Chapter 32: Territory War (2)

Milton ruthlessly swung again towards Oliver, who was overcome with astonishment and terror.

Oliver dazedly raised his sword to meet the attack, but…

Klaaang!

“Urgh…”

The results were less than ideal. Oliver staggered backward and almost lost grip of his sword.

These two exchanges of blows were enough for Oliver to be certain.

“Are you an Expert?”

“I suppose I am.”

Milton rested his sword on his shoulder as he responded.

An Expert could do more than enveloping their sword with their aura. They could also circulate the aura around their body to increase their physique by at least half of its normal capabilities. This was why Milton, who was more than 40kg lighter than Oliver, was able to overwhelm the latter in a contest of strength.

“Any more questions? If not, it’s time to end this.”

“W-…wait…”

Milton’s blade swung again with a flash, while Oliver hurriedly turned his horse around. He decided to retreat after coming to the realization that this was an opponent he could not win against.

But…

Shuk!

Milton’s deadly strike cut cleanly through Oliver’s neck. Oliver died without so much as a moment to feel pain, and his horse galloped back to its lines with its headless owner still atop it.

“Uoooooooooh!”

“Hurrah for Viscount Forrest!”

“Hurrah for our Lord!”

With Milton’s victory, the allied troops burst out with a deafening cry.

***

On the other side of the battlefield, voices were being raised in a different manner.

“Fool! How could you lose after going out there so surely?!”

Count Rosscaiz yelled thunderously.

Though it was understandable that he was upset with the loss of the duel, denouncing his own knight that had valiantly volunteered to ride out was not a wise course of action – especially so since the other knights were all listening in.

“Will any one of you go out and bring me that bastard’s head?”

Count Rosscaiz demanded of his knights to redeem the humiliation. But not a single person came forward. They had lost their confidence after seeing how Milton had overpowered Oliver.

Not only that, Count Rosscaiz’s attitude of insulting Oliver even in death was an act that was close to betrayal for the knights, who adhered to the knight’s code.

A knight was someone that needed to be prepared to die at a moment’s notice, if that was what they were so commanded to do. However, if a knight’s lord did not reciprocally respect and acknowledge the knight’s code, it would become a purposeless dog’s death.

No one wanted to go out like that.

***

With his victory, Milton raised his voice and incensed the enemy.

“Is there not a single person who will come and take my head? Are Count Rosscaiz’s knights all nothing but cowards?”

Milton loudly roused his enemy to maximize the impact of winning the duel. Count Rosscaiz became mortified at Milton’s provocation, feeling as if he was being stripped naked of his dignity.

“Really, not a single one of you? I’m asking, will one of you knights go and bring me that mongrel’s head at once?!”

Turning beetroot red, Count Rosscaiz grilled his knights once more. Yet the knights all turned their heads and avoided meeting his gaze. Not a single knight came forward.

“Incompetent brats, the whole lot of you!”

Right now, all of Count Rosscaiz’s knights seemed like useless freeloaders to him. With the amount of funds that the knights consumed, how could they be of no help in this critical moment?

As Count Rosscaiz’s irritation reached its limit, someone answered his call.

“I’ll give it a shot.”

“And you are…?”

A volunteer had appeared at last – yet Count Rosscaiz furrowed his eyes.

The one who stepped forth was a man wearing leather armor with fiery crimson hair. He looked to be in his mid-30’s, and while he was tall, he still appeared agile as his physique was not burdened with muscles not required for combat.

More than anything, the most eye-catching aspect of this man was his equipment.

While he had a stubby shortsword strapped at his hip, that was clearly a secondary weapon. The main point of interest was the massive bow he had strapped to his back, which was significantly larger than a standard longbow. Evidently, it was the primary weapon of this man.

One could not help but think it was a rather odd weapon of choice for a one-on-one duel.

At his words, Count Rosscaiz frowned and turned him down.

“Tsk, buzz off.”

“It’s a-okay as long as anyone goes, ya? Just give me enough coin and I’ll give it a shot.”

“How dare you, a mercenary, try and nose his way into a knight’s bout?”

The other knights aligned themselves with the irritated Count Rosscaiz.

“Know your place, mercenary. Do you truly believe this is an enemy you can match?”

“How on earth will you manage a one-on-one duel with a mere bow?”

“Are you planning to run away with your tail between your legs after flinging a couple of arrows? In that case, I’d rather you not go out in the first place.”

The red-haired mercenary shrugged in response to the lambasting and retorted, “It’s your loss. Not ma problem, I dun’ have ta do this.”

As he stepped back in line, one of the knights reported to Count Rosscaiz.

“My Lord, I believe it would not be ideal to continue letting the enemy have their way with us.”

“Mm…”

“The reason our adversary is challenging us in a duel of honor is that he is confident in his personal fighting abilities. Why should we allow the enemy to capitalize on their advantages? We must do the same with ours.”

“Our advantages?”

“The enemy’s forces number only a third of ours. If we change the flow of affairs to total war, it would most certainly be advantageous for us.”

“But at this rate, our morale will be…”

In truth, what was more important to Count Rosscaiz was his own pride rather than his troops’ morale. However, his vassal firmly repeated his assertion.

“The enemy’s morale may have risen, but a 3-to-1 difference in forces is still quite significant. If anything, the enemy’s plan may be to reduce the strength of our knights through one-on-ones before the battle begins in earnest.”

“Mmm…”

Now that his knight had mentioned it, it did seem to be that way. There was no reason for him to insist on a duel when they could fight through their own advantages.

“Very well. Order all units to advance at once. We will crush them with our sheer power.”

“Yes, understood.”

The sound of a horn rang out over the plains, and the commanders began moving the troops.

“Form your ranks!”

“Forward march!”

“Raise your spears properly.”

The force of 3000 men began mobilizing.

***

“How spineless. They lose just once and they give up…”

Milton grumbled as he watched their mighty army advance towards him.

It was true that he wanted to thin their knights’ numbers before the real match started. However, this was to minimize the losses of his own forces - not because he thought they had no chance of winning in a head-on fight.

“We’ll show you the difference in our standards! All troops, follow my lead!”

With a roar, Milton charged towards the enemy with his horse.

“Uoooooooh!”

“Charge!”

His forces followed his lead right behind him, with his knights as the main driving force.

A frontal collision of 1000 versus 3000.

When taking into account the importance of numbers in war, this would normally be a fight where the results were clear. Though it may have been a different story if the topography or other available tactical advantages were used, a difference of three times was too large a gap to fill in a head-on matchup.

However…

“Follow up behind me! We will break through the enemy!”

Though small in number they may be, an entirely different level of power could be displayed depending on how they concentrated their efforts.

Milton awakened his aura around his blade, revealing it to the enemy.

“He… he’s an Expert?”

“No way.”

The enemy lines noticeably wavered upon discovering the aura flickering around Milton’s sword. Milton had hidden the fact that he was an Expert until now when he was purposefully exhibiting it. Thanks to that, the enemy was clearly intimidated – and Milton did not miss this opportunity.

“CHARGE!!”

Personally standing at the forefront, Milton attempted to break straight through the middle of the enemy lines. Forming a wedge with Milton at the head, the concentrated force burrowed deep into the force of 3000 men.

“Kuh… stop them!”

“The knight’s order! What are the knights doing!?”

“Milton Forrest is an Expert. Take him on with at least three knights at any one time!”

The enemy tried to impede Milton’s breakthrough attempt, but they could not easily block one who had reached the Expert stage. Unable to prevent Milton’s charge from connecting, their entire battle formation began noticeably destabilizing.

Even though Milton’s forces succeeded in their charge in the short term, this would only serve to form a small opening in the enemy lines. However, the troops following up forced their way through that opening ferociously, widening the hole bit by bit.

At this rate, the enemy lines would be unable to withstand the blitz and fall apart. Breaking through at one point was one of the typical methods of throwing an enemy’s formation into chaos.

But…

“Hold steady. Heavy infantry, raise your shields and layer them firmly! Spearmen, raise your spears high from the rear! Stop the enemy’s cavalry charge!”

Of course, the enemy were not exactly fools. While Milton’s plan was to capitalize on their individual strength to break through at one focal point, the advantage of the Rosscaiz County troops was having triple the men. They stopped the sheer rush of Milton’s forces by having heavily armed infantrymen form a thick shield wall, while spearmen behind them kept the assaulters in check.

As they did so…

“Now! Assume the crescent formation! Surround and exterminate the enemy!”

From either side of the enemy lines, troops advanced forward to create a moon-shaped formation that slowly began wrapping around Milton and his men.

When one attempted a breakthrough and it was unsuccessful, this was the scenario which he had to be most cautious of. If the enemy were to establish an encircling net while movement became impossible after a half-hearted charge…

‘It would be a worst-case scenario.’

Milton nodded in acknowledgment at the movement of the enemy troops. Seeing them follow the textbook response procedures to a tee, it seemed whoever was commanding them was not some run-of-the-mill chump at the least.

“But in the end, textbook procedure is simply that: textbook. Did he not think I would have my own countermeasures to this?”

Milton whipped out a whistle and blew it.

Pieeeeeeee!

Right on signal, one small detachment of cavalry charged at the left side of the crescent formation, which had not yet completed their encirclement.

“The enemy is trying to distract us from our surround formation!”

“Raise your spears and stop the charge of their cavalry!”

Count Rosscaiz’s soldiers moved busily to impede this throng of horsemen. The pikemen consolidated themselves and raised their pikes like a porcupine to repel the enemy – the perfect response.

However…

“Piss off!”

It was a futile resistance in the face of the upper-level Expert that was Jerome.

“Uggggh!”

“Argh!”

While destroying the enemy’s makeshift phalanx with a single swing of his sword, lingering around Jerome’s blade was a much more vivid and fearsome aura than Milton’s.

“Another Expert?”

“We… we can’t stop him.”

“Uaaaaaaaaaah!”

As Jerome wielded his aura as if flaunting it around, the enemy troops began losing their fighting spirit and were instilled with fear. Sensing their wavering, Jerome lead his subordinates and began thoroughly demolishing his impeders.

The destructive power of Jerome – who was clearly considerably stronger than Milton – could not possibly be stopped by a hastily organized phalanx that was not prepared for his strength.

“Wipe them out. This is the turning point that decides the outcome of this battle!”

Receiving Jerome’s command, the cavalry that were fiercely following his lead began running wild in combat.

“Kuhahahaha… I am the almighty Rick of the Forrest Viscounty.”

“I am Tommy, and I do not wish to be lumped together with this blockhead.”

Along with Rick and Tommy, the troops ravaging the enemy together with Jerome included all the ones worthy of being called knights from the Forrest Viscounty. The troops who followed up behind Milton when he attempted a central breakthrough were the probationary knights of mercenary origin, while all ten formal knights had been on standby under Jerome’s command.

In essence, Milton’s strategy was as following.

Plan A was to personally attempt a breakthrough straight through the center of enemy lines; and if successful, kill or capture Count Rosscaiz.

This was provided that he expected the enemy to counter with a surround formation if the breakthrough failed. In that event, the contingent plan was for Jerome to command the elite troops and attack the enemy from the outside of their net.

Currently, the pieces of this plan had fallen into place perfectly; the right side of the enemy’s formation was in a state of almost total annihilation.

***

“Stop the enemy! What on earth are you all doing?!”

Count Rosscaiz became enraged as he watched his forces wavering even in a head-on battle, completely outside their calculations. With the net formation fully collapsed, anyone could clearly see the scattered forces crumbling one by one beginning from the right side.

“The enemy is stronger than we anticipated. We can’t stop the advance of the cavalry troops that appeared at our right flank.”

“Send the knight’s order! Hurry! I cannot believe that they could not stop even that much.”

Count Rosscaiz lambasted his subordinates all he wanted, but this did not mean the situation would alleviate.

“The knights are occupied keeping Viscount Forrest at bay in the surround forma- ow!”

For informing Count Rosscaiz of the situation, the vassal received a flying helmet that struck his head. He barely stayed on his horse as he reeled from the blow.

“You scoundrel! Then I ask you, what the hell can we do in this situation?!”

“……”

The subordinate could not give an answer that would appease Count Rosscaiz’s wrathful storm.

In truth, he himself thought that the scales of this battle had already begun tipping.

Count Rosscaiz had chosen the path of augmenting his troops for this war, amassing a force of 3000 through copious investment of wealth. However, it was now evident that House Forrest’s forces were no ordinary men. Not only was their lord Milton Forrest himself strong, but they had a knight in their ranks that looked much stronger than the lord.

Seeing these two surging with their auras as they wreaked havoc at the very forefront, it was more than clear that the Forrest lordship had two Experts at the least.

‘This was a mistake. If I knew this was how it would turn out, I should have prepared not 3000, but 5000 men. Who would’ve thought they had not one, but two Experts under their wing…’

Count Rosscaiz’s advisor was filled with regret, but there was no point lamenting after coming this far. At that moment, Count Rosscaiz’s ears picked up a distinct voice.

“Count Rosscaiz! You wait right there and keep your neck nice and clean, because I’m coming for your head right now!”

With that roar, Milton was galloping at full speed - in a beeline straight towards Count Rosscaiz.

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