Chapter 124: Jerome’s Ascension (3)

Siegfried’s counterattack.

He was a savior from the heavens for the collapsing Kobrook Republic.

Though Siegfried himself was disappointed that he could not catch Milton, the Kobrook Republic was filled with a new breath of life through this victory. Inferior as their position may be, there was a great anticipation of how the famed genius of war that was Siegfried could turn the tables.

Siegfried more than lived up to that anticipation as he entered the fray.

The troops that Siegfried personally commanded from the Northern Front numbered 30,000. Further men were scraped together from here and there to form a total of 40,000 soldiers that accompanied him. It was a relatively small number compared to the Strabus allied army, and they were deployed to an overwhelmingly disadvantageous position; a frontier that was already on the brink of collapse.

Despite this, Siegfried and his 40,000 troops achieved results with flying colors by overpowering the Strabus allied army.

Siegfried first applied pressure on the Strabus coalition by attacking Bells Castle and Hornie Castle with a force of 10,000 troops respectively. Rather than being a full-on attack, the move was in the course of conducting surveillance on their enemy. If the occupiers attempted a counterattack by emerging from the castle, they merely retreated and renewed their attack – and such a cycle was repeated.

The coalition army could not form an adequate response as Siegfried kept them in check – the reason being that half of the 40,000 strong army had vanished without a trace. They could not discern the whereabouts nor objective of the missing 20,000 soldiers.

Ultimately, Milton commanded the army to focus on defense and fortification, and the Kobrook Republic’s defensive line found a new wind through Siegfried’s strong involvement.

If there was anyone who could be labelled as displeased with these developments…

“What humility is this?”

There was none more apt than Marquis Bologna.

During their offensive on Litinque Castle, Marquis Bologna succeeded in escaping through a different path to Milton. Though he somehow managed to open the northern gates and break through the surround to make a getaway, he lost a considerable number of men and was personally wounded.

He was bedridden until recently after they regathered at Bells Castle; and even then, when he could begin to barely conduct affairs again, the first thing he did was to seek Milton and raise a complaint.

“A humility, you say… what may be the problem, if I may ask?”

Marquis Bologna turned beetroot red as he replied roughly.

“They barely number 40,000 men. Are we relegating to entrenching ourselves, frightened by a force of 40,000 that do not have a half-decent position to fall back to? Does this not differ completely from our original plans?”

To break the Kobrook Republic’s defensive lines, and afterwards attack their granaries and other breadbaskets to apply pressure on the Republics’ food situation: this was their original plan. And in actuality, the defensive line was indeed as good as destroyed. They were unable to capture Litinque Castle, the one remaining position of defense for the Republic, but it was most unlikely to function as a focal point after going up in flames.

Despite this, Milton had ordered all troops to devote themselves to fortifying their positions. This was because Milton believed that with Siegfried’s entrance, there was a necessity of remaking their existing plans from square one.

Although Milton understood Marquis Bologna’s restlessness, he had no intention of shifting their new course of action.

“In light of the losses we recently suffered in our attack on Litinque Castle, there is a need to reassess our war situation.”

This only served to further anger Marquis Bologna.

“Was that not your mistake, Marquis? Our army suffered those unspeakable losses because you were drawn in by such an obvious bait!”

Milton was hit with a pang of anger.

‘An obvious bait? If it was so obvious, then why didn’t you stop me when you were at the scene as well?’

He wished to pour out the words in his heart.

But instead…

“I acknowledge it. This is the result of my carelessness.”

No good would come from adding oil to Marquis Bologna’s fire. Milton gave way to him, holding tangible benefits in higher regard than his pride.

Bologna was enlivened by Milton’s apology.

“Then it is not too late. Let us return to being on the offensive, if only to redeem our defeat. We still have double the men of the enemy if we mobilize the remaining troops, so at any moment-”

“We cannot.”

“Why ever?”

“It is because our troops are insufficient.”

“Our troops are insufficient? What on earth do you possibly mean!?”

“We currently retain a total force of approximately 80,000 men.”

“As I too am aware.”

“Of those, our Lester Kingdom army forms 50,000, the Florence Principality forms another 10,000, and the Strabus Kingdom constitutes 20,000 men.”

“And that is more than enough troops. I tell you – we must march all troops and advance immediately.”

Milton took in a deep breath and exhaled.

‘You’d be right if we hadn’t suffered those losses at Litinque.’

The casualties they incurred in their defeat at Litinque Castle was over 50,000. Of those, 30,000 were affiliated with the Lester Kingdom army, and the other 20,000 were Strabus soldiers.

50,000 troops were gone in a single battle.

If not for that, it would be possible for them to attack as Marquis Bologna said. But then was then, and now they absolutely could not.

“Our total forces may number 80,000, but the majority are occupied with stabilizing our captured territory. Are you not aware of this?”

At present, the coalition army’s 80,000 strong army was distributed as follows.

Bells Castle – 20,000 stationed

Hornie Castle – 20,000 stationed

Fortress Lientz – 5,000 stationed

Fortress Belluno – 5,000 stationed

Fortress Brunico – 5,000 stationed

Fortress Merano – 5,000 stationed

Fortress Bolchano – 5,000 stationed

The stationed troops already numbered 65,000, and the remaining 15,000 were on standby on the wide-stretching plains for the purposes of reconnaissance and guerilla warfare to bolster these positions. Thus in reality, all troops were being utilized to solidify their hold on the captured grounds.

“We are over concentrating our men on defense. There is no need to station such a substantial force to the minor strongholds that now form our rear, is that not so? Reducing our troops assigned to defense would no doubt open capacity for attack.”

“If we do so and are met with a counteroffensive, we may lose our defensive positions.”

“Then are you suggesting we continue to stay holed up in this manner?”

“Only to the extent of stabilizing our captured territory. I am sure you are aware of how difficult matters will become lest the Kobrook Republic recaptures these points and operates them once more, are you not?”

“Do the enemy appear to have the means to do so to you? We may have suffered a single defeat, but are we not the ones who are winning at this very moment?”

“We are winning as you say. Then what need is there for us to display such impatience?”

“I tell you, it does not sit well with me that we are hesitating with such an opportunity right before our eyes!”

“In the way of Siegfried joining this frontier with his reinforcements, an equally large power vacuum has been created on the Northern Front. Keeping the enemy on their toes by firmly keeping our ground shall suffice to play a significant role in this war.”

“Our contributions would be lacking with only that.”

“Victory comes before individual contributions in war!! Do you not even know that much!?”

“Are you suggesting I am a petty man who has been blinded by the promise of rewards?”

The atmosphere between them reached a point of no return. Milton had tried his utmost to bear through it, but this was a reaction that was simply impossible to suppress.

Was Marquis Bologna convinced that he had seen the limit of Milton and the Lester Kingdom military’s strength in their defeat? There was a clear shift in his attitude, with an intention to carry out the war by his own means instead of cooperating with Milton.

Although his collaboration with Milton had brought some positive results, there had been one failure that was all too big. Bologna’s current rationale was that Milton should then lay down his authority as a leader for this war and rightfully pass it to him.

It went without saying, but Milton did not think this in the least. 

Too many cooks spoil the broth; and much the same way, a command that was torn between multiple options was the greatest foolishness on the battlefield.

More than anything, Milton yet possessed a hidden trump card. Until the time of its reveal, he had to concentrate on defense and stabilize the battle situation at all costs.

However, the gap between his opinion and that of Bologna’s did not close, and Milton eventually offered his last compromise that gave as much way as possible.

“Two months… please wait just two months. If we do so, we will be able to safely attack the enemy after consolidating our captured territory.”

Marquis Bologna caught his breath and fell into thought when Milton proposed a time limit.

And then…

“In your eyes, do you believe the enemy will not take action within those two months?”

“The enemy must divide their attention with the Northern Front. I implore that you believe time is on our side.”

“Is that not something which only time will tell? Rather, if we miss the opportunity presented before us now…”

“In two months, I shall pass the sole authority to command the attack to you, Marquis. So please bear with it for a mere two months.”

“Mmm…”

Marquis Bologna wanted to attack at this very moment if possible, but it seemed Milton would absolutely not allow that.

“Two months… let us make it precisely 60 days later. I will not give any more ground past that.”

“It is settled.”

Ultimately, Milton somehow managed to convince Bologna to promise a period of two months. Bologna went on his way with both of them having given considerable ground to reach this compromise, muttering under his breath.

“It would have been better to take up arms and fight.”

After Marquis Bologna withdrew, Viscount Sabian approached Milton as he was letting out a sigh.

“Good work, my lord.”

“Yeah, that was work alright.”

It had been incredibly difficult to settle down someone blinded by the prospect of glory such as Marquis Bologna. While it was true that most of the Strabus Kingdom’s nobles believed meritorious contributions on the battlefield brought the greatest honor, Bologna was particularly antsy. After all, succeeding in their offensive against the Kobrook Republic was a significant enough contribution that he could expect to be elevated to a Duke. This was only bound to whet his appetite.

“Whatever the case may be, we have created for ourselves a period of two months. Would that be doable?”

“Yes. If my predictions are correct… we will have our answer by then.”

“Our answer from that third lot, you mean.”

“…….”

At Milton’s words, Viscount Sabian’s expression betrayed a hint of uneasiness.

“What is the matter? Are you not confident about this operation?”

“I am. I believe that the operation itself will bring about an excellent outcome.”

“Then what is the problem?”

“Only… I am concerned if we have asked too much of those two after all. That is all.”

“All will be well. If it’s those two, they will be able to do it.”

“On what grounds do you say so, my lord?”

“Because those two are together.”

“… I’m sorry?”

“Those two are a much better combination than you may be led to believe. Perhaps they are merely ordinary knights when separate – but if they act together, they display much greater synergy than one expects.”

“……”

“Try putting your faith in those two.”

Viscount Sabian smiled.

“Yes. If my lord says so, I shall trust them as well.”

Viscount Sabian ardently hoped that this third party would succeed.

At first, he had mapped out this operation – no, this insurance plan – with a no-strings-attached attitude of giving it a shot. If it worked, it worked; and if it did not, it did not.

But now, this ‘insurance’ was about to become their greatest play.

‘If we just succeed.’

***

“We are here. Please get off now.”

“Here? This damned freezing spot is our destination?”

“Yes, it is.”

“Is this really it?”

“Did I not just say it is?”

“Is this really really-”

“Yes, I’m telling you this is the right spot! It’s too cold for this so hurry and alight!”

The one who was shouting at Rick – who was trying his best to deny reality – was Robin. He was the ex-pirate under Milton’s wing; now a merchant, captain, and naval commander all rolled into one.

“Shit… it’s cold. Hurry up and get off Rick.”

“But Tommy! This is… oh hell, is it really possible to traverse this place?”

Before them was ice as far as the eye could see. Their eyes could not see very far however, as their vision was limited to the extreme by a menacing snowstorm.

Rick and Tommy, and a detachment of 5000 men under them, were ordered to march through this frozen soil.

“This is an order from our lord.”

“……”

“What was all that training for?”

“Shit. Lighten up, I was just having a whine.”

Rick alighted from the ship as he talked. He was followed by Tommy, and behind them were 5000 more troops who disembarked from other ships.

They were all equipped with the warmest gear possible and plenty of rations. This was their lifeline.

After all the men alighted from the ship, Tommy stood in front of them and orated.

“Listen up, all of you. I am Tommy Croix, a knight serving Marquis Milton Forrest.”

“I am Rick Torris, a knight of the same affiliation.”

After the formality of introductions, Tommy continued as he scanned the soldiers.

“I’m sure you are all aware, but we will now be making our way through this frozen earth. There should be no encounters with the enemy, but do not ever allow that to lower your guard. All of cruel Mother Nature itself is our enemy.”

The men’s expressions turned grim at Tommy’s words.

Though they had received an overarching explanation as they came here, hearing this in person and in the reality of this environment peaked their despair.

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