regained his calmness, “Where is this emergency that she had to leave in the middle of the night for?”

“She did not say. This seems to be a secret mission,” the man said with apology written all over his face. Had he known that his fellow generals following Alice didn’t know where they were going either, he might have been worried instead.

Richard smiled at the man’s response, “Did she bring many men along?”

“Quite a few! All of her elite footsoldiers, heavy cavalry, and rune knights were mobilised, leaving only two battalions to defend the city and castle. It looks like the battle will be very fierce.”

“This does sound quite serious,” Richard said casually, a hint of incredulity in his voice, “Right, how many rune knights does Alice have?”

The general immediately started muttering softly awkwardly, forcing Fuschia to step in, “There is no need to worry, Lord Richard is no outsider.”

This visibly relaxed the man, “My Lady currently has thirty rune knights in total.”

“Mm, not a small number.” Richard then pointed at the four exhausted griffins, “Have someone take good care of them, and if you have any good griffins to spare give me four. I have to leave early tomorrow morning.”

“You’re leaving so quickly? You came from so far away, should you not stay and visit a little? The scenery around the Undying Volcano is renowned!” The surprised general tried to make Richard stay, but Fuschia just heaved a sigh of relief in the corner.

Richard’s smile filled up with charisma in response, “A fine suggestion, but I can only stay the night. How about this? If it isn’t too much trouble, give me a tour of the city first. We can then visit the barracks before looking around the interior of the castle. What say you?”

The general and Fuschia felt a little uncomfortable at that, but not heeding even a trivial request like that would be extremely disrespectful. The man steeled himself, “Will you not have dinner first, Lord Richard?”

Richard casually waved it off, “I ate on the way. Let’s leave, time is limited and this is my first time visiting my lady’s castle. I’d like to see how the goddess of war runs her fief.”

Left with no choice, the general ordered a servant to fetch a few horses, giving Richard one and leading him out the castle gates towards the city square. Richard had courteously asked Fuschia to get some rest, but she remained adamant in following him. She felt a sort of ill omen with his presence near the Undying Volcano, and his nonchalance at Alice’s absence did not help.

The long hours of continuous flight had left her exhausted, while Richard was only a mage. No matter how fit he was, how could he possibly endure more travel than her? He had managed to eat and drink even atop the griffin, as though he had grown up on its back. One had to know that even breathing could be difficult in the sharp gales kilometres into the sky. However, thinking of how he had climbed on at the start of their journey, she couldn’t bring herself to question him.

They went around the city in a trot, watching the smoke rise up from the chimneys of the growing town. The city was relatively small, having only 30,000 citizens, but one could see levelled lands and demarcations for new roads on the perimeter, but development was not yet underway. Most of the older buildings in the city were small and weak, even the newer ones rather unremarkable, but there were signs of growth everywhere.

Hope was plastered across every citizen’s face.

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OMA's Thoughts

Translated By: JH

Edited By: Theo

TLC'ed By: OMA