The Northern Front.
That was the first point of contact for the two sides in this war, and the arena where the most soldiers collided and fought.
At first, Siegfried brought the upper hand to their side through his superb deployment of troops and use of tactics.
However, the Strabus Kingdom rounded up available support from the other fronts to this battlefield as well as deploying their two Masters, Dukes Ryan Catel and McCarthy O’Brian, managing to establish a delicate power balance.
In all respects, it was already an extraordinary situation that the addition of two Masters and as many as 150,000 additional troops only resulted in the finding of a power balance and nothing more. Purely in a game of numbers, they should have been overwhelming their enemy. The fact that they could not gain an advantageous position was a simple testament to how remarkable Siegfried’s response was.
Moreover, the Republics had also deployed the majority of their military strength to this theatre.
In particular, the Hanovirtue Republic’s very own Master, General Francs, exuded the gravity of his presence. Being one of the few Masters that the Republics retained – at least officially – his productive activities on the battlefield allowed them to maintain equal grounds with the Strabus Kingdom’s two Masters.
This was the state of the battlefield when the coalition army of the Strabus Kingdom’s allies were dispatched, led by Marquis Johannes after parting ways with Milton.
It was a total army of 60,000 troops, created from the combined reinforcements of four different nations. Marquis Johannes was convinced that a force of this size was more than sufficient to cause a decisive shift in this tightrope of a battlefield; and in turn, thought that he would be valued and treated with the requisite level of respect when he joined the scene.
But his way of thinking was the very epitome of a politician out of touch with reality. It was the naïve conclusion of a politicking man who boiled war down to be nothing but a game of numbers.
Unless they were comrades with the same affiliation, commanders who fought on the field did not acknowledge one no matter how many men they brought. In particular, there was no more to be said about the commanders of the militarily powerful nation that was the Strabus Kingdom: rumored to be especially territorial and look unfavorably upon foreign supporters who tried to push them around while knowing nothing.
As soon as the 60,000 soldiers under Marquis Johannes’ command arrived, they were divided and deployed to different locations according to the orders of the Northern Front’s command staff. They were scattered due to concerns of insubordination if they were gathered in one place.
Of course, Marquis Johannes tried to refuse this order – but the war staff forcefully discharged their will. On the battlefield, there was no world in which the silver tongue of a politician would triumph over the orders of a commander.
The other nobles of the coalition army who trusted Marquis Johannes and followed his lead raised their complaints to him, but the Northern Front’s staff paid them no heed as they carried on with the war. The fact of the matter was that a group of freshmen who did not know the first thing about war had brought a rather large force.
After somewhat forcefully seizing the authority of command for the foreign reinforcements, the Strabus command staff commenced to squeeze every last drop of usability out of the coalition army. They were deployed in large numbers to dangerous assignments and were placed in the very frontlines of conflict zones.
The reinforcements were not treated this roughly in the past, but this time was an exception. The king of the Strabus Kingdom himself had given his word in secret: treat the reinforcements provided by the Lester Kingdom in a manner that is worthy of the substantial amount of support they provided; and handle the scraps sent as a mere formality by the other four nations as roughly as possible. As such, the Northern Front’s war staff used the soldiers of the coalition army expendably without a hint of sympathy.
After a month, the army of 60,000 shrunk to less than half.
The commanders of the coalition army vehemently raised their objections with the Strabus command as their men were sent into the meat grinder as they watched. Yet the Strabus war cabinet waved off their complaints, claiming that sacrifice was a necessity of war; and the coalition army continued to be deployed to the thick of the action.
The nobles leading the army could not endure it any longer and exploded.
“Where is your chief commander!?”
Marquis Johannes bellowed as he stormed into the hall of the Strabus Kingdom’s Northern Front command.
Sitting in the senior seat down the middle was one middle-aged man, who narrowed his eyes as he responded to the summons.
“Were you seeking me? Marquis Johannes.”
Marquis Johannes widened his eyes in rage and roared.
“I demand your name and peerage!”
Though his words had some force, his opponent merely sighed as he replied.
“I am the in-chief of the Northern Front’s command, Count Grey Shenber.”
“How dare a Count-”
“Are you to say that you did not know of the commander-in-chief’s name in the long while since you have joined this battlefield?”
Marquis Johannes’ face turned red as Count Shenber cut him off. He was being treated as nothing but a fool who knew nothing about this war.
In truth, Marquis Johannes did not know who Count Shenber was because the Strabus Kingdom’s command staff blatantly shunned him until now. He was not called to military meetings, and he only heard summaries of what was decided through a messenger. It was only a given that he did not know the in-chief’s name.
Marquis Johannes felt humiliated, but clenched his teeth and continued.
“I have come with a matter to discuss.”
“As I’m sure you have. You would not have barged in so rudely without any business.”
“Watch your words-”
“Be on with your matter. I am a busy man.”
Marquis Johannes and the nobles that accompanied him all trembled with rage at the insult.
Yet this was not their homelands, but a foreign nation. They did not have the luxury of acting as they wished.
Count Shenber studied the expressions of Marquis Johannes and his company, and smirked. They did not react to the humiliation they were under, but their emotions were written on their faces regardless.
‘What an absolute circus.’
From the looks of things, it seemed Johannes had come to demand something on the basis that he was a Marquis while Shenber was nothing more than a Count. But this did not faze him in the slightest.
In the Strabus Kingdom, it was customary practice for one’s authority during wartime to override the privileges provided by noble titles. In fact, Count Shenber could punish a Marquis or even a Duke if he saw it fit as a commander-in-chief.
Of course, such an occasion was rare as there were potentially substantial repercussions once a war ended and peacetime arrived. However, it was a different story when the party concerned were nobles of a foreign nation – and not only that, but those who were officially targets of the king’s dislike. Shenber was more than willing to handle them according to military law if they continued to buzz in his ear about their so-claimed true worth.
On Marquis Johannes’ end, while he was not aware of this surrounding context empowering Shenber in such detail, he was warned by his sharp intuition born from the fires of the political arena.
‘It’ll be dangerous if I step out of line as I please. His attitude is that of someone with a solid backing.”
Marquis Johannes followed his hunch as a politician and repressed his anger for now to speak as calmly as he could.
“A report has reached my ears that the troops we have brought with us have been cut down to less than half the original size.”
“Indeed. A shame.”
At Count Shenber’s brazen response, the Marquis and his followers were once again hit with an upsetting pang of anger. Johannes pressed on as their representative.
“Our losses are too severe. Yet how could our troops be deployed to the frontlines once again? Is this treatment not far too unfair?”
“The troops were deployed with careful and scrupulous deliberation. Is that an issue?”
One of the nobles could not stand Count Shenber’s toying any longer.
“Of course it is, is that not a given?!”
Count Dios barked up from his spot at the back.
“And you are… what was your name again?”
“I am Count Gale Dios, hailing from the Valence Kingdom!”
“No matter – I will forget it soon.”
“What did you just…”
“More importantly, I believe I heard something I cannot simply let slip… are you to say you dissent to the decisions of the command staff?”
“More than dissenting – I have serious grievances with your decisions!”
“Hooooh… really now?”
Amused, Count Shenber formed a smile as he met eyes with his opponent, who continued.
“The reinforcements we have brought with us have already been reduced to less than half. Yet you continue to deploy our troops to the front lines…? How can this be?”
To Shener, Count Dios’ whining was no different to the yapping of a dog.
“Then what shall we do? This was the decision we arrived at as a command… why don’t you return from whence you came from, if it unrests you so much?”
Count Dios was visibly upset.
“Do you truly think that you could wage this war if we withdraw our army? I remind you that our army numbers 60,000 troops.”
“Did you not just say that it has been halved?”
“I shall say it as it is.”
Finding no more reason to listen to Count Dios’ yapping, Count Shenber spoke firmly and flatly.
“There is no reason that the deployment decisions we arrive at as a command, reached after much deliberation and planning, should be changed due to the whimpering of some first-timers.”
Count Dios was provoked with a pang of rage from this blatant sullying of his name, but Shenber was not done yet.
“On another note, the lot of you continue to speak of the forces you have brought with you as if they are some sort of savior. As far as I can see, you have brought nothing but a bunch of untrained weaklings. The supplies they consume feel like a waste in all honesty.”
“Go if you wish. We have no reason to hold back some outsiders from leaving this war. This is the answer I give you as a representative of the war staff.”
Marquis Johannes was at a loss for words.
It seemed that they had no intention of negotiating in the first place. It would be a tall order to rediscover their authority of command no matter what compromise they offered. The one act they were permitted to do was packing their things and leaving this warzone, but…
‘We can’t. That’s not an option.’
‘Why would we withdraw after losing all those troops when the war’s not even over?’
‘I can’t return home with this stain on my honor.’
These nobles could not bring themselves to leave the war at this point in time.
Withdrawal was the clearly superior choice if one prioritized preserving the lives of their men and the strength of their nation; but the greatest priority in the minds of each one of these nobles was their honor.
Could they return after these substantial losses when the war had not even reached its conclusion?
No one wanted to leave such a stain on their career and accolades.
Ultimately, the resolution they reached was…
“I understand. I will accept the decisions of the command.”
Their only option was to submit themselves to the Strabus command’s orders. As Marquis Johannes said this, the other nobles agreed in silence.
“I see. I thank you for your cooperation. Please leave now.”
Count Shenber told them to get out of his sight, and the coalition army’s nobles had no choice but to trudge back to their quarters.
“Mm… if I knew this was how it’d turn out, I’d rather have…”
Count Elliot unknowingly murmured to himself on the way back.
“You would rather what?”
Elliot was ruffled by Count Dios’ sharp interrogation.
“It’s nothing, it’s just… well, word is that the state of things on the Eastern Front is looking bright.”
“Are you saying you will jump ship and mooch off that man Milton Forrest? Do you not have any self-respect, good Elliot?”
“No no, did I say I would? It is merely that-… damn it. Frankly, if I knew this was how things would turn out, I would have gone to their side.”
“Hah! It is now that you show your true colors, you traitor!”
“Traitor? Exactly who is betraying who here? Did I switch sides to the Republics? I am only…”
“Shut your trap. How could you go kissing the ass of that man after he insulted us?”
“Kissing his ass? Are you done yapping?”
The two were so worked up that it seemed they would draw their swords and duel right here and now. Marquis Johannes glared at them, but did not offer much in the way of words.
No, the truth was that he could not offer much respite. He was well aware that their faith in him had already reached rock-bottom.
‘What a mess. If I knew this was what I was getting myself into, I wouldn’t have come out to war in the first place.’
He joined this expedition with the intention of adding the prestige of having participated in this war – and emerging victorious in battle – to his existing accolades. This decision came after his own assessment that they could win the war, as well as weighing up the political gains and losses of joining.
At first, he thought everything was running smoothly when he built his influence within the coalition army by convincing the nobles of the other nations to follow his lead. However, when it came time to enter the actual battlefield, the breadth of his permitted authority was much too small.
Unlike the political arena where wealth and influence were the main tools of the trade, one was respected on the warfront for their capability and past performance. Marquis Johannes, who had never partook in war, consequently had next to no tasks he was assigned.
Not only that, but word began to reach him that Milton Forrest, who had parted ways with him in the beginning and joined the Eastern Front instead, was performing and achieving results.
This was the worst outcome possible for Marquis Johannes and the nobles who followed him to the Northern Front. While they were helpless and only continued to lose troops, Milton Forrest was making significant contributions to the war fighting on his lonesome.
With such a clear distinction in their outcomes, they would not be able to face the questioning of their homelands and being inevitably demanded how this came to be.
‘If only… if only there was some sort of opportunity…’
Marquis Johannes was desperate for a solution.
And right on cue, a helping hand reached out to him.
“I assume you are Marquis Johannes?”
The one who reached out to him was a woman who, at first glance, looked completely out of place in this warzone. With her colorful dress and styled hair down to the carefully chosen accessories she wore, she suited a banquet hall more than the battlefield. She was a woman that no man would be able to stop themselves from doing a double take on – and if one kept staring, his heart may very well be snatched.
Approaching Johannes, she formed a gorgeous smile as she spoke.
“My name is Claudia Vamos. May I take a moment of your time to talk?”
Entranced, Marquis Johannes nodded.
“Of… of course.”Previous Chapter Next Chapter