Chapter 59: The Emergence of a Hero (1)

Even from his distant position on the frontier, Duke Palan could see that the Second Prince’s army had changed their movement patterns.

“Your Grace, this is an emergency report.”

“What is it?”

The messenger submitted his report to Duke Palan with a grave expression.

“The rebel army has split into two.”

“Into two, you say?”

“Yes, Your Grace. They separated into two and are now marching for the Capital on different courses.”

“……”

Duke Palan’s face hardened as he stayed silent. The other commanders with him promptly entered into a discussion.

“Those foxes are slyer than I thought.”

“Is it not imperative that we also divide our troops into two and respond accordingly?”

“This is no time for jests. What use would we derive in further subdividing a force of 5000? Not to mention – the detachment without the Duke’s presence would be as good as finished, would it not?”

“That may be so, but we must prevent the capture of the Capital at all costs. They have proceeded with this operation because they are certain that the Capital will be captured, even lest only one of their two companies reaches it.”

The commanders joining Duke Palan on the frontier debated ferociously without a moment’s pause to breathe, but even they could not devise a clear-cut solution. If they managed to impede one of the attacks but let through the other, it would all be for naught.

Even as they loitered like this, the Second Prince and his rebel army were steadily advancing for the Capital. No lightbulb moment could possibly come to them when they had already reached the worst-case scenario. If there existed a compromise they could squeeze out…

“Since the matter has reached this stage, our only option is to attack them first and rout each of their detachments with an individual elimination strategy.”

The only way forward was to attack and eliminate the split invaders as quickly as possible. Albeit, it was a matter of contention whether this plan would work.

“Would that be feasible? Though the enemy may have divided their force into two, they nevertheless far outnumber us.”

It was true. Though their troops were split, the rebel forces were significantly larger than the royalist army that Duke Palan was commanding. An individual elimination tactic entailed having an army with concentrated destructive power defeat dispersed forces in a short period of time before they could regroup. In this case, however, the enemy’s strength could very well be superior to their forces even after being divided. Even if Duke Palan were to play an active part with his prowess as a Master to grind out a victory, the Capital would likely fall into enemy hands if that burned too much time.

There were so many problems with this plan, and yet…

“There is no time to hesitate. We will not be able to so much as attempt this operation if we miss our moment.”

It was as the commander who insisted on this strategy said: if they dragged this along any further, they would lose the window to even attempt this bull charge.

This was where Duke Palan made his decision.

“Let us mobilize the men at once. We shall attack the detachment that is on the shorter route to the Capital.”

“Yes, Your Grace!”

As the Duke’s order was issued, the troops hastily set out to intercept the enemies that were moving on the eastern road.

***

Duke Palan’s movements were immediately reported to the Second Prince’s camp.

“They say that Duke Palan has mobilized with all his troops, Your Highness.”

“Which direction did he move? The east? Or the west?”

The Second Prince asked his messenger with bated breath.

After dividing the troops in two, the Second Prince accompanied the detachment which was moving on the western road. He had originally intended to go with the eastern detachment, but Marquis Marius advised him that he must accompany the western troops in order to avoid Duke Palan and reach the Capital.

“Duke Palan and his army is headed northbound along the eastern road.”

Marquis Marius’s predictions were right on the mark.

“Oooooooh. It is as you say indeed, uncle.”

At the prince’s side, Marquis Marius slightly smiled.

“It was no great feat to predict this much.”

“Hahahahaha… to think we would keep the upper hand when facing the Master Duke Palan – truly, it is a great feat.”

For Marquis Marius who still felt a sense of inferiority to the Duke, the Second Prince’s praise made him smile. Filled with eagerness, he further elaborated to the prince.

“Ahem… it is to be said that Duke Palan’s choice is not technically wrong. He must have gone to great pains to arrive at the right decision.”

“The right decision? Was heading to the east the right decision for him?”

“It is indeed, Your Highness. To successfully employ an individual elimination strategy and deal with our split forces, he must attack the company he can reach quickly first. The eastern road is not only of a shorter distance to the Capital, but convenient for moving troops. To that end, attacking that side first is the correct solution. But…”

Marquis Marius' smile grew to be more triumphant.

“No matter how correct his choice may be, it cannot bear fruit if the path he selects has already been anticipated. I anticipated that Duke Palan would choose the east and issued battle orders accordingly to the eastern commander-in-charge, Count Guybran.”

“Oooooh… is that so?”

“Yes. I assure you – Duke Palan will not emerge victorious in any facet of this war. And he will come to realize the common denominator that in war, strategy beats strength.”

“Hahahahaha… you have the unbeatable Duke Palan dancing on the palm of your hand. As expected of my uncle.”

The Second Prince and Marquis Marius were certain of their victory.

***

As Marquis Marius foretold, Duke Palan came face to face with the enemy on the eastern road. However, his struggles did not end there. Though it was not that his troops were incurring losses or anything of the sort…

“Retreat! There is no need to overdo it.”

Count Guybran and the eastern rebel detachment did not allow them to engage in combat. They would withdraw whenever Duke Palan attempted to engage them, and reappear with a small group of skirmishers to attack them from a distance before falling back again. This cycle repeated to drag along the battle. After all, the orders the Count had received from Marquis Marius was to stall for time. If anything, it was fine if they ended up retreating all the way to the North. In fact, it would be that much more advantageous for them to lure Duke Palan that far. To that end, he kept Duke Palan occupied as long as possible, preserving his army strength and retreating without hesitation.

Meanwhile, the Duke’s command was troubled by the enemy’s strategy of harassing and retreating.

“Guybran, that sly bastard…”

“Damn it, we can’t be wasting time like this…”

Though his command staff were reaching the limits of their patience, Duke Palan, conversely, had a calm expression. Unable to take it any further, one of the commanders lashed out at Duke Palan.

“Duke Palan, how could you be at ease?”

“What do you mean?”

“If we remain with our hands tied here, the rebel troops detouring through the west may very well capture the Capital. Yet how could you appear to be at peace?”

With the situation reaching a critical stage, the commanders who could not so much as meet eyes with him prior were boldly questioning him. However, Duke Palan merely smirked and replied assuredly.

“Do not worry, for the Capital will absolutely not be captured.”

“Pardon? How could…”

“Brilliant. Just brilliant.”

The commanders looked bewildered by Duke Palan’s cryptic statement. Paying them no heed, the Duke murmured as he watched the map.

“This is all according to that one’s calculations.”

He turned to look back in the direction of the Capital.

“This will be one spectacular return indeed, My Liege.”

***

The rebel troops that avoided Duke Palan on their roundabout route finally arrived on the outskirts of the Capital.

“Hm… I cannot put these many feelings into words.”

The Second Prince was returning to the Capital in half a year, after having been defeated in his power struggle against the First Prince at one time and chased out.

“Your Highness, will you be advising them to surrender?”

The prince laughed at Marquis Marius’s words.

“They wouldn’t listen anyway, is that not so?”

“That is true.”

“Then let us not waste any more time.”

With that, he drew his sword and pointed at the Capital.

“All troops, forward!”

Bom bom bom bom bom…

With the prince’s command, the rebel troops advanced onwards at the signal of a drum.

“Th-…they’re coming.”

“Shit, what do we do?”

“Don’t shrink back! I’m telling you, we don’t have a choice now but to make it through.”

Though the Capital’s outer walls were quite tall, the soldiers that were manning them were mostly commoners that were hastily conscripted. Having been forced into this role, their morale was low on top of their non-existent combat experience.

Marquis Karl Trauss, who was assigned the command of these soldiers, closed his eyes as he watched his fear-stricken men.

‘This is my mistake. It has reached this point because I was unable to properly aid His Highness Skyt.’

After the decisive defeat of the First Prince at the hands of the rebels, Marquis Trauss was imprisoned for his incompetence. Despite only having been released a few days ago, he received the order to defend the Capital’s walls. The soldiers were a mess, and over half of the weapons for fortifying the walls had to be discarded because they had not been maintained properly. On top of that, there had only been a few days to prepare since he received the authority to command – an utterly worst-case set of circumstances. Yet he did not decline. No, he could not decline.

This was because Marquis Trauss was taking responsibility for his missteps which brought about this state of affairs in the first place. In truth, he himself did not believe they would be able to defend just because he was in command. He had only come here to fulfill his atonement and welcome an honorable death. As Marquis Trauss steeled himself and was about to begin issuing orders…

“Hm? What’s that?”

“What’s what? …oh? There’s a huge cloud of dust being kicked up…”

“It’s… it’s an army. An army has appeared at the rebels’ rear.”

The soldiers atop the ramparts buzzed with speculation. Marquis Trauss confirmed that it was true for himself: a group had suddenly appeared and was attacking the Second Prince’s army from behind.

“What’s this? Who is this army affiliated with?”

Marquis Trauss could not find out, but the rebel troops being attacked from the back heard who it was loud and clear.

“I am Milton Forrest. Surrender at once, rebels!”

Milton Forrest had joined the war.

***

Timing.

Though Milton had convinced the nobles of the South to refrain from this war along with him, he had never intended to stay put until the end. He had merely been calculating the most effective time to join in respect to the size of his forces. The Forrest forces numbered roughly 6000 troops, assuming one counted down to every last knight. If the other nobles of the South contributed their strength on top of this, they could create a sizable force of approximately 15,000 men. Although it was nothing to scoff at, their army strength was not exactly substantial either. The Southern army’s timing for interception was critical, both for preserving their strength and bringing the best of results. Princess Leila said to Milton that a hero rescuing a kingdom in turmoil must appear at a decisive moment – whenever that moment may arrive.

On top of that, she said…

“I will contribute my personal men to your cause. That should round out the force to a passable size of approximately 20,000.”

“Will those men be fit for use?”

“Hoh.”

Princess Leila smirked and handed to him a single envelope. Milton scanned the contents of the document contained within.

“Is this…?”

“How is it? Would they be ‘fit for use’, as you say?”

“There is nothing more to be said.”

The document was a list of mercenary guilds that Princess Leila employed with her personal funds. All the guilds were prominent enough for their names to be recognizable, and their combined men numbered over 5000.

‘If a force of this size is added…’

This would not be any old addition. He would be supplemented with a powerful group that rivaled the total strength of the Forrest military.

“Please, do not take too long in persuading the nobles of the South. If need be, you are free to use my good name.”

“Would that sit well with you? Is it not too soon for your identity to be revealed, Princess?”

“If we were to start a coup, I would need to stand as the figurehead regardless.”

“But would it not be ideal to maintain your secrecy before that time arrives?”

“We only need to wait for one to two months at the most. I am sure you can use your influence to keep the Southern nobles quiet for that long, is that not so Count?”

“Mmm… that is within my means.”

With Milton and Princess Leila putting their minds together, planning their strategy was nothing but smooth sailing. Princess Leila brightly smiled.

“Very good. Then let us wait patiently for now; for the time when our hero will make his grand entrance to save the day.”

As Princess Leila said, Milton waited. He could have aided the First Prince as he made his wretched retreat after his decisive defeat – but he waited. Princess Leila told him that it was not yet the right moment. Princess Leila gave her order when the Northern rebels were advancing on the Capital, and Duke Palan entered the war.

“It is time.”

That was all that needed to be said for Milton to mobilize his army at once. Their destination was the Capital. If everything went according to Princess Leila’s plans, it was certain that this would be the most optimal timing. And so with optimal timing, they caught the tail end of the Second Prince’s army.

***

“Jerome! Penetrate through their lines. Show them your might!”

“Yes, My Lord!”

Leading the knights, Jerome started breaking through the enemy formation head-on.

“Do not stop me if you do not wish to die!”

Though his name had not yet spread because Milton kept him well hidden, Jerome’s strength was such that no one in the Lester Kingdom could face him, other than Duke Palan himself. With such a man determinedly leading the knights’ charge, their collision power was terrifying.

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