Chapter 128: Bane of the Northern Front (3)

Startled, the people around the little lord flinched at his sudden shout.

“……”

Only McCarthy remained stoic and indifferent, despite being the target of this animosity.

The little lord continued.

Fine. A practice sword is too easy for you now, eh? Oi, you there – pass me a real blade.”

The little lord was all too aware that McCarthy was looking down on him from above. He did not realize it at first, but his practice dummy’s skill had undeniably changed somewhere along the way. And the more they sparred with each other and trained in the art of swordsmanship, the more the Learson child could not deny that their roles had been reversed and he had become the toy.

His pride as the successor of a noble County was in shambles; and he felt that he needed to break McCarthy in equal measure.

That was why he drew a real sword.

“Now then, let’s see how long you last against a real blade.”

“My lord! We cannot.”

“Silence! I’ll cut down anyone who interrupts as well!”

The little lord threatened as he gripped the sword and stood in front of McCarthy.

It just so happened that there was no knight that was guiding them at present. The other attendants could not stop the little lord. It was the perfect situation.

The little lord resolved to kill McCarthy here and now.

‘What should I do?’

McCarthy thought as he watched his opponent with a composed, unchanging expression.

In any event, it seemed residing at the Learson County any longer was not an option. He had predicted that a day like this would come sooner or later anyhow, although it had come a little faster than he had expected.

Whatever the case was, the present issue was that the little lord planned to kill him. If he tried to submit and meekly receive the blows of that sword until his anger subsided or whatnot, he could very well leave this estate as a corpse.

‘I can’t be dying to an asshole like this after all.’

McCarthy made his resolve.

“Die!”

The little lord came swinging down from above with the intention of splitting McCarthy’s head. McCarthy smoothly sidestepped it. It was an exceedingly simple maneuver for him, having done the exact same thing more times than anyone could ever imagine.

Avoiding the little lord’s clumsy attack, McCarthy drove his wooden practice sword directly into his opponent’s neck.

“URGH…”

A clean and calculated blow.

Though McCarthy had no intentions of killing him, it was said that he would wonder in later days whether attacking him with an honest heart would have made a difference in the long run.

Whatever the case may have been, the fact was that House Learson’s one and only successor died by this single blow. 

With his neck broken, the little lord collapsed with a pale face and ceased breathing shortly after.

“AAAAAAAH!!”

“Y-… Young Master! Young Master!”

It was only expected that there would be an uproar.

Being alerted to the death of the little lord, the knights of the house tried to subdue McCarthy; but to their shock, they found great difficulty in capturing him despite their real weapons. As many as five knights collapsed to McCarthy and his wooden sword. The only Expert knight retained by the Learson family was the one to capture him in the end – and just barely.

And so McCarthy failed in his escape and was arrested.

Of course, Count Learson was enraged. His son had died in an unthinkable place, in an unthinkable way.

Losing all sense of reason to his wrath, Count Learson flogged McCarthy until his energy was spent. 

Then to condemn him to the most wretched of deaths, the Count sent him off to the battlefield. He was sent not to any battlefield, but as a penal soldier to the most ruthless of warzones.

That would prove to be a fatal error. It was as if a caged tiger had finally been released into the wild.

Despite being deployed to the harshest of warfronts, McCarthy did not die. No matter what life-threatening crisis befell him in this brutal war, he survived. Even as the penal unit he was assigned to was annihilated, he steadfastly survived the ordeal on his lonesome.

In this manner, he became stronger as he overcame one life-or-death situation at a time.

10 years.

A yet young boy fought tooth and nail to survive on the battlefield for 10 years. No – in fact, the name of McCarthy O’Brian now struck fear into the enemy.

And by the time he reached the age of thirty, his blade was enveloped with a blindingly brilliant aura sword.

The third Master of the Strabus Kingdom had been born.

Until now, his endless toiling and pain on the warfront had only netted him the peerage of a Viscount, but he was elevated to a Duke the moment he reached the level of Master. With that, he became one of the pivotal centers of the Strabus Kingdom’s power.

However, despite having reached the highest echelons of noble society, McCarthy despised it all. From being abandoned by his parents as a child, to the abuse and exploitation at the hands of House Learson, all the way to his ordeals as a bottom-feeder on the battlefields – he had seen far too much of the filth that was the world of nobility. He refused to join hands with any one political faction and distanced himself from the nobles.

And as for the nobles that he found unsightly, he disposed of them without mercy. Of course, the first among these was the Learson County.

As soon as he was elevated to the position of Duke, McCarthy O’Brian slaughtered the entirety of the Learson kin without leaving so much in the way of a branch bloodline alive.

Even after that, many a noble came approaching Duke O’Brian, enticed by the possibility of retaining the power of a Master for themselves – but most of their heads flew at the hands of the Duke.

McCarthy maintained his distance with the nobles, and instead surrounded himself with knights from commoner or lower-class nobility backgrounds who he truly considered as his own circle. Just as the nobles discriminated against those of lower classes, Duke O’Brian conversely ostracized the privileged. The men retained under his personal knight order were solely chosen for their skill, and they were mentally drilled to answer to his orders before the kingdom’s. Though he steadfastly accumulated his own power, that power never bent to the will of any faction. 

That was why from some moment forth, a long-coming assessment about him became manifest: Duke McCarthy O’Brian of the Strabus Kingdom was a mad dog that was not to be disturbed.

It was a rather harsh assessment for the Duke of a nation, but it was the clear truth. If anything, it was a wise assessment – considering that there had even been an occasion at a banquet when he challenged a lower-class noble to a duel for trying to butter up to him, and promptly lopped off his head.

As such, the name of McCarthy O’Brian sent off alarm bells in the noble society of the Strabus Kingdom.

***

Viscount Rossman, who knew of Duke O’Brian’s notorious dispositions, hesitated at the mention of his name.

‘If it’s Duke O’Brian we’re talking about, it certainly won’t be strange if he decided to move his men independently.’

Ultimately, Viscount Rossman decided to be wary of this very real possibility instead of abiding by the set rules.

“Very well. In turn, I ask that you do not make needless comments to the Duke, so to say.”

“As you wish.”

With that, Marquis Johannes and his supply unit made their way to the position of Duke O’Brian at the very frontline.

‘What is Duke O’Brian possibly thinking of?’

Viscount Rossman had his questions, but he soon pushed them out of his mind. Becoming overly involved with Duke McCarthy O’Brian was no different from hurrying along one’s own mortal coil. 

Rossman reassured himself that the command staff would empathize with him if he mentioned the name of the Duke, and decided not to concern himself any further with what had transpired. 

That man was an existence harnessing enough power to ignore the authorities and rules of war. 

The Strabus Kingdom was yet to find out how dangerous these actions would be in war, where absolute discipline and obedience was everything.

***

Marquis Johannes’ supply unit arrived at Duke O’Brian’s encampment without much fanfare.

As soon as they arrived, they were greeted by Duke O’Brian and another individual.

“You have done well to come all this way.”

“It was nothing; we were merely following the orders of Your Excellency. Ah, if I may ask… by any chance, is this man by your side…?”

“Yes, he is the one at the center of our plans.”

The man at the Duke’s side greeted Johannes.

“It is a pleasure to meet you. My name is David.”

The one who introduced himself as David was a man with brown hair, an ordinary build and an ordinary face. In fact, first impressions were that he was so ordinary that he would soon be forgotten if he was to be passed by on the street, leaving the faintest of presences.

However, if there was one thing that was peculiar about him, it was that his eyes always seemed to be squinted into a smile.

From the moment they first rendezvoused until the present where they exchanged greetings, the smile on his face never disappeared. That smile seemed to be one of kindness, but then again, it seemed to exude a servile attitude – or was he actually laughing at them? 

To put it in words, the smile seemed to be a mask for hiding his true emotions – one that was fastened onto his face, just as a player at a poker table maintained an unchanging expression.

“Mmm, and I am Marquis Zion Johannes. So, good fellow, are you…?”

“Indeed, I am the convert who has decided to cooperate with your plans.”

Hoh… really now? Are the preparations set then?”

“They are. I have readied Republican banners and uniforms sufficient for 30,000 men.”

Marquis Johannes grinned brightly upon hearing those words and spoke to the Duke.

“I must thank you for presenting us with this opportunity. We will absolutely not betray your expectations.”

“I wish you luck.”

Duke O’Brian answered stiffly, but Marquis Johannes was buzzing with excitement.

‘If I can’t succeed even with this big of an opportunity, I really would be a fool.’

He was certain of their victory, and that confidence in turn came from his certainty in the brilliance of their scheme.

***

The plan that Marquis Johannes was informed of by Claudia was as follows.

He was told that, once their soldiers were returned, he should first withdraw to the rear with all forces. Then when the time came, he was directed to travel to Duke O’Brian’s encampment with the entirety of his supply unit.

Duke O’Brian knew of a man who had betrayed the Republics.

This man was a considerably large figure who had a loyal force of approximately 40,000 troops under his direct command, and he had resolved to turn tail from the Republics and switch sides to the Kingdoms.

The plan was to switch the uniforms and banners of his men and the coalition army’s troops when the time was right. The coalition troops would be informed of the codes and routes utilized by the Republicans so they may infiltrate behind the Republic’s lines.

When they received their signal, they would attack the enemy from the rear. Meanwhile, Duke O’Brian and his elite company would attack from the front, wiping out the enemy with this two-pronged joint venture.

This was the gist of their strategy. It was all only possible due to the betrayal of a Republican of great import.

In fact, Marquis Johannes was initially hesitant as the circumstances were much too convenient, but he was eventually convinced by Claudia’s subtle temptations and silver tongue.

It was not a difficult operation by any means. If they succeeded, they could reverse the flow of the war in the Northern Front in one fell sweep. And if that were to happen, the greatest honors would go to Zion Johannes, the leader of the coalition army.

These sweet temptations are what caused Marquis Johannes to make his decision: the promise of a blindingly brilliant future, and the possibility of a colossal reward for a triumphant victory.

Claudia was well aware of what things could cloud the vision of greedy humans.

The two armies exchanged their uniforms and flags as soon as possible. David briefed Marquis Johannes in detail.

“This unit is supposed to be on their return after performing a large-scale open reconnaissance of the frontline. The name of the commander-in-charge is Lieutenant-Colonel Smith. And the designated code of the unit is: ‘The crimson spider has nine legs’.”

After that, David informed him of the routes by which the detachment was meant to return, and all the protocol and information required for reports lest they were asked for one on their way.

“I see. This is more than enough.”

Marquis Johannes was greatly satisfied with the iron preparations of this man named David. With all their bases covered, it would not be difficult to make it behind the enemy lines.

‘Might as well be free pickings at this rate.’

Marquis Johannes ascertained their victory as he prepared to set off.

“Did you say you would settle into the Strabus Kingdom once this operation succeeds?”

“Indeed. I have been promised the peerage of a Viscounty.”

David said as he smiled delightedly.

“I will finally be able to leave the miserable Republics, and I suppose become a prestigious noble as well! Hahaha… I will entrust myself in your care when that time comes.”

Marquis Johannes chuckled as David’s eyes sparkled, hinting at his fantasies of what it was like to join the nobility.

“Certainly. I will ensure you are taken good ‘care’ of.”

‘The audacity of a deserter without a shred of human decency…’

For Marquis Johannes, the most important aspect for a noble was tradition.

To him, one could only truly be considered a noble once his House had amassed history that spanned at least three generations. Johannes despised the ones that gloated of their nobility after merely being awarded a title of Baron or Viscount for some meritorious service.

He thought that David was indeed a similar breed.

An individual who looked down on another was bound to soften their vigilance when around them.

Marquis Johannes spoke as he departed in high spirits.

“We shall see after the success of this operation. I will gladly enlighten you as to the heart and responsibilities to be had to live a noble’s life.”

“Ah… I look forward to learning.”

David bowed deeply at the hips as he farewelled the Marquis.

“Let us be off!”

With that, Marquis Johannes left the camp with an army disguised as Republicans.

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