Book 4, Chapter 168

At The City Walls

The most famous piece of defensive equipment guarding Blackrose Castle was a legendary-grade ballista at the very top of the city called Discra’s Ire. It was named after a famous deep sea beast that possessed the ability to contend with the gods, and as the result of a year’s worth of painstaking effort from a grandmaster dragon-blooded gnome it certainly lived up to the glorious name.

Just like most other Archeron equipment, this had been looted in war. In a rare instance, Gaton hadn’t directly sold it and instead added it to the already-fortified Blackrose Castle to make up for a lack of long-range defences. Even the ancient trebuchets hadn’t been used in a long time, but given Gaton’s tendency to take on enemies that should be far beyond his capability, some believed it to be a wise move.

This legendary ballista was the biggest threat in the eyes of both Senma and Asiris. It’s ten-kilometre range far exceeded most spells, and it also came with two legendary bolts as well. The Deepsea Tide could trigger large-scale tidal magic; with the castle being right next to the sea, this bolt was mighty enough to drown the surrounding lowlands entirely in one shot. Even more terrifying was the Deepsea Tip, capable of pursuing a single target over great distances. Even the more normal bolts had all sorts of enchantments on them.

High up on the ramparts of the castle were a group of nobles looking into the distance. Right in the middle was an old mage whose snow-white hair and beard were blowing in the wind. At level 14 he wasn’t particularly weak, but given the abundance of wrinkles on his face one could tell he wouldn’t be going much further in this life. This was the family council’s president, but only being a titled knight with a small fief far away, he didn’t command much respect from the rest of the council members. Everyone was instead bunched up in separate groups, each group having its own core.

There were now less than thirty members left, a stark contrast from the seventy at the council’s peak. Richard’s threats had been truly effective; the only ones left behind were too close to Sauron to survive running away.

The old mage knew that his position was just a farce, but he still presented himself more convincingly than the president of an actual family council. As he blinked the tears outside of his sore eyes, he said in a low, dignified voice, “Tea.”

A youth dressed in noble attire quickly ran down the stairs, returning in only a few moments with a boiling hot cup of tea with milk and sugar added. Contempt appeared in the eyes of many others at the sight, some even snorting with disdain, but the old man and the youth seemed to ignore them entirely.

No real noble would actually be willing to serve a powerless old man like this so-called president. The only ounce of nobility in the youth came from his status as a mage apprentice, but he still always wore noble robes and tried to show off wherever he could. The old president evidently didn’t mind the slight, but even if he did there was nobody else he could use. His level was passable, but he had no talent in any field of applied magic so he was hard-pressed for money. 

The president took the black tea and calmly took a sip, but nearly spat it out. The quality of the leaves was terrible, there was too much sugar, and the milk seemed to have gone bad. However, the old man forced himself to keep it down and asked, “Shouldn’t there be a caravan coming today? Why is there still no sight of them?”

He was anticipating the arrival of this group greatly because a portion of the funds earned would be allocated to him. As the chairman, he was treated a little bit better than the rest.

“Hmm…” the youth thought it over, “Something might have cropped up along the way. Could they have run into Richard?”

“Hmph! The owner of the merchant group is Earl Tudor’s nephew. How would a child like Richard have the guts to touch him?”

The young man quickly nodded, but he didn’t seem convinced. “My Lord—”

“President!” the mage corrected the youth’s ‘mistake’ sternly.

“President, Sir, with your great foresight do you think we will be able to guard the castle? I heard that Richard is a royal runemaster!”

“Ha, so what?” the old mage laughed loud enough to gather everyone’s attention, “He’s just a kid with no foundation. Do you think he can actually contend with real veterans? Let me tell you one thing, Richard only brought 500 cavalrymen. Just 500! Why did he bring so few, and why are they all mounted? Isn’t it obviously so he can run away from anyone eyeing him? The Mensas as well as Lords Sauron and Goliath are blocking his path; do you think he would be able to make it here if he brought a large army?

“You children need to use your brains more, don’t believe in all the rumours. Even if Richard comes, so what? We have the castle, mages, and 5,000 troops. Do you think he can attack us without even any siege equipment? Blackrose has never fallen before!”

All the other members started nodding in agreement to the old mage’s words, seeming more relaxed. However, the youth did not think the same way. He wanted to ask why Richard would have announced his marching route in that case, but he eventually just kept it to himself. After all, the president was right; what could one do with only 500 cavalrymen?

Ever since the family council had taken over Blackrose Castle, Azan’s information network had splintered apart. Without any money to pay the informers with, the council could only rely on the news Marquess Sauron fed them and the most primitive channel of merchants. Some tried to rely on their own families, but these branches had never been worthy enough to obtain useful information on time.

Of course, Sauron hadn’t told them that 150 of the 500 cavalrymen headed their way were rune knights. He knew that they would flee the moment they learned of this news, even with the threat of his wrath. This was also why they hadn’t cared much about Richard’s earlier threats; they just didn’t know the weight behind them.

The old chairman took another two sips before returning the teacup to the young man and leaning over the edge in hopes of seeing the caravan that should have arrived long ago. He did indeed see a cloud of dust flying up at the edge of the main road, but it didn’t seem to be the caravan. It wasn’t long before the rest of the council members noticed the strange sight and squeezed over to the edge of the battlements. They were just as excited for the arrival of the merchants as well.

“What’s that?”

“It doesn’t seem like the merchants. Why does it look like a cavalry?”

“Don’t spout nonsense! Where would they come from?”

“Want to bet? I was a soldier when I was younger.”

“Yeah, but you never entered a battlefield in your life!”

“CAVALRY!” a young soldier eventually cried out amidst the clamour, “SOUND THE ALARM!”

The shout immediately caused chaos amongst the councillors. They shrieked and jostled against each other as they ran in all directions without any idea what to do, even blocking the path of the sentinel in their confusion. The youth barely managed to squeeze through and finally rang the alarm, waking the castle from its slumber.

This ancient fortress hadn’t experienced an alarm for the longest time now. All the capable aides loyal to Gaton had been cleared out in favour of ordinary servants, so curses and shrieks interweaved as everyone grew scared for their lives. The castle guard had been put together by the council members, and although the president said there were five thousand of them there were actually less than four. More than half of those soldiers hadn’t even been trained strictly, so they would be of little use outside of as cannon fodder.

Only the guards left behind by Gaton had any ability in battle. Most of the 3,000 original guardians of the castle had left the moment the council took over, choosing to become free warriors over bowing to the monkeys, but there had been about a thousand or so who could not take that step. Their lives had either been weaved into Azan too heavily, or they were the breadwinners of their families and couldn’t risk putting their children in danger for their own pride.

However, the first thing the family council did after taking over was to dismiss a lot of these capable soldiers as well. With extremely limited funds from Sauron, they didn’t have the money to provide for them. Gaton’s territories did indeed earn a lot, but some of the vassals had family trees older than Sauron’s own. Even Gaton had given them a great deal of freedom during his reign, so they wouldn’t just hand taxes over to a farcical council without power.

It was only thanks to the defending commander being smart enough to ensure these troops were treated decently that they had eventually stuck around. If not for that, even these few capable soldiers would have left. The personal soldiers of the council members were just brutes with no skill; even three of them couldn’t compare to a single true warrior. If a conflict did erupt, they would be the first to flee.

“Richard! It’s Richard! Quick, get the troops up the wall!” someone shouted amidst the confusion, snapping the councillors back to reality. A flurry of orders were then sent out, so loud that everyone began to grow dizzy.

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OMA's Thoughts

Translated By: Ying

Edited By: Theo

TLC'ed By: OMA