When Viscount Rosswai surrendered, Jerome praised Milton with wonder.
“You are outstanding, my Lord. You really made Viscount Rosswai surrender without letting a single arrow fly.”
Milton grinned at Jerome’s admiring expression and replied.
“It’s a 50-50 whether this was going to work. I thought it was worth a shot regardless.”
“Still, that was superb. And it looks like your plan did end up working after all, yes?”
“We just had a stroke of luck, is all.”
“What did you plan to do if Viscount Rosswai did not surrender?”
“Then we would have continued with the attack, backed with a more than apt justification.”
“I see; we wouldn’t have incurred any further losses as we kept a fight in mind anyway.”
Jerome was awestruck by Milton’s stratagem. This was a different kind of wisdom to the design of strategies that influenced the field of war, or tactics used on the frontlines in the heat of battle.
Milton had his opponent in the palm of his hand from the start, forming an accurate notion of their adversary’s mentality to know how they would react to him and drawing up strategies accordingly.
Milton’s wisdom was closer to planning and prediction than combat.
Unlike strategists or policy advisors, history tells that backstage schemers do not receive the same amount of due recognition. But schemers like Milton were the worst kind of enemy to make.
While strategists aimed for a head-on victory in war through orthodox means, schemers discreetly played their cards in unseen places, disturbing the psyche of their opponent’s top brass back home. The result of Milton’s scheming was the toppling of Viscount Harmon after being lured through provocation, and Viscount Rosswai’s surrender after being unable to handle Milton’s pressure.
Once Milton put his plans into motion, everything happened accordingly.
‘Our opponents weren’t exactly big fish – but still, things turned out so nicely. I really wasn’t expecting it to go this well.’
Milton smiled contently. Even by his calculations, this issue with Viscount Rosswai was solved with flying colors.
Now that the two Viscounts were dealt with, there was just one more piece of homework left.
‘Once we conserve our energy in the coming winter and spring arrives, we’ll see to the end of this business with Count Rosscaiz.’
Milton resolved with clenched fists.
Another harsh winter passed, and spring came.
Milton pruned his territory to the best of his ability for the past winter. Winter normally passed by with such deathly quiet that it was referred to as the ‘season of silence’ – but they could not afford to do the same this time around.
There was much to do, like sorting the two newly assimilated territories and appointing new top brass to manage these lands.
But even among those many tasks, the one that demanded the most attention was, as expected, bolstering their military strength. They could not concentrate on anything but that, as the conflict with Count Rosscaiz loomed on them when spring came.
Jerome was naturally entrusted with drilling the knights and soldiers, but they also recruited the competent ones that were originally under the command of Viscount Harmon and Viscount Rosswai.
The result of these efforts was that the current Forrest county was incomparably stronger than the past.
Territory – Forrest Territory
Population – 21150
Funds – 7480 Gold
Main Products – Wheat, Barley, Oat, Lumber, Fur, Wool
Available Developments – Copper Mine
Army Strength – 10 Knights, 40 Probationary Knights, 100 Cavalry, 700 Infantry, 300 Archers
‘A population greater than 20,000, with a total army size of more than 1000 men, and 10 qualified knights on top of that… we really somehow made it all the way here.’
Milton admittedly felt some pride when he opened his territory’s stat window.
When the land was first passed down to him, the population was slightly over 7000 with a meager three knights, and a military force barely surpassing 100 men. But now they had close to triple the population, and their troops numbered more than tenfold.
Now Milton was a Viscount only in name, possessing power that was in no way reflective of a single run-of-the-mill Viscount. If anything, it was possible that he would be elevated to the position of Count in the near future.
Nobles were generally promoted when they made achievements on the battlefield, or made significant contributions to their nation. However, the Capital also granted higher positions if a lord accumulated their influence through winning in territory battles. In such an event, a noble’s power did not increase because their position was elevated, but rather the converse: they were promoted to reflect that their influence had increased.
Although promotions in this manner were rare in the relatively peaceful Lester Kingdom, the current climate surrounding the Forrest territory was different.
It was already well known that Milton Forrest did not think twice about continuing to invest in his military strength; and that Count Rosscaiz from the adjacent lands was emptying all his coffers to match Milton in military spending. When one saw the asking price of mercenaries abruptly spike in line with their demand, it was plain as day that the two of them were preparing for war.
Of course, all eyes in the district were set on these two lords.
Although ages upon ages had passed since the birth of the Lester Kingdom, the House of Rosscaiz was one of this nation’s founding fathers once upon a time. There was even a period when they wielded great power in the Capital. Though they were slowly pushed out to the outer regions of the country after losing a war many generations ago, the history and latent power of this household was cut from a different cloth to the nobles around them for this reason.
Meanwhile, Milton Forrest recently inherited the peerage of the Forrest Viscounty and rapidly expanded their influence. A young lord with enough of a propensity for violence to actively participate in a war had seized two territories in his vicinity and noticeably increased his influence as a result.
The new House Forrest and their meteoric rise, versus the storied House Rosscaiz that yearned for the glory of old.
The surrounding nobles made sure to not get caught up in this storm – but that did not mean they couldn’t enjoy this showdown from the sidelines. The clashing of the two powers had the attention of every noble in these southern parts of the Lester Kingdom.
The war was declared in the middle of all this attention.
Surprisingly, the first to declare war was Count Rosscaiz.
His justification was that he would punish Viscount Forrest and put him in his place for continuously provoking his neighbors and disturbing the peace.
In all honesty, Milton was grateful that he did not have to declare the war himself. Though it was true that this clash was bound to happen anyway, now he did not have to mull over what an appropriate justification would be.
“I’ll gladly accept it.”
Milton called on Jerome at once and ordered him to assemble the army.
Not long after, the two armies confronted one another on a wide-stretching plain.
“Really now… is this why he declared war first?”
Milton muttered as he scanned Count Rosscaiz’s forces. He had amassed an army that was at least 3000 strong.
“I heard that he mass-recruited mercenaries, but I didn’t know it would be to this extent.”
To be precise, Count Rosscaiz’s forces were three times the size that Milton had anticipated. There were civilians from his territory that had been drafted to bolster their numbers, but most of the additional forces were mercenaries employed with cash.
Jerome approached Milton’s side on his horse and informed him.
“According to reports, the number of employed mercenaries surpasses 1000.”
“Who would’ve thought he would recruit over 1000 mercenaries as if it’s an all-out war? It seems he had a lot more hidden wealth than I expected.”
Employing that many mercenaries demanded a colossal fortune, just to maintain them day by day without the added costs of war. It was likely that Viscount Rosscaiz expedited this battle partly in order to minimize the spending of his capital.
“Well, this is a relief since we weren’t thinking of dragging this along either.”
“Indeed, my Lord.”
“Right then. Shall we liven things up a bit?”
With that, Milton rode out to the very forefront.
He broke out from the lines of his troops and arrived at the middle of the two armies, mustering up a thunderous voice.
“I am Milton Forrest!”
The opposing forces stirred as Milton’s roar rang across the plains. Milton disregarded them and continued his speech.
“Come forth if you wish to have my head and let your name be known!”
Milton started provoking them from the beginning by riding out on his lonesome, causing a commotion among the enemy lines.
“Viscount Forrest himself came out?”
“I heard he had a propensity for violence, but this is beyond what even the rumors say, is it not?”
“Is he that confident in his own strength?”
It was not unusual for a one-on-one duel to be proceeded before a battle began in earnest. In the event of victory, it raised the morale of allied troops and decreased that of the enemy. That said, this was only when one won the duel; losing would have the converse effect.
Therefore, a one-on-one duel was a gamble in some respects. No enemy needed to step forward if they didn’t have the confidence.
However, it was a different story if the one that was challenging was Milton himself. If someone slayed him at this moment, it could very well be the decisive – and only – blow of this war.
The prize was too big to ignore the challenge.
“Will someone among us take the head of that unlearned youngster?” Count Rosscaiz bellowed as he looked around him.
One of his knights heeded the call and came forward, “I shall go.”
“Sir Oliver. Will you be trying?”
“Yes. Just leave it to me, my Lord.”
The knight who volunteered was one of Count Rosscaiz’s top five soldiers. A man with a stature of over 190cm, his physical strength was so great that he could wield a massive two-handed sword with one hand.
“Good. Go and bring me that brat’s head.”
“Yes, my Lord!”
As commanded, the knight rode out to the front.
“Viscount Milton Forrest! I shall be your match!”
Seeing Oliver challenge Milton with his booming voice, the Rosscaiz forces cheered uproariously.
‘He’s pretty big, isn’t he?’
The word ‘big’ did not express the full extent of this man’s physical prowess.
‘He’s not an Expert yet. He’s around the upper levels of a normal User.’
Milton recognized that his opponent was an inferior swordsman in a single glance.
“I am Milton Forrest.”
“And I am Shawn Oliver.”
The two men exchanged their due greetings from atop their horses as they readied their blades.
Oliver was the first to attack Milton, swinging with his heavy two-handed sword.
Milton moved to the side to dodge as Oliver’s attack came slicing through the air. He retaliated with his own strike.
As the two began clashing, both sides of the battlefield cheered in support.
The two-handed sword came striking down again towards Milton.
This brutal attack was more imbued with the intention to completely crush him rather than cut him.
Milton dodged the strike and commented.
“Your strength is commendable.”
“You speak too much!”
Oliver roared and swung even harder with his blade. He assumed Milton continued stepping back because he could not receive his attacks head-on. With the thought that Milton was finished if he was caught just once, Oliver’s muscles bulged as he put even more power behind his swings.
Milton had different thoughts in mind as he observed Oliver.
‘Goodness… I wonder if this is how knights 300 years ago would have fought.’
His dominant physique and power behind every swing of his heavy weapon were astounding. However, his mastery and use of his aura were clumsy at best, and thus his attacks were not sufficient to endanger Milton.
Oliver shouted at Milton’s almost carefree dodging, “Stop dodging like a coward and come at me!”
Milton smiled slyly at Oliver’s provocation and replied, “Should I?”
With that, he rapidly swung his longsword. Oliver came swinging in response.
“This is the end of you!” Oliver shouted.
‘You mean it’s your end.’
Milton scoffed at Oliver in his head as their blades met.
Upon collision, Oliver teetered back and was almost knocked off his horse.
‘N-… no way.’
Oliver felt his sword arm tremble from the impact, almost like he had struck down at a thick boulder with a warhammer.
Whether it was a matter of bodyweight or the weight of their weapons, either way, it was inconceivable that he would lose a contest of strength.
The only possibility was that…
“You… are you…?”
“Have you figured it out?”Previous Chapter Next Chapter