Chapter 125: The Worst of Houses (1)

‘It’s here? What were they thinking…’

‘This is nuts. All I see is ice… are we really going to be traversing this place?’

‘Do they think we’re damn polar bears or something?’

Tommy frowned as he watched the troops’ morale plummet.

‘This isn’t good. It’s a hard enough assignment as it is, but if the men’s morale is this low on top of that…’

It was so bad that he even considered making an example out of some of the men.

But such measures would only momentarily force discipline. Completing a mission as difficult as this one required the entire group to be united in their cause…

‘If our lord was here… no, if only Sir Taker was here, he would’ve been able to rouse the men.’

Tommy realized that his charisma was lacking. He had labored to become an Expert come hell or high water, but that did not mean he had the skills to rally the men. In the first place, Tommy was unfamiliar with the role of a leader as he preferred to take a step back and quietly focus on his given assignments.

It was at that moment that Rick took a step forward and shouted.

“Brighten up, the lot of you! Why do you all look to be in such pain? Hmm?”

One of the soldiers opened his mouth.

“Well, that’s…”

“Hmm? What’s the matter? If you’ve got something to say, be on with it and make yourself heard.”

Rick said to the hesitant soldier, who continued to close and open his mouth.

Tommy glared at Rick.

‘Stop that, you idiot.’

If this clearly anxious soldier was to talk, his restlessness would be contagious. And if that happened, they may really need to summarily execute some men to make an example out of them and enforce discipline.

The soldier who was encouraged began to speak, perhaps unaware of Tommy’s concerns.

“This place is… never mind traversing through it – this is a place where survival is impossible. Moving an army through this area is no different from suicide.”

“He is right. This is beyond our means.”

“Sir knight, it is not too late to return.”

“Indeed.”

As Tommy feared, the one soldier’s uneasiness spread to the rest of the troops. As soon as one opened the floodgates, the other men began to raise their objections one after another.

“Dear me… the soldiers are shaken up. They would fail their mission at this rate, wouldn’t they?”

Robin muttered as he watched the soldiers express their discontent.

Then again, he thought, the order he received from Milton was only to use his ships to drop this unit at their destination – nothing more. If they refused to obey their assignment, all he had to do was take them aboard and turn back the way they came. In other words…

‘It won’t be my fault, right? Regardless of how important their work here’s supposed to be.’

Robin worried for his own safety first as he watched the agitated men.

But then…

“SILENCE!!”

STOMP!

Rick’s deafening roar was accompanied by the sound of him kicking up the frozen earth. He reminded the troops of his military prowess as an Expert, silencing the men who were raising their qualms. And then…

“I am well aware that this is a difficult task. Who wouldn’t be? As it is for you, I am also experiencing the absolute horseshit that is this cursed frozen earth for the first time. The future looks dark just thinking about traversing this place with weaklings like you lot. However!”

Rick paused for a moment.

“We are at war! Is there any place with respite, without hardships? I demand that you tell me of a place where the safety of our lives is guaranteed! In other places, our fellow brothers in arms are fighting the Republican armies as we speak. I tell you, they are charging into pointed spears as they bear through the arrows raining down upon them. Yet you lot continue to whine over nothing but the cold?! Do you still have the gall to call yourselves the same soldiers of the Lester Kingdom?!”

Rick was not the most eloquent or well-spoken of people.

But he had a burning fire within his heart, and he had the straightforwardness to manifest that passion unfiltered when he talked.

Such a straight and clear-cut speech was bound to find its mark in the soldiers’ hearts.

‘Yeah, that’s right. This is war.’

‘I forgot that this was wartime for a moment there, after staying put in the rear for so long…’

‘Bloody embarrassing…’

A hint of determination began to glow up the men’s faces. Rick continued.

“This is our battlefield! Our enemy is nature itself, this damn cold! This snowstorm is the enemy’s arrows, and this freezing northern wind is the enemy’s blade! So what shall we do? Shall we give up? Shall we run away with our tails between our legs like cowards?”

Rick raised a clenched fist and did not repress his emotions.

“Let us fight! We will fight and win! Our comrades fighting the Republican bastards are earnestly seeking our help!!”

Rick’s simple speech offered no particular directive and lacked real logic or reasoning.

However…

“We shall fight! And we shall win!”

URRRAAHHHHH!!”

“UOOOOOOOH!!”

The pure heated passion of it was enough to rouse the troops.

On Rick’s side, Tommy turned to him with a look of surprise.

‘This guy… was he always capable of stuff like this?’

He discovered that his longtime friend, whom he had admittedly always thought of as a simpleton, had this dormant talent.

All Rick had done was to be open with the men about his thoughts without much in the way of planning or calculation, but this heart-to-heart connected with the men to skyrocket their morale.

‘With this… it might be doable.’

 With Rick having raised the men’s spirits, it was Tommy’s turn to play his part.

“Prepare to march! Ready the sleighs for carrying our supplies! Our food and warm garments are our lifeline – stow them safely away from the snow. All men, form groups of ten and link yourselves with a rope. We will ensure the safety of one another!”

Whilst Rick’s fiery temper rallied the men, Tommy meticulously directed the scene with his cool and calm approach.

It was as Milton said: the two of them most definitely made a good combo; and it was enough for a small hope to be sparked in this foolhardy expedition.

***

After two months passed of Milton concentrating on defense and refusing to attack, Siegfried became privy to his enemy’s motive.

“So they intend to consolidate their captured territory and force this into a long-term conflict.”

Siegfried smirked.

“Not bad at all. No, it should be seen as a wise choice indeed.”

If they attempted an attack to redeem their defeat, he had two separate traps prepared to surely annihilate them. But Siegfried’s schemes did not bear any fruit as his enemy stayed prone.

If Milton stabilized their lines and made the current state of this frontier concrete, Siegfried would need to request for more troops to be mobilized from elsewhere – and that would invariably have a negative effect on the Northern region in which the Republics were concentrating their power. As the Republics were disadvantaged in terms of supplies in the first place, it was imperative that they avoided expanding the number of fronts that they fought on.

Indeed, that was why Siegfried himself had focused his efforts solely on the Northern Front until now.

‘Or is there more that they’re aiming for?’

For a moment, Siegfried thought about the different options open to Milton. The result of running all those scenarios in his mind was…

‘No. It’s impossible for him to try a different approach here.’

When the Lester Kingdom was on the brink of collapse in the past, Milton had chosen to undertake a daring counterattack. Despite knowing that his army of the South were the only defenders left to protect the nation, he covertly mobilized his army to execute the bold maneuver of endangering the Hildess Republic’s capital. Truth be told, even Siegfried admitted he had been outwitted. 

That was why he prepared airtight countermeasures so that he could not fall for the same trick twice. 

Before leaving the Hildess Republic for this campaign, Siegfried bolstered the defenses along the border with the Lester Kingdom. In the first instance, the Hildess Republic’s rugged mountainous regions formed a natural fortress. The terrain was a gift of nature that maximized the ability of a small force to impede the advance of a larger army. In preparation for the current war, Siegfried did not take any chances and ensured even further that their borders could not be broken through.

In the event that the Master of the Lester Kingdom, Duke Palan, were to take the reins of an army and push into the border, ample preparations had been made to assure that he could be impeded for at least a whole year. 

As far as Siegfried could see, there was no need to fret over the possibility of a counterattack elsewhere.

‘The solidifying of their hold on the captured grounds, and the consequent expansion of frontiers for us to cover. I suppose these two things are that man’s goals.’

Even if the enemy did not counterattack, it would be a failure in Siegfried’s books if these two objectives were fulfilled according to their plans.

‘And I’m sure the Fuhrers want to start seeing some results from this war as well.’

Siegfried made his determinations and called over a messenger, handing him a single letter.

“This is a top-secret order. Deliver this to the command quarters of the Northern Front.”

“Understood.”

After sending off the messenger, Siegfried murmured to himself.

“The Strabus Kingdom… it’s about time I brought you to ruin.”

***

Although the allied troops were deployed in the best of positions for defense and the castles were well-protected, Milton was struck with a peculiar feeling.

To confirm his suspicions, he summoned Viscount Sabian.

“Did you call for me, my lord?”

“Mmm, there’s something I wanted to ask you, Sabian.”

“Please, continue.”

“Have our lines been experiencing any problems recently?”

“Problems? What kind of problem do you speak of?”

“I mean just that – any problems, big or small. Enlighten me if there are any, even the trivial things.”

Sabian pondered for a bit before giving his report.

“There is nothing in particular that I would consider to be a problem.”

“Right, so there isn’t.”

“What is the matter?”

Milton explained.

“We are winning on the Eastern Front at present. The Kobrook Republic’s defensive lines have almost completely collapsed; and if we are allowed to fully integrate this captured territory to become ours, the Republics will inevitably be required to reinforce this front with more troops. Am I correct thus far?”

“Yes, that is so. This was the overarching grand strategy which you initially conceived, my lord; expanding areas of conflict to capitalize on our dominance in terms of available resources.”

“Indeed. If all happens according to our will, the Republics would have no method of responding to us with their inferior numbers.”

“That is correct.”

“Yet would Siegfried be unaware of this fact?”

“…….”

Viscount Sabian uncharacteristically paused. Milton continued expressing his doubts.

“If that scoundrel knew of our intentions, he would not possibly be wasting his time so passively. He would have already thrown his lot in somewhere that could pave him a path to victory. The fact that he is rather dancing to our tune instead means…”

“The bastard has his own reasons for staying put.”

“Precisely.”

Viscount Sabian slowly nodded. He knew that his liege was not as talented as him in the field of military stratagem, but there were moments when Milton displayed a knack for getting to the core of an issue.

“And now comes the real question: what could he possibly be aiming for?”

“……”

Sabian calmly considered the question.

‘Let’s think this through. I can’t betray my liege’s expectations twice. Let’s think through Siegfried’s moves from the very start, nice and slow.’

Viscount Sabian had already caused Milton to suffer a massive blow because he took Siegfried lightly, and he was not about to repeat that mistake.

Battlefield Sage LV.1: Both the strategies in discerning the overall flow of war and schemes used during fights are heightened to the level of a master. The probability of seeing through an enemy’s plan increases. When this skill reaches its peak, one will have the insight and skill to influence all the wars of the world.

It was at this moment that Sabian’s new Special Trait came into effect. While its level was yet low, the scope of his ability to analyze the battlefield had substantially widened, as well as his probability of catching wind of their enemy’s plans.

‘If that man is enough for my lord to be wary of him… no, if he’s an existence that’s even beyond that… would he be capable of doing that? Does he have it in him? If he does…’

With the worst of scenarios flashing across Viscount Sabian’s mind, he narrowed his eyes and gave his guess.

“The Northern Front. The Republics may stage a grand counterattack there.”

“Our allies on that front number over 200,000 troops in total, do they not? Could it truly collapse when Siegfried is not even present?”

“It is precisely because the most strength is concentrated in that area that if they were only able to somehow punch through it, they could eradicate their numerical disadvantage in one fell swoop.”

“But that is a question of if they are able to do such a thing…”

‘No matter how exceptional Siegfried is, would that even be in the realms of human possibility?’

It was then.

BANG!

The door swung open so roughly that one may have thought it may break, and Marquis Bologna came dashing in.

Seeing his deathly pale face, Milton was instantly come over by a sense of apprehension. And then…

“Our… our allies on the Northern Front have been defeated.”

His fears became reality.

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