Chapter 21 – Expansion (2)
============== Three Mercenary Commanders’ POV ==============
“This is absurd.” Jana wiped her fringe to the back of her head as she spoke emotionally, gazing upon the mercenaries who were clearing the battlefield: “What exactly are we fighting for in this battle……”
She paused before sighing, “But the conclusion to this battle is acceptable, barely.”
Raban glanced at her once and nodded.
“That young man is quite the excellent noble. Ever since I left Karsuk’s armies, I have completely given up on the nobles’ leadership, but he’s starting to make me change my mind. A mercenary becoming a noble’s retainer isn’t a bad choice, but to have him forcibly controlling us through our weaknesses is causing us to feel reluctant to do so.”
“Hah!” Cornelius scoffed coldly. The middle-aged man with silver hair looked back at both of them and said: “Ask yourself this, are you certain that both of you would not act the same way if Graudin said he’s interested in having you as his retainers? If Graudin didn’t act like a crazed madman and started killing innocent people, I believe you would be interested in joining him. Regardless, this young lord of ours have no real footing in this territory, and any one of us can clearly see that he’s borrowing our strength in order to fulfill his goals…..”
He rubbed his gloves a few times, pondering deeply, “It’s suspicious on how he’s acting. He didn’t tell us his plans on casting magic before we clashed with the damned creatures….. I won’t let him have his way if he tries to sacrifice my men.”
Raban nodded and said, “This young man seems to be taking an independent stance amongst the nobles. I see no indication of any other nobles allying with him. Graudin is still a lord appointed directly by the king, and his death will spark a strong retaliation. No matter how highly I think of him, I too must be responsible for my men.”
Jana made a light scornful noise after listening to the both of them and turned her head away. Her motives were very different from the two in front of her. She established her own mercenary group in order to resist the nobles. Despite doing so, she was disappointed because she had no choice but to work with the filthy nobles.
During her leadership, she guarded her only sister fiercely until she lost her. She was still feeling a little lost and did not know what goals she still had left, but if there was one thing that was clear, it was that she disagreed with Cornelius’s words.
The three of them stopped their discussion when the Nightsong Tiger and his riders entered the lumber mill— The young lord was finally going here. The other mercenaries paused what they were doing and looked over to them.
It was simple for the mercenaries to judge their leader’s abilities; was he able to lead them to victory?
Brendel had brought them to a miraculous victory against seemingly impossible odds twice. The mysterious rumors around him had only deepened their convictions, and every one of them felt like this was someone they could follow in their future.
The three mercenary leaders did not stop their subordinates from acknowledging him. Even though they did not know what direction they were heading into after the battle in Firburh, leaving Brendel’s side would mean they had to seek refuge in the Dark Forest.
Even though Count Randner was like a dark cloud gathering over their heads, they at least had a small hope shining in their hearts by following Brendel.
If Brendel was capable of bringing victories under impossible odds, who could be certain of what the future holds?
A seed of blind faith was growing in everyone’s heart.
Delighted yells started ringing out just like Cornelius predicted in his mind. The mercenaries generously greeted their hero with the highest respect, and their lifestyle under constant battles had nurtured their hot-blooded personalities.
But when the last rider rode into the makeshift fortress, the mercenaries became confused.
There was no sight of Brendel.
The people at the forefront were Amandina the Nightsong Tiger and, as well as the lively merchant girl Romaine who behaved smugly after hearing the cheers.
“What is this?” Jana was the first to move over to them and demanded.
Amandina glanced at her. Despite the various exchanges between them, the veteran female mercenary was still unable to intimidate the young noble lady.
Amandina replied disinterestedly: “Our lord has orders. All of us are to set up a defense. The Subterrane Dwellers are likely to attack us during midnight after they finished gathering their forces. The Silence spell cannot be casted repeatedly, so he wants every wizard to use their magic generously to fortify the surrounding walls. It must be done before the moon rises up to the Witch-king’s position.”
Jana had to take a moment to understand the answer. She furrowed her eyebrows deeply when she came to a conclusion and wanted to ask for more answers. Before she did so, Raban came up and patted her shoulders, hinting to her that she needed to calm down.
He raised his head to Amandina sitting straight up on the horse’s back: “Lady Advisor, when is our lord going to return? The only person amongst us who knows the most about the Subterrane Dwellers’ habits and strategies is him, and without his leadership, we are unlikely to defend this place past midnight.”
“It should suffice if I’m here. Our lord has said that he will bring us a complete victory if we survive the night.”
“Survive the night?” Cornelius was next to voice his disagreement: “Easier said than done, Lady Advisor. This lumber mill is the outermost area of the enemy’s territory, yet the number of creatures we faced was over three hundred. I don’t believe they would just split up a third of their forces to guard this place, especially for a race that’s in constant battles. Their numbers are far more than just a mere thousand.”
“Commander Cornelius, everything comes with a price, and regardless of the odds we need to hold this place down,” Amandina said with an impassive expression.
Romaine chimed in with a smile: ” For a businessman, opportunities and dangers always come together. My aunt had told me that the difference between one person and another, is that the clever people are able of balancing boldness and cautiousness at the same time, and this little me is capable of being a smart person.”
Cornelius did not speak again after listening to her words. Since he did not dispute it, he acknowledged her words.
“What do you think?” Jana turned her head slightly and asked Raban.
“What else can we do? We can see that the young man doesn’t trust us — this is a test for our loyalty, and he has left us with this choice. We have to make our decision to accept it or not,” Raban smiled a little, “He’s quite the confident fellow, and is completely different from the other useless nobles.”
“What do you mean?” Jana looked blankly at him.
“He’s telling us that our beliefs are wrong. We have always thought he needed us for our men, but the fact that he’s not here means that it doesn’t matter whether he has us or not…… And has given us a chance to decide if we still wish to serve under him.”
Jana stared at Amandina with remarkable intensity: “Arrogance. If we’re capable of defending through the night, we will be able to gain victory over the damned creatures? Does he really think he’s going to reproduce King Erik’s miracle?”
She was referring to how King Erik subdued the Highland citizens in the past. Raban shook his head slightly as he had his own thoughts about that fact, but he did not say anything more.
================== Brendel’s POV =================
Night slowly descended. No one in the lumber mill knew where Brendel was. While the three mercenary commanders were busy fortifying the lumber mill, Tagiv had split up his army into two forces and advanced through the forest. Countless Subterrane Dwellers and Earth Spirit Bears meandered slowly beside the mountain streams, looking like a gigantic grey snake that was moving slowly in the night.
There were a few Earth Spirit Riders — They were not from the Underworld but the surface, and had allied with the creatures.
[Most of Vaunte’s main scouting forces are flying types. It’s a huge disadvantage for many Underworld races as they are used to living in the small spaces, especially during the daytime when the sun easily blinds them…… but they have allied with the creatures on the surface.]
In Brendel’s eyes, they were merely weak creatures that could be ignored in a direct confrontation, but they were an obstacle if he wanted to fly over the enemies. He supported himself against a tree as he spied on them from a mountain slope.
“They have so many soldiers?” Scarlett could not suppress her voice and gasped a little when she saw this sight before her: “That’s more than a thousand. I knew the reports from Graudin’s men are untrue. That fool didn’t even realize how many creatures he was facing.”
Brendel nodded. He and Scarlett had flown on the Silver Colt and followed the fleeing Subterrane Dwellers. As the creatures relied on their hearing and smelling senses, they were unable to detect the two. After waiting for a few hours, the enemy finally started to move. Brendel and Scarlett then moved ahead to higher grounds to observe them better.
Brendel glanced at the sky. It was still early, and the creatures would probably reach the lumber mill around midnight.
“With such a large force, even Commander Makarov would find it impossible to win,” Scarlett looked at the valley and frowned. She looked up at Brendel, “what can we do?”
“Hmm. It seems like there’s an outpost ahead of us.” Brendel said.
“What?” She looked back puzzledly at him.
“It’s about time for us to set out, but we won’t be able to fly into the air now. I didn’t expect the Subterrane Dwellers to ally with the nearby Earth Spirits.”
“My lord, you mean to—” Scarlett’s eyes were tinged with a sliver of shock: “Isn’t this action too bold?”
“Don’t worry; this isn’t the first time I’m doing this.” Brendel grinned back: “But I do need your assistance—”
Scarlett sighed. “Your orders, my lord.”
“Very well, as you wish…..” Brendel nodded after studying her expressions, “Scarlett.”
“What are your orders?” She bowed her head.
“….. There’s an old phrase back in my hometown, in order to capture the bandits, you must first capture their leader. I order you to aid me in doing so.”