Chapter 127: Bane of the Northern Front (2)

The next day.

Including Marquis Johannes, the four nobles of the coalition army sought out the Strabus Kingdom war staff and demanded that their authority of command over their soldiers be reinstated.

Of course, the Strabus command intended to decline their request.

However, a single letter that Johannes slid into their hands was enough to turn the situation on its head.

“Is this…?”

Count Shenber had a look of astonishment as he double-checked the letter’s contents. As Marquis Johannes watched him, his lips curled into a smile.

“As you can see, this is his letter of recommendation.”

“……”

Count Shenber scanned the letter up and down for signs of forgery. Although it did cross his mind that small fry such as them would not dare to exploit this man’s name, he simply could not bring himself to believe the authenticity of this document.

‘What on earth was he thinking…’

Count Shenber was flabbergasted by this turn of events, but he could not ignore this letter of recommendation – for the author of it was someone that could not be waved away.

“What will you do if I reinstate your authority of command?”

Count Shenber had to discern Marquis Johannes’ intentions. Their authority had been taken away in the first place on the orders of the king; but another reason was that they lacked the practical ability and competence to execute a war. If these ‘commanders’ had their soldiers returned and they were deployed to the battlefield imprudently, they were more likely to be an obstruction than being of assistance.

Marquis Johannes read these thoughts of Count Shenber’s, and let out a sigh.

“There is no need to worry. I believe we are also now a little more aware of what this place we call the battlefield is.”

“Hoh… what exactly have you become aware of?”

“For starters, we have the self-awareness to realize that overseeing operations on the battlefield with our sheer lack of experience would be rather dangerous.”

“Hmm…”

Count Shenber raised an eyebrow. From his memory, this was the first time that this man had said something right. Marquis Johannes continued.

“When our soldiers are returned, we will operate as a supply unit in the rear. We cannot take our lot out, so to say, in the midst of the war as we have our orders from our homelands; and so we will continue to participate in the war. But at the same time, I would like to avoid further losses of our own troops.”

“……”

‘Well, color me surprised.’

Count Shenber indeed did not expect this turn of events. What surprised him was…

‘Nothing he said was wrong.’

This was the only way they could assert their authority, while simultaneously conserving their strength yet sticking through the war until the end. This was essentially the proposal that Marquis Johannes had brought.

Count Shenber had not intended to reinstate their authority if Marquis Johannes claimed something outrageous, such as heading to the frontlines with his troops to triumph on the field and garner his own achievements. He could very well do that even with this recommendation letter hanging over him, as Count Shenber’s first and foremost duty was prioritizing the success of this war above all else.

However, if Marquis Johannes was to do as he said, there would be no issues in reinstating the coalition nobles’ authority over their men. In any case, it was already of help if the Strabus Kingdom could reduce the manpower they diverted to their supply lines.

‘If anything, that man may have subtly pushed the Marquis in this direction as he gave him his recommendation.’

With no more reason to decline, Count Shenber made his decision. The nobles periodically seeking him out to whinge was a considerable source of annoyance anyway.

“Fair enough. I will return your authority of command. However, I ask that you pledge to only operate as part of the supply corps.”

“Whatever you require.”

With that, Marquis Johannes and his party were finally handed back their soldiers – though their numbers were half what they had brought with them.

***

As the nobles made their way to the rear supply lines, Claudia once again appeared before Marquis Johannes.

Only, she did not come by herself but in linked arms with a man.

“I believe this is our first time meeting. I am Marquis Zion Johannes, hailing from the Kingdom of Hereford. It is an honor to meet you.”

Marquis Johannes greeted him with considerable politeness, and his party of nobles likewise bowed deeply.

Claudia formed a dizzying smile at the man she came with.

“I told you that it would turn out fine, didn’t I?”

“Hmmm… surely, it was as you said.”

The man kissed Claudia lovingly on the forehead and faced Marquis Johannes.

“Did you say you are Marquis Johannes?”

“I am indeed.”

He spoke in a contrastingly icy tone to Marquis Johannes, who merely bowed his head courteously.

“I assume you know what is required of you, yes?”

“Of course. I have heard much from Lady Vamos.”

“Good. I expect that you will carry out your assignment without error. I will not tolerate failure.”

Despite hailing from different nations, the order was as domineering as a superior commanding a direct subordinate.

“I understand.”

Yet Marquis Johannes did not utter a single word of objection.

***

As Claudia watched the nobles and their 30,000 troops make their way to the rear of the frontier, Claudia spoke to the man.

“All our pieces are now in place. But are you sure you will not come to regret this?”

“Regret?”

The man smirked.

“If there was ever a regret in my life, it is only that I have met you so late.”

“Oh my…”

“Do not worry. I will ensure you are happy – whatever it takes.”

“Thank you, Mack.”

Claudia formed a bashful smile and touched lips with him.

But at that moment, her eyes were sparkling like a snake eyeing its prey.

***

Upon withdrawing from the frontlines, the four-nation coalition army stayed their course and committed to their role as a supply unit.

It may have been a different story if the monarchists on the Northern Front were on the attack; but as they were on the defense, supply assignments were not a difficult task. All that was required of them was transporting the goods that were requested – an assignment that could have just as easily been performed by trading guilds instead of the military, considering that this was on friendly soil. Though the army nevertheless took matters on the supply side into their own hands due to the considerable scale of this war, the task itself was simple.

While the coalition army familiarized themselves with their painless new assignment without issues, some joyful (?) news came drifting to their ears.

It was the news that Milton, who had been garnering a series of triumphant victories, had finally suffered a large defeat in the process of attacking Fort Litinque.

“Hahahaha!! I knew it was only a matter of time.”

“His luck has finally run out, it seems.”

“But really, he’s put up a good fight in his own right – even if his prior victories were a stroke of good fortune.”

“Hahahahaha!”

Small fries who were overjoyed at the prospect of a fellow brother-in-arms losing – that was the very spitting image formed by the nobles of the coalition army.

“Now that his true competence has been revealed, we need only to devote ourselves to our own work.”

“Indeed. Now, we must only wait for that good gentleman to contact us…”

Shh, let us keep that quiet. After all, secrecy is essential to this mission…”

“That is true. But once we complete our mission, I cannot wait to see what face that fool of the Strabus command would make.”

“Hahahaha! Perhaps I should hire an artist in advance.”

“An artist? And why may that be?”

“Should we not capture that face forever into a painting?”

Hahahahahaha!”

Whatever it was that instilled their confidence, it enabled the leaders of the coalition army to gleefully picture the future as they shared a drink.

***

Approximately two weeks later, one pigeon came flying to the nobles. Marquis Johannes called on the commanders of the other nations at once.

“The time has finally come.”

“Has the word been given?”

“It has indeed. We have been told to go through the motions at once.”

Hohoho… I have awaited this moment for far too long.”

“Let us make our move at once.”

With that, the coalition army suddenly changed their course.

***

The front line of the Northern Front.

One military detachment approached the second line of defense right behind this front line.

“Halt. What is your name and affiliation?”

The sentries vigilantly carried out their inspections. The detachment’s commander answered the call.

“We are a supply unit from the rear. And I am Count Gale Dios of the Valence Kingdom.”

The sentries lowered their spears.

“Your identity has been confirmed. Please wait just a moment.”

Soon enough, one man who appeared to be the in-charge of this encampment appeared before them.

“I am Viscount Baker Rossman. Pardon my rudeness, but may I request that you provide further evidence of your identity and affiliation?”

“Hmph. How bothersome.”

Even as he said this, Count Dios handed the Viscount a document of proof he received from the Strabus command staff.

‘There’s no mistaking that they’re part of the supply corps. So why are they here…’

Viscount Rossman spoke as he returned the document.

“If you intended to ship us supplies, I’m afraid you must go to Central Command instead for redistribution. I believe you’ve lost your way in any event.”

“That is not the case. We have been issued top-secret orders from the rear – from His Excellency, the Duke McCarthy O’Brian – to transport supplies to this position.”

“Pardon? Are you to say that this was a direct order from Duke O’Brian? I have not heard word of this.”

“Did I not say this was a matter of utmost confidence? Is the Duke obliged to inform a run-of-the-mill Viscount?”

“……”

Viscount Rossman hesitated.

This unit could not be let through in principle. But what if they truly had received an order of utmost secrecy? And what if that order really had not reached his ears for one reason or another?

‘I could very well become the target of Duke O’Brian’s wrath.’

Viscount Rossman was hit with a pang of fear.

***

McCarthy O’Brian.

While he was a pride of the Strabus Kingdom as one of its retained Masters, he was feared by the knights and nobles at the same time.

The reason was that, despite being a Duke himself, McCarthy O’Brian abhorred nobles.

Born as the child of a crumbling noble household, his childhood was harder than a well-off commoner. Far from receiving a noble’s education, the circumstances of his house meant that the source of their next meal was a worry in itself. 

Such a man only managed to nose himself into noble society through his family’s connections with one former Count Learson – ‘former’, as House Learson was extinct at present.

House Learson had an only son; and in giving the child a knight’s education, they sought another child of the same age to be his stay-in sparring opponent. However, bringing in a commoner’s child as a practice opponent did not suit the honor of a noble, and so they searched for the child of a House that was falling into ruin. The young McCarthy O’Brian was the one who met these prerequisites.

As his parents sent him off to this noble household, they told him that this was an honor, and that he should devote himself to making use of this opportunity to learn the ways of noble society.

But after he was sent off, they received a sum of five gold coins and left that city the very next day.

In effect, he had been sold.

From that moment forth, McCarthy O’Brian, who was no more than the child of a fallen peerage, received a knight’s education.

No – perhaps it was more apt to say he had become a human training doll.

He was absolutely barred from attacking in spars, and had to exhaustively block or avoid his opponent’s every attack as his practice opponent. Not only that, but he was not allowed to dodge or block too perfectly – he was to deliberately let through just the right amount of blows, to give his opponent the impression that his strikes were working. That was why they had chosen the son of a nobility on its downfall: if the case arose where McCarthy was maimed or killed by a wooden sword, they could hush his family with some moneybags and boot him out.

However, what House Learson did not know was that the child ushered under their wing was not a kitten, but a ferocious and savage tiger cub.

In all respects, the main receiver of the swordsmanship education in the Learson household was their precious only son. The Learson child’s practice opponents, including McCarthy, were only taught the bare basics before they were propped up as training dummies. They did not feel the need to tutor them any further, as their role was simply to put on the airs of a fight while receiving a beating in reality.

Albeit, McCarthy became considerably stronger after only having learnt the most fundamental of fencing stances and movements. When McCarthy was on standby, he would have a peek at the movements that the Learson child repeatedly practiced and struggled with. He would secretly try imitating them when he was allowed time to himself – and found them to be so easy that they bored him. McCarthy simply could not understand how the Learson child could repeat the same easy routines hundreds, if not thousands of times and still have troubles.

From the first instance, their levels of talent were in completely different stratospheres. 

Two years passed in this manner.

While the other children who were brought in the same period as McCarthy had all suffered significant injuries and were chased out, McCarthy remained.

The ones who were ushered in after McCarthy were also kicked out one by one as their bodies became mangled, yet McCarthy still remained.

While it seemed he was receiving the full brunt of strikes at first glance, McCarthy had self-learned the ability of shifting his body just the right amount so that he did not receive the power of the blows head-on. This was a more difficult feat to achieve than simply avoiding the strikes altogether.

It was something that could only be achieved by one who was at the level where he could toy with his opponent on the palm of his hand. Even despite this, the House of Learson merely regarded the boy known as McCarthy as an unlearned and quiet child who was good at taking a beating.

But it was one day when the little lord of the Learson County exploded in the midst of a training session the same as any other.

“For fuck’s sake! Do this right, will you?!”

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