The Master of the Brave - Chapter 129
Chapter 129 – The Siege of Erz (I)
Erz, the territorial capital of Elstead County, was a city with a population of about 10,000. However, at the present time, the population within the city walls had more than doubled.
First of all, this population of about 10,000 was the number of citizens living inside Erz’s high outer walls, not including those living outside. There were many people living in villages outside the walls. For example, at the foot of the Majil mountain range, there were several mining settlements, and also many people who cut trees to obtain wood and fuel for the city’s workshops. Naturally, those who transported the extracted ore and cut wood also built their houses and moored their boats along the Loom River, which flowed out of the Majil. There were also farming villages growing wheat, vegetables and livestock within an hour’s drive to Erz.
Those living outside the city walls had evacuated inside the city walls before the army of Neumann, the second prince of the Lemmrousell Empire, could approach.
Royce, the lord of the County Elstead, who had anticipated this situation, accepted all of his subjects who fled before closing the wall’s gates to the city. He had long since acquired supplies such as food, fuel, and weapons for the war, and even if he took in all the refugees, he would have enough reserves to sustain the city for the next three months. In addition, the fever that had swept through the territory a few years ago had killed many of the citizens, and there were quite a few empty houses. These were assigned to the elders, women and children who had taken refuge there.
The men were preparing for battle. Those who were hunters by trade were given bows and arrows. These men, who regularly went into the forest to shoot wild beasts, were better shots than the regular soldiers. Those who did not know how to handle a bow were assigned to hard work, such as transporting large quantities of iron and wood brought from the Majil to the smithies’ workshops. The elders were climbed into the bell towers, the famous landmarks of the city, and took on the role of watchmen.
Despite the fact that an army larger than the city’s population was about to arrive, the inhabitants of Elstead territory seemed strangely calm and tried to fulfill the roles assigned to them.
“It’s really a big problem, isn’t it?”
At the sight of Erz, Crown Prince Alfred of the Lemmrousell Empire could only feel admiration and awe.
It was impossible for the people not to feel fear at an approaching army. Even so, they were able to maintain control because of the total confidence they had in their lord, Royce.
At the time, Elstead County was ravaged by disease and crop failure caused by bad weather. Many of the territory’s inhabitants were left destitute, suffered from disease and many died. To save his people, Royce gave up his home and incurred a huge debt to order expensive medicine and food to be distributed free of charge to his people. The people had not forgotten that favor.
“My debts will increase again.”
“I’m sorry, you’re going to have a hard time.”
“Rather, our family originally already had debts we couldn’t pay, even if they were passed on to our grandchildren’s generation. A little more money won’t make much difference now.”
Alfred said, and Royce shook his big belly and laughed.
“Well, if the debt accumulates like this, the merchants who invested in it won’t be able to just erase the debt. If they were to cut off relations with my family now, they would be throwing away the huge amount of money they have invested in our territory. If they don’t want to waste that money, it would be in their best interest to continue to support us and not abandon us in the future.”
“Have you considered that they might collude to set up a new lord?”
“I don’t think so. As you know, Your Highness, my people and I have a good relationship.”
Although the epidemic had caused much damage to Erz at the time, it was still one of the richest places in the country, with mines near the city that extracted high quality iron, and the Loom River that boasted an abundance of water. And with forests stretching along the river, such abundance positioned it quite well in the Lemmrousell Empire. And as Royce said, if one looked at the state of the city, the relationship between Count Elstead, the lord of the town, and the people had been good. To cut ties with him would give a bad impression to the townspeople. In order not to waste the large amount of money they loaned, it was in their best interest to have a beneficial relationship with the Count. Royce’s intention was to make the investors think like this.
“It is more convenient if the land is governed in a stable manner to recover the funds that have been disbursed.”
“But after all this time, the Elstead territory is going to be the center of the war, you know?”
“Yes. That’s why the merchants won’t be able to stop laughing. When His Imperial Highness the Crown Prince is victorious in this battle, I, who played a central role under the Crown Prince’s curtain, will certainly occupy an important position in His Imperial Highness the Crown Prince’s administration.”
“So, there’s no harm in ingratiating yourself while you can. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to win, does it? It’s a pity that Neumann, who has the leader of the Central Knights Welt on his side, has an advantage in numbers over our army. Besides, the army surrounding Erz is not the enemy’s main force.”
“Your Highness, the merchants are not stupid either. They know that. They know how many battles I have been through in the past. Although I cannot compare to Leticia-sama, or one of the two wings like General Zaunas, who once made a name for himself as a hero of the Empire in the Continental Anti-Demon Alliance, I will show great results tonight for your highness.”
Prince Neumann’s army that surrounded the city of Erz numbered approximately 30,000. With Marquis Welt von Cliffdorf, Commander of the Central Knights of the Lemmrousell Empire, as its general, it was composed of soldiers sent by the lords who belonged to the Cliffdorf faction and held territories in the south.
Prince Neumann’s army was joined by Viscount Kriegman’s army. In addition, leading a total of more than three hundred soldiers, was the knight named Carl Raynham. He had been a mercenary in the Continental Anti-Demon Alliance, and had defeated many demons and earned a good name in the war. After the dissolution of the Continental Anti-Demon Alliance, Carl was made a vassal by Viscount Kriegman, who heard of his military fame, and became a knight.
The viscount trusted him to lead the reinforcements sent to Prince Neumann this time. Carl had sworn to perform great deeds of valor in this civil war to repay the debt of gratitude for being taken under Viscount Kriegman’s wing as a knight and for the trust he had earned. That is why he complained to his fellow knights when Viscount Kriegman’s army was stationed at the outer edge of the forest, instead of in the center of the battlefield, during the siege of Erz.
“Are they planning to take all the credit with Marquis Cliffdorf’s powerful faction? They seem to think that the marches of the small territories are just to show!”
It had been quite a few days since they had surrounded Erz, but no matter how much they waited, there was no order for a general attack. In fact, the main troops of the Central Knights, the main body of Prince Neumann’s army, had gone to control the imperial capital Simurgh and the second city of Clennad, and few had been sent to battle for Erz. Moreover, many of the commanders of the Central Knights who were sent to battle for Erz were sons of great nobles with little experience who had been appointed to their posts by nothing more than nepotism of Marquis Cliffdorf. This was because many of the knights and soldiers with great actual combat experience were punished during General Zaunas’ coup d’état last year, leaving the Central Knights severely understaffed.
The commanders of the lords of the small territories that had been excluded from the military council organized by Marquis Cliffdorf had gathered alone to hold a military council. Although it was a military council, it could not decide the policy of the entire army, so it was a place where generals of the same position could only complain to each other.
“If we take our time against a small army, even if we win, we’ll be the laughing stock of future generations!” Carl then downed a large glass of malt liquor in one gulp and slammed it down on the table.
Carl, a burly man with a mustache that was beginning to turn white with age and a sharp gaze, could have made a lowly person swoon with his shouting and glares. However, each of the dozen men gathered here were the commanders of the various marching armies of their respective small territories. Although there were no mercenaries like Carl, they had been sent of the many knights and soldiers from the weaker noble families to the former Continental Anti-Demon Alliance, so they themselves had a lot of experience in fighting demons. In fact, they even prided themselves on being more elite than the Central Knights, the mainstay of the Lemmrousell Empire’s army.
Being such people, none of them were so weak as to faint at the sound of Carl’s angry voice. On the contrary, there was a succession of voices agreeing with Carl’s opinion.
“If we don’t attack the enemy head-on, it will affect the morale of the soldiers. The bigwigs don’t know how much effort it takes to restore morale once it has fallen.”
“What about supplies, too? Each of our lords has his own food supply units, but they are not designed for long marches. Even if we were to collect from neighboring villages, they would be empty. An army that cannot be resupplied is nothing more than a group of people about to collapse. However, the superiors do not give us any information about supply plans or operations. This does nothing to inspire the morale of the soldiers.”
Carl and the rest of the Lords of Armies were particularly concerned about this supply issue.
This time, the lords belonging to the Cliffdorf faction were not asked to send soldiers under the orders of Emperor Alexei. They did not participate as a regular army of the Empire, but had to send private soldiers in response to Prince Neumann’s announcement. Therefore, the cost of the war was self-financing. The expenses of the knights and soldiers of their domain, such as wages, food, armor, horses, fodder for horses and chariots, were considerable, but in order for Prince Neumann and Marquis Cliffdorf, head of the faction, to remember them, they had to go to war, and these expenses were unavoidable. However, not being a regular army, they could not receive supplies from the Central Imperial Knight Transport Corps. Therefore, many of the lords’ armies planned to requisition supplies from the villages in Elsted territory. They found it somewhat conflicting to plunder supplies from Elstead County, who were also imperial subjects, just because their lord had rebelled. However, when they finally advanced with their army into Elstead territory, they found that all the villages and towns were gone, not only the people, but even the livestock, grain stores, canned food, cattle feed, and even the wagons that could be used for requisitions. The workshops of the village artisans and the kitchens of the rice stores had been burned and all the fuel had been taken. Count Elstead had long foreseen this situation, and it was apparent that he had made his people aware of it.
“I had heard that Count Elstead was a man of whom bad rumors abounded, but judging by the speed with which his subjects acted in a state of emergency, those rumors don’t seem to fit him. I can see he’s not someone we can let our guard down.”
“Although this is Empire territory and we have some familiarity with the terrain, our knowledge of it is far inferior to that of the inhabitants of the county. We have the advantage in numbers, but they have the advantage in terrain. That is why we should launch a full-scale attack now, when we outnumber them and morale is high. We also have information that Lyon has responded to the enemy’s request. If we give Count Elstead more time, our advantage will be nullified.
However, no matter how much Carl and the others raised their sense of crisis, they had no authority to move on the battlefield. Everyone present had an empty feeling, and they ended up sipping drinks and complaining to each other.
Unlike in the city, the darkness in the forest was deep. The moon shining in the night sky cast a cold blue light on the ground, but this, on the contrary, made the shadows of trees even darker, giving the soldiers camped there an eerie feeling.
It had only been a few years since the demon king had been destroyed by the Brave Leticia.
The forest at night was essentially the beasts’ domain. Demonic beasts still roamed the land, and one never knew when one of those vicious creatures would emerge from the darkness. It was understandable that many of the patrolling soldiers stayed by the campfires and tried to stay away from the darkness as much as possible.
After the drinking party to ease their sorrows dissolved under the guise of a military conference, Carl made his way to where Viscount Kriegman’s army was camped.
Prince Neumann’s army, overwhelming in numbers, was making more campfires than necessary to show off to Prince Alfred’s army, entrenched in Erz. Although they were worried about food, they had plenty of fuel due to the rich forests outside Erz. Because of this, even though they were drunk, the road was lit and unobstructed. From time to time, he could hear cheers and laughter coming from inside the camp.
They’re too relaxed, aren’t they, it’s a pity! Carl thought as he passed a group of soldiers stationed with cigarettes. As one of the commanders, he thought he should warn them, but since the soldiers were from other lords’ armies, he said nothing and just frowned.
For Carl it would be an act of arrogance to speak against soldiers from the armies of other lords, and if the army to which the soldier belonged was from the lords who ruled the great cities, it might cause some trouble for Viscount Kriegman, his lord. He was afraid of that.
However, if his subordinates did the same thing when they returned to Viscount Kriegman’s army, he would punish them severely.
At that moment…
“Excuse me, are you Colonel Carl in charge of Viscount Kriegman’s army?”
The man who approached Carl was in his early thirties. He was a knight with thin, narrow eyes and a smile on his face, as if he were trying to be friendly.
“That’s right. And you are?”
“I am Baron Mordo’s subordinate, Captain Cairn. I have just arrived at the camp with thirty of Baron Mordo’s knights in response to Prince Neumann’s announcement. When I heard that His Excellency Colonel Carl, who made a name for himself in the Imperial Army in the Continental Anti-Demon Alliance, was on our side, I could not help but come to exchange a few words.”
“From the Mordo Barony… that’s quite a ride.”
The reason there was a brief pause after the mention of the Barony was because Carl had never heard of the Mordo Barony. There were countless imperial noble houses, so it was not surprising that there were baronies Carl had never heard of. But even so, he couldn’t just say that he didn’t know Baron Mordo, and Carl tried to avoid letting his unfamiliarity show in front of Captain Cairn.
The reason he accepted it at face value was because, although Carl did not know all the noble houses by heart, he did know the lords in the vicinity of his territory. He had also done some preliminary research on the lords in the south of the country, where Count Elstead and Marquis Cliffdorf were located. As a result, he guessed that Viscount Kriegman’s domains were in the south, near the west, and those of Baron Mordo in the north or east. And Carl’s guess was correct, the Captain nodded with a bit of weariness on his face.
“To receive such words of encouragement from His Excellency… thrills me.”
Carl felt better to be called His Excellency, forgetting his earlier frustration with the high-ranking nobles.
“In fact, my territory is very active in wine production, so if you don’t mind joining me?”
“Oh, wine. But…”
Even if they were from another territory, he had seen soldiers gamble before and felt that discipline slacked. If you were a commander and drank alcohol in your camp, you couldn’t blame your subordinates if they did the same.
“Is there a problem with it being in the camp?” Seeing that Carl had trouble for a while, Cairn suggested that he could see what he was thinking. “Our barony’s forces were camped in the forest. We were late, so there were no good spots available.”
It was not uncommon for a late-arriving lord’s small force to finally establish a position in an open area of the forest.
Good places to camp, such as the ground in front of the besieged city, along the road or along the river, were filled on a first-come, first-served basis.
Of course, there were still suitable places to camp in the rear, but it would take a long time to get there from there when the battle began. There was a strong possibility that they would miss the opportunity to make merit on the battlefield and attract the attention of Prince Neumann, and by extension, Marquis Cliffdorf.
For this reason, there were many lords who settled in forests that were not suitable for camping.
“In fact, I have contacted other lords’ captains. If it’s in the forest, we won’t have to worry about the eyes of our subordinates, not even a great nobleman. What do you think?”
“Hmm… it’s not like I’m the only one who will be drinking.”
“Then I’ll invite other captains.”
“Yes. In fact, this wine was forcibly brought to me by my lord as a souvenir for all the great nobles. I had brought several barrels in my chariot, but when I took it to a certain person as a souvenir to greet him, he refused to drink the wine made by a nobleman of the countryside. Since I had brought it as a souvenir at my lord’s behest, I cannot dispose of it without permission, and I was in trouble. However, if we were to serve it at a banquet to deepen our friendship with His Excellency and the principal vassals of the various lords, I would have a good excuse for my lord. In fact, it would help me if you drank it.”
“Hahaha, I see, I see. It’s true that if they made me bring something as a souvenir and refused me, I wouldn’t be able to take it with me after the war.”
“Yes, I really have problems. In fact, the reason I approached you is because, of course, you are a renowned warrior and I wanted to say a few words to you, but I also wanted to dispose of this wine… or at least use it for friendship.”
“Haha, I understand your plight, Captain. Good, then let’s get rid of that hassle. Just leave it to me.”
Carl gathered his fellow captains and led them to their camp in the forest under the direction of Captain Cairn.
Before Carl arrived, several warlords from other lords had already been invited and were drinking wine. Some of them had taken part in the military discussions earlier.
“We are always the ones who are pressured by the unreasonable demands of the nobles.”
“You are absolutely right. That’s how they always force us to cover their asses.”
“Well, I’m all for this kind of cover-up.”
Said one of them, raising a glass of grape wine, and those present burst out laughing. In fact, the wine was quite good and tasty. It might not be enough for the great aristocracy, but this wine was still beyond the reach of Carl and his friends, who were only knights.
“Come on, come on. We still have plenty of wine. Please feel free to drink as much as you like.”
In fact, Baron Mordo’s camp was far enough away from the other camps that they didn’t have to worry about anyone hearing them when they complained about the arrogance of the great nobles. The more one spoke ill of one’s superiors, the more one drank. Moreover, having an overwhelming number of troops outnumbering the enemy troops entrenched in Erz, despite it being a battlefield, made them feel carefree.
The drinking continued as usual, and the party was in full swing. Many of the participants became intoxicated and lost consciousness.
And the next morning. There was no sign of Colonel Carl or any member of his group in Viscount Kriegman’s camp. It was not only with the subordinates in Viscount Kriegman’s territory. The captains of the lords who had been invited to Baron Mordo’s banquet had not returned to the camp.
When the captains did not return by noon, the soldiers rushed to locate them, but they had no idea where they were. No one even knew where Baron Mordo’s camp was. However, the soldiers of the various lords did not inform the generals leading Prince Neumann’s army that their commander was missing. They feared that the scandal of their commanders’ disappearance would become known and they would be punished. And this would have a great impact on the war situation of Prince Neumann’s army.
“It’s a little disconcerting to see things going so well.”
“It’s only as a result of the fact that the lords sent their armies to each other, wanting to take credit. And it is also due to the factionalism of the great noble families peculiar to this country.”
In response to the words of his subordinate, the man who called himself Captain Cairn of the Mordo Barony, Kelvin, said and smiled sarcastically.
“Our languages and customs are the same, so you can pretend to be an ally and establish contact. Even the weaponry is similar. And nobles in a small territory often don’t know each other’s faces. With that being the case, we can fight like this.”
Kelvin was hiding in the forest outside Erz with over three hundred of his men. The men were expert members of the Erz Adventurers Guild, who knew the surrounding geography well, as well as a select group of adventurers who had come with him from Simurgh. They had a lot of experience in actual combat, and were much better than soldiers at fighting in small groups in the forest.
Kelvin and his men introduced themselves as vassals of some lower-ranking northern nobles and had been mentioned as possible collaborators, and invited some of the more famous warlords to a banquet, serving them wine and food. When they got drunk enough, they drugged them to put them to sleep and kidnapped them.
“But why bother putting them to sleep? It would be so much easier to kill them with poison instead of a sleeping concoction.”
“They are also people of the Empire. And they are skilled soldiers who have made achievements in the Continental Anti-Demon Alliance and in defeating bandits in various places. It would be a great waste of lives to lose these people in such a trivial battle, wouldn’t it? If we lose such talented people, it will only please Petersia, who is hiding in the shadows of this civil war.”
“But won’t keeping them alive be a disaster later on?”
“If we are victorious, the nobles of the lesser domains they serve will swear to obey us. They only follow the now apparently powerful Marquis Cliffdorf in search of peace in their own territory. And if they should try to take revenge…” Kelvin interrupted himself there and looked back at the adventurer who had become his temporary subordinate. “It’ll be fine, then. I’m sure I’ll enjoy it.” The eyes peering out of the barely open lids had a bright, dangerous light, and the edges of his mouth twisted into a faint smile.
Seeing this, the adventurer experienced a shivering sensation down his spine. Afterwards, he returned to his companions and commented about Kelvin in front of them.
‘That Captain Kelvin is very dangerous. When you go into this business, you run into the occasional battle maniac. Most of them don’t live long, and just because they’re maniacs doesn’t mean they’re any good at it. In fact, I’ve never met one I thought I could beat. But this Kelvin is different. He likes to fight, and he’s even talented with the sword. On top of that, he’s not afraid of death. I guess you could call him a kind of monster.’
Five days after Captain Carl’s disappearance, there were several units whose commanders disappeared without being seen, but this had never been leaked to anyone outside the unit from which he had disappeared. In the midst of all this, Prince Alfred’s army entrenched in Erz and Prince Neumann’s army, finally entered their first battle.
Despite the city walls, Prince Neumann’s army, which had several times the number of troops, was expected to have an overwhelming advantage, but the result was that Prince Neumann’s army suffered heavy losses and retreated. Prince Neumann’s army suffered heavy losses from enemy troops suddenly appearing from the forest and making a dent in their flanks.
On the outside of Prince Neumann’s army, facing the forest side, a mixed army made up of the lords of small territories was in command. However, with the commanders of the mixed army missing, they were unable to take control and were overwhelmed at will by a force of over three hundred adventurers led by vice-captain Kelvin.
Kelvin and his band of adventurers retreated into the forest with only a few wounded, unharmed.
Marquis Welt von Cliffdorf was enraged by this and immediately gave the order to pursue Kelvin and his troops, but it was the lords of the small territories who would actually carry out the order. Naturally, without a commander, it was impossible for them to act in a disciplined manner, so Kelvin and his men continued to hide in plain sight, led by Erz adventurers who knew the terrain.
Meanwhile, Kelvin led the adventurers to attack the Transport Corps of Prince Neumann’s army in the rear, until it was discovered that the commanders of the minor territory lords were actually missing. He managed to inflict tremendous damage on Prince Neumann’s army, which was believed to be overwhelmingly superior in numbers.