Chapter 56: Into a Civil War (3)

With the end of the strategy meeting, Marquis Trauss went to rebuke his student, Viscount Sabian.

“Randol, why do you have such little flexibility my boy?”

“I simply did what was required of me as part of the command staff.”

“Tsk, there are more tactful ways of going about stating your opinion, are there not? You are well aware of His Highness Prince Skyt’s temperament, yet you don’t know when to back down.”

Viscount Sabian sighed at his teacher’s reprimand.

“Sir, do you really intend to serve a prince like that as your lord? One glance is enough to know he has the dispositions of both a tyrant and a despot.”

“Watch your tongue.”

Marquis Trauss chided his disciple sternly.

“His Highness Prince Skyt von Lester has the legitimate blood of the king running through him.  Now that the Second Prince Byron has been tainted with his vision of a Republic, Prince Skyt is the only heir currently left for the throne. Past the question of right and wrong, it is our duty as loyal vassals of the kingdom to follow him.”

“……”

“If His Highness has aspects where he may be somewhat lacking, it is our role as loyal servants to fill in those gaps by this side. Burn that duty into your mind.”

“……”

“Boy, where is your answer?”

Viscount Sabian responded reluctantly at his teacher’s pressing.

“I understand, Master.”

Yet no matter which way Viscount Sabian thought about this, the state would simply be unable to function properly with the First Prince at the helm on the throne.

***

Having captured a Northern stronghold in a day, the First Prince’s royalist army advanced right away to the next fortress and restarted their offensive. As expected, the second fortress fell in two days.

On the surface, the army seemed to have bulldozed through these strongholds on their unstoppable march. However…

“We will march again after a two-hour break. All troops, recover your strength until then.”

At the commander’s orders, the soldiers were dispirited rather than angry at this point.

“A two-hour break?”

“They want us to ‘recover our strength’ in two hours when we just fought two battles in four days?”

“Do we look like sword masters to them? This is nuts.”

In truth, the commanders also knew that ordering the soldiers to march right now was overexerting them. But the First Prince was aiming to bring an end to this war as quickly as possible – and Viscount Sabian’s head had almost been lopped off for trying to discourage him. No one was going to speak up in this situation.

In the end, the impracticable march order left the soldiers in the worst physical state imaginable. Knowing their condition and temperament, the commanders did their best to encourage them. The commanders said that they would soon reach Fortress Baikal, the rebels’ base of operations, and once they knocked it down, the war would end and they would be immensely rewarded.

***

Looking in from the outside, the First Prince’s reckless advance seemed to bring a streak of triumphant victories; so much so, that the Second Prince on the receiving end began to fret.

“Is this really fine? Fortress Tectorine and Fortress Brandt have already fallen. The enemy has already reached our doorstep, no?”

The Second Prince spoke to the two men in front of him, as he tried earnestly to hide his anxiety.

One of the individuals before him was a Margrave of the North that went by the name of Marquis Derrick Marius. He was the Second Prince’s greatest supporter – and was also his maternal uncle.

The anxiety was focused on the second individual as well.

“Please, there is no need to worry. This is well within the range of our expectations.”

The one reassuring the Second Prince with a good-natured smile was none other than Siegfried. He had introduced himself to the prince as someone under the direct command of the Hildess Republic’s Fuhrer, and as an asset sent by them to aid the Second Prince in this war.

“But this seems a little too fast, doesn’t it? The enemy is already within shouting distance when it’s only been ten days since the war has started.”  

“They may be rushing to end this war because of supply constraints, sir. This may rather be a blessing in disguise. Their soldiers should be exhausted, and now we have ascertained the enemy’s weakness.”

“He is right, Your Highness. It is certain that the enemy have become fatigued from their exertive march. We have been preserving our strength in the event of this scenario.”

With his maternal uncle Marquis Marius also supporting Siegfried’s claim, the Second Prince became somewhat reassured.

“Will all be well?”

“You have my word. Please place your trust in us; for we are ones who have even contested the almighty Strabus Kingdom on the battlefield. In our eyes, this war is already as good as won.”

The Second suppressed his worries at the extent of Siegfried’s confidence.

‘Things will turn out fine, right? As long as reinforcements from the Hildess Republic arrive on time, then…’

The Second Prince believed that the Hildess Republic would come to their aid if only they withstood the coming storm however possible. 

Unlike the peaceful Lester Kingdom, the Hildess Republic was a nation that had been hardened through war. That was why the prince proclaimed his advocacy for Republicanism despite his royal blood, to earn the Hildess Republic’s support. If they won this civil war, he was arranged to become the Lester Kingdom’s first Fuhrer.

“Then I will place my trust in you two.”

With that, the prince waved them off.

***

“I apologize for my nephew’s sorry state.”

“It is nothing. A central figurehead is always needed, after all.”

As soon as they escaped the sight of the prince, Marquis Marius and Siegfried began conversing in a frank, businesslike manner.

“Is it really true that the reinforcements from the Hildess Republic have already arrived?”

“It is indeed. It is simply that they will be most effective if they are hidden until the moment of reckoning.”

“I too am aware of that. But what piques my concern is…”

Marquis Marius narrowed his eyes.

“If the Hildess Republic is perhaps only thinking of using me, they will come to very much regret it.”

“I know the validity of your worries. Rest assured that in any case, directly governing this country is infeasible and wholly inefficient from our end as well. More than that, it is important to us that we make at least one more friend and ally we can trust.”

Marquis Marius nodded at his words.

“I will trust you for now. But do bear in mind: I am always watching you people.”

“I will be sure to remember that.”

Siegfried replied courteously and bowed. 

Due to his lowered head, Marquis Marius did not catch the slight smile lingering on Siegfried’s lips.

***

Fortress Baikal. 

As the greatest fortress in the Lester Kingdom’s Northern region, the sheer scale and sturdiness of its towering walls far surpassed other strongholds. Controlled directly by the North’s Margrave Marquis Marius, this fortress theoretically had enough supplies stowed away for an army of 10,000 to defend it for three years. Known as the Gates of the North, this was a keep that had protected the nation from invasion by the Hildess Republic for many years.

“It’s awe striking, I’ll give you that. Is that Fortress Baikal?”

“It really seems like an iron castle, as they say.”

Despite his high spirits from their victories over the rebel army, even the First Prince thought that this would not be an easy battle the moment he laid his eyes on the fortress.

“How can the walls be that tall?”

Marquis Trauss advised him at his side.

“Fortress Baikal’s tall walls will make it difficult for our soldiers to dig their grappling hooks into the walls – not to mention actually scaling them, Your Highness.”

“Then what should be done?”

“We must batter their walls and gate with siege weapons. If they cannot be climbed, those walls can only be passed if they are destroyed, Your Highness.”

The First Prince nodded.

“Do we have enough siege weapons?”

“Yes. We transported as many siege weapons as possible from the surrounding fiefs, whom we entrusted with manufacturing them in advance. Our catapults and ballista number over twenty each.”

“Good. Then let us commence our attack.”

As the prince issued the attack order, Marquis Trauss counseled him cautiously.

“My Lord, before we enter battle in earnest, the option of sending a letter requesting the Second Prince’s surrender does pique my interest.”

“A letter requesting surrender? Would that bastard Byron surrender after everything?”

“He is on his last legs, so to say. If he is fearing his downfall, he may see Your Highness’ benevolence as the one path to salvation.”

“Hmm…”

“My Lord, what policy is wiser than defeating an enemy without the need to spill blood? I believe there is no harm in trying at the least.”

“Very well. Then send him an epistle.”

As soon as the First Prince consented, Marquis Trauss breathed a sigh of relief.

‘With this, the men should finally be able to rest a little.’

In all honesty, Trauss did not think that the Second Prince would surrender. He advised the First Prince to send the notice nonetheless, as he thought the soldiers could rest for at least a few days in the grace period of exchanging letters back and forth.

Marquis Trauss’ thoughtfulness only managed to buy them a day.

The First Prince personally wrote a high-handed recommendation to surrender while flaunting his mercy and claiming to have the benevolence to spare the Second Prince’s life and so on. As they say, birds of a feather flock together.

“How dare he…”

The Second Prince was properly enraged by the overbearing letter.

For his answer, he sent back the lopped head of the envoy.

“Byron, you DEGENERATE!!”

The First Prince finally exploded.

“Capture Fortress Baikal at once! Do not kill Byron. Capture him alive and bring him in front of me!”

In the end, this battle was just meant to be.

***

“Attack!!”

Uooooooooh!!”

“Forward!! Do not be afraid and advance!”

Though they could only rest a single day, the soldiers attacked Fortress Baikal vehemently after what was still their longest break since the war began. Minds filled with the prospects of this sickening war being over if they fell this last bastion of defense, the soldiers squeezed out every last drop left in them. The siege weapons, wisely pre-planned by Marquis Trauss relentlessly battered Fortress Baikal.

But Fortress Baikal’s walls were as strong as they were tall. Moreover, the enemy responded by dispatching a healthy number of crossbows and their own ballista on the ramparts.

“Fire! Prioritize destroying the enemy’s siege engines!”

“Do not fear. Our advantage of height means that our arrows will hit their mark first. Keep firing!”

All the elite soldiers of the Northern army had been concentrated in Fortress Baikal from the first place. Unlike the previous strongholds, the defenders were firmly resisting and repelling the royalists.

“… This is tough. We cannot defeat this fort with our current methods.”

Viscount Randol Sabian shook his head as he watched the battle.

A stronghold that was meant to be impregnable like Fortress Baikal would have prepared countermeasures for a hundred and one scenarios. It was meaningless, even reckless, to attack them using generic tactics – even with a couple of siege engines.

“Perhaps you’ve been teaching too long at the Academy, Master. Real wars do not pan out like textbook conventions.”

Marquis Trauss was the most renowned strategist in all of the Lester Kingdom. He put Viscount Sabian under his tutelage, believing him to be the most outstanding individual out of his students.

But he was wrong.

“There’s a way to capture the castle in four days, if only we just put our hearts into it…”

Viscount Sabian was not only an outstanding student, but he had already far surpassed his own teacher.

Yet having been sidelined with a probation order after being knocked down a peg by the prince, his talent was being wasted away – much to his frustration.

***

A day passed, then two…

And before they knew it, ten days passed. After ten days of their dogged siege, what collapsed was not the fort but the First Prince’s patience.

“What on earth are you all doing!?”

Unlike the day or two it took to capture the other strongholds, Fortress Baikal had reached day ten standing. No – there was not so much as a hint of wavering. Instead, their own side that more than half their siege engines destroyed, and the troop casualties slowly but surely growing.

The First Prince became increasingly exasperated, until he finally burst forth with anger at his commanders.

“Say something if you have a working pair of lips on you. My noblemen, how incompetent must the lot of you be, for the attack to last ten whole days – and yet it is our troops whose losses are mounting!”

The commanders were startled at the prince’s rage but could only cringe in their seats. Not a single man answered.

“Marquis Trauss. Weren’t you the one who said that Fortress Baikal could be captured if we brought siege engines to break their walls?”

Marquis Trauss bowed his head.

“I am greatly ashamed, Your Highness. The enemy was more prepared than I anticipated.”

“So you mean to say it was your mistake – a vassal’s mistake? Tsk…”

“……”

Though Marquis Trauss was unsettled at heart by the prince’s berating, he silently endured it out of his strong loyalty to the royal family.

In truth, this was meant to be the point where Marquis Trauss’ strategy came into play. They were meant to brace for a long-term battle all for the purposes of isolating the fort. No matter how stocked Fortress Baikal was on supplies, they were bound to reach their breaking point if they were tightly isolated from the outside world. All that was required was they form a thorough surround formation. And though the war would certainly take much more time, isolating the fortress would not require that substantive force. Only the forces required to contain them needed to remain, and the rest dissolved.

In all that time, the First Prince only needed to take the royal road to the Capital and ascend the throne, solidifying his legitimacy as king. However…

‘Would His Highness heed this advice?’

Marquis Trauss had zero confidence that the First Prince could be persuaded to follow his plans.

At present, the First Prince did not look like he would back off, under any circumstances, until he saw the Second Prince’s corpse with his own eyes. What he wanted was for Fortress Baikal to be captured as fast as possible and the Second Prince to be executed. There was no possibility of him accepting an isolation operation that required the battle to become long-term.

“Is there any other man with a plan of action? Isn’t this a golden opportunity to make a name for yourself?”

None of the command staff rushed in to respond to his grilling. Commanders they may be, but even they could not pull a brilliant trick out of thin air.

“It does seem like we need to bolster the number of our siege weapons. And remotivate the men as well…”

When one of the commanders tried to break the silence and get something going, he was met immediately with the First’s demands.

“With that, will you be able to capture Fortress Baikal?”

“We will find that out after we….”

 The confidence faded from the commander’s voice, and the First Prince glared at him.

“Incompetent. Find that out afterwards? Are those words that an advisor should be uttering?”

“I beg your pardon, Your Highness.”

The war staff all lowered their heads at the prince’s chastisement, but they were filled with discontent at heart.

‘We can’t make it work just because we’re told to.’

‘Does the command staff look like magicians to him?’

‘He might as well be throwing a tantrum at this point.’

A superior who confuses strictness with purposeless stubbornness can lose their popularity at the tip of a hat. The First Prince’s status was as such.

Ultimately, the meeting ground to a halt and concluded with no takeaways to speak of.

For the First Prince, that was the day his real trial would begin.

Previous Chapter Next Chapter