[Our Strategic Objective is the Capital of the Principality of Amidonia, Vannes]
Upon hearing Soma’s proclamation, the thirty thousand strong Amidonian Army surrounding Altomura withdrew in a hurry. The Admiral of the Navy Ecksel Walter and the Lord of Altomura Wyst Garrote watched the palings and banners they left behind surrounding their camps, shone upon by the afternoon sun, from the walls enclosing Altomura. Looking to his side Wyst found Ecksel’s face, enchanting in its beauty under the evening sun.
“… should we not give chase?”
Wyst inquired, as if to cover up his unintentional captivation. Ecksel, however, shook her head quietly.
“They have wyvern cavalry in their rear guard. Without wyvern cavalry of our own, we will be receiving a hard counterattack if we were to leave the fort in pursuit. Gaius VIII … as expected from the one who fastidiously continued sharpening their fangs toward our country. All’s well when he stays within the palm of His Majesty’s hand, though”
So Ecksel said as she closed her eyes, which made Wyst widen his eyes in surprise. The Duchess Ecksel who treats everyone she sees as children could value somebody this highly, this may have never happened before.
“Is His Highness Soma really possessed of such ingenuity?”
“Not really so much in plain ingenuity, I think, but he is able to come up with exemplary plans befitting each situation. It’s as if ‘he knew of similar battles'”
“What do you mean by that?”
“… It may be possible that His Highness Soma had come from a world teeming with dreadful trickery”
Wyst felt a shudder come upon him. He had heard that King Soma was a hero summoned from another world. Assuming that the other world had experienced such horrible turbulent times where many countries perished and countless lives were lost, then should that world and this one be connected, would the people of this one stand a chance against theirs? Even the young King who does not look to be suited for the battlefield from what he saw of him was able to come up with plans to this extent. Of course, to fear the sky falling above their heads would literally be a needless fear ….
“That is … an incredible thing, isn’t it”
“Yes, truly … now then”
Ecksel clapped as if to shift her gears.
“I suppose our part ends here”
“… It may be late of me to say this Lady Ecksel, but couldn’t you just throw down the Amidonians with your magic power even without having to stall for time?”
Wyst’s point was answeredy by Ecksel with a smile.
“Ara, you can’t rely on this old grandma all the time. Wouldn’t it be an elder’s duty to watch the young ones struggle with all they have”
“As you say …”
Wyst was astonished, but contrary to her expression, Ecksel was tantalized inside.
(Working behind the scenes is what was wanted of me this time. Considering what would happen to Carla after this, I would have liked to earn some more merit in battle … but being too conspicuous would leave a bad impression on His Highness)
She sighed inwardly, but Ecksel isn’t one to show something like that on her face.
“Now then, let’s leave the rest to the little children and head south as planned”
As she said that, Ecksel thought of ‘another one of the little children’.
◇ ◇ ◇
Under the twilight, with the moon hidden behind a cloud, the Amidonian officers and soldiers ran holding torches in their hands. The sight of the flock of the thirty thousand soldiers’ torches looked like a creeping snake. A fantastic sight, when viewed from afar, but the people in question only ran and ran, drenched in sweat and smeared with mud.
At the front of the ranks, there was the Prince of Amidonia, Gaius VIII, among the leading cavalry. He pressed his horse earnestly forward while surrounded by five of his guarding cavalry officers who each was holding torches. He had a grim look on his face. All this was because of that youngster King. He lured Gaius and his men out using the land they once lost, the bountiful grain-producing region, as bait, exposing the soft underbelly of Vannes that rightly should have been protected like armor, and struck there.
Georg Carmine who should have been blocking the way to the capital capitulated in a mere two days, and the Elfrieden Army marched towards Vannes as if they were merely passing through the Carmine Duchy. Vannes was a town constructed as the front line to defend against invasions from Elfrieden, and conversely a foothold for when they invaded into Elfrieden. For that reason, there were no fortresses to block the Elfrieden Royal Army’s march towards Vannes. That came out of pride and self conceit from previous King Albert’s conservativeness and that the Elfrieden of now had no courage to attack other countries.
Now that it’s come to this, Gaius noticed that he had been duped by Soma and Georg. Tactician, someone who indulges in strategy. A strategist could forget that he could sometimes be ensnared by tactics. This was exactly the situation Gaius was in.
(What is this! How could that weak Elfrieden make us experience this much hardship!)
The erstwhile ‘Kingdom of Amidonia’ lost half its territory and died under the antepenultimate King of Elfrieden’s expansionist policies. Gaius’ father renamed the [Kingdom of Amidonia] to [Principality of Amidonia], lest they forget the chagrin, saying we can’t call ourselves a Kingdom now that we’ve lost half our land, and named himself a [Prince]. The Principality of Amidonia had worked under the policy of regaining their lost lands and vigilantly watched for the chance to do so ever since.
After the antepenultimate King died and Alberto inherited the throne¹, Amidonia made use of his conservativeness and fanned disturbing elements within Elfrieden. That continued even after Gaius’ father died and Gaius VIII inherited the throne. Most of the disturbing elements were crushed by Georg and Ecksel, but the Kingdom’s power was steadily drained. It went well.
¹ or more accurately, married the daughter of the antepenultimate King, who inherited the throne
Alberto didn’t amount to much, but the difference in power between the Kingdom and the Principality was certainly great. Amidonia, who was the lesser in terms of power, can do nothing but intently watch and wait for an opportunity. Then, the time they had been waiting for came at last. The Demon King Territory appeared, food and economic shortages caused by the Demon King Army sapped the Kingdom, the drama of the sudden change in kingship, and the Three Dukes who should have been protecting the Kingdom rebelled against the new King. This was a good opportunity. The Kingdom couldn’t move now even if they wanted to. Amidonia’s long-standing desire has now come to bear fruit.
… or that was how it was supposed to be, but what of the reality? The one being cornered was rather the Principality.
(If we lose Vannes now, Amidonia will never rise again for a second time. I can’t show my face to the ancestors’ spirits if that were to happen)
Gaius grimaced in regret.
(But no! It’s still not over yet! Vannes is a sturdy fortress. We have left five thousand of our finest to defend it, they could hold two or three days against a large army. If we reached Vannes in that time and caught the Royal Army by surprise in a pincer attack, we could still win this!)
Gaius encouraged himself, then…
Julius’ horse came running up to Gaius’ horse.
“We are marching too fast! If we keep on, let alone the supply wagons, the foot soldiers are going to drop dead! Please loosen the pace a little …”
Gaius cut down Julius’ proposal with a roar.
“If we lose Vannes we will never rise again! We have to reach Vannes before it fell no matter what it takes. We will conduct a pincer attack on the Kingdom’s troops with the soldiers inside the fort!”
Seeing Gaius’ passionate speech, Julius felt a tinge of unease. He can’t help but feel that Gaius was currently putting too much emphasis on the capital and was being too passionate about it.
“Father, even if we lose Vannes our troops are still in good health. Can’t we hold up in another well-defended city and ask the Empire for help? At any rate, we, unlike Elfrieden, are signatory to the [Humanity Declaration]”
[Declaration of Humanity’s Coalition against Demonkind], commonly called [Humanity Declaration], was a policy promoted by the biggest power in the human’s side of the continent, the [Grand Chaos Empire]²
² Details are in chapter 1, Hide a Knife Behind a Smile.
First, to allow no change in borders due to wars or military operations between humans.
Second, to respect the rights to equality and self-determination of all peoples within all nations.
(Meaning, because national borders are not to be shifted, to disallow the banishment and persecution of minority peoples within the countries)
Third, for countries far from the Demon King Territory to support the bulwarks that are the countries near the Territory.
These were the three main clauses of the [Humanity Declaration]. The Principality of Amidonia signed this Humanity Declaration, but as for Elfrieden, they did not sign even after King Soma was enthroned. Because of that, Amidonia could claim to have lost territory to the Empire and as the leader of the Humanity Declaration, would come to the aid of their ally Amidonia and press Elfrieden to return their lost territory (not including the lands lost prior to the Declaration).
Attacking others themselves and complaining when they were attacked back. It was as Finance Minister Colbert said before the departure to the war, a terrible sophistry, but the fault lies with Elfrieden who did not sign the [Humanity Declaration]. Julius thought this was a good idea. However,
“You fool! The Empire aren’t such simpletons!”
Gaius decidedly cut him off.
“We exploited a loophole in the Declaration in this war. Sure, they might come to our help if we lodged a complaint, but an illogical act like that would leave a bad impression of us. They would likely use this as an excuse to exclude the two of us and make a puppet out of our country”
” … … ”
Being told off like that, Julius could not find the words to reply. Looking at Julius in such a state, Gaius snorted, hmph, and loudly ordered
“If you understand then hurry up! We will reach Vannes before it fell by any means necessary!”
However, the forced march was interrupted. Elfrieden and Amidonia are separated in the south by the border of the Ursula mountain range. When the Army entered the route that leads through that mountain range, their men and horses began to be tripped up by muddy ground one after the other.
“W, what’s with all this mud!?”
“Shit, my horse’s stuck! Somebody pull me up!”
“Oi oi, there was nothing like this when we came, was there!?”
It was a spectacle of horses being stuck in the mud here and there and men stumbling and squirming where their feet were tripped up by the mud. Seeing the disastrous sight, Gaius was dumbfounded. Gordoa valley was a road they went through when they came. At that time the ground was firm and dry, and in no way would trip up feet.
“What’s happening … I don’t think there had been any rain. How did the road become this bad”
At that moment, one of the soldiers shouted as if in answer to Gaius.
The next moment there was the sound of arrows cutting through air in the darkness and the sound of something violently breaking. Each time the sound was heard one Amidonian soldier after another would fall. One of the torch-bearers near Gaius fell with a muffled voice, fanning Gaius’ impatience.
“What is it! What’s happening!”
Then, one of the soldiers came running and reported.
“It’s an enemy attack! It appears Elfrieden had hidden soldiers in the valley in ambush! The enemy’s hiding among the trees in the mountains, and are attacking with arrows and ice!”
“Ice you say!?”
“In all likelihood, the enemy had water mages among them!”
“That wretched…. So the bad ground is also their doing!”
Gaius twisted his face in fury. Julius desperately calmed him down.
“Please calm down Father! The main Elfriedenian troops are headed for Vannes so there shouldn’t be that many hidden here. Those narrow paths also couldn’t hold a large army. We should first prioritize getting out of this valley as fast as possible”
“Grrr, but how, with the road this bad?”
“… It can’t be helped. Let’s have the footmen go first. We will go where their feet don’t trip”
Gaius widened his eyes to Julius’ heartless proposal.
“You want to use our men as stepping stones!?”
“It can’t be helped. If you were to be shot down the Amidonian Army would collapse and we won’t be able to fight with Elfrieden. Your decision, please”
“… I suppose it can’t be helped”
Groping for a path by sacrificing the soldiers. If Soma were in Gaius’ boots, he would anguish over the choice, but Gaius’ decision was swift.
The Amidonian ‘desire for revenge’ against Elfrieden had already become his identity. Even when surrounded by powerful countries, falling into food and economic hardships, the reason the Amidonians’ hearts did not break can be said to be this desire for revenge against Elfrieden. Even if they were suffering, they will be satisfied if Elfrieden suffered more.
They believed the cause of their suffering was not their upper brass overinvesting in the military even as the people were suffering, but because Elfrieden snatched away their former wealth. This even as over fifty years had passed. Even as the people was in this state, for the upper brass, they will throw away anything and everything for the sake of fighting Elfrieden. In this country now, Colbert and Roroa who thought to make do with what they had are the exceptional ones.
Which is why for Gaius, it was a greater problem to not be able to fight Elfrieden than losing some of his soldiers. This is why he could give the order without hesitation.
“Move the soldiers forward! We have to hurry and get out of the valley!”
As the inhumane order went, the ranks reversed with the soldiers going at its head, and the cavalry continued behind them along the safe path leaving behind the men caught in the mud unable to move. It was a terrible spectacle. Being caught in the mud was bad enough, but because of the chaos from the surprise attack the ranks fell out of order and the disordered movement caused some to step on the men stuck in the mud as they marched on. Some died a death too horrible to look at, being trampled down by horses.
◇ ◇ ◇
There was a group watching the hellish scene from the slopes surrounded by trees.
They were clad in blackened leather armor, equipped with bows and magic staves, and had black cloth wrapped around their faces. They were the surprise attack unit who attacked the Amidonian Army just moments ago. They numbered around two thousand. At the center of the group was a person with a smallish build who was clearly female from her outstanding proportions even with her costume being what it is.
She was the leader of the black clothed unit, and what she saw was the Amidonian Army proceeding without helping their comrades caught in the mud but rather trampling them down. She shivered, so this is the extent of cruelty that man would go in order to save their own lives.
(A King would have to give out harsh orders every now and again, but I can’t come to like someone who gives the order so unhesitantly, not as a person, let alone a King)
As she was thinking, one of her men came up to her with a report.
“Lady ‘Canaria’, the Amidonian Army has left the Valley. Should we give chase?”
The leader shook her head to the subordinate giving the report.
“No need. Our job was to disturb and trip the enemy’s movements. There’s also only two thousand of us, we won’t be able to produce any better results even if we pursued them. I consider this job well done. Prepare to withdaw”
After the subordinate went away, she unwrapped the black cloth over her face. Right that instant, the cloud covering the moon went away and the moonlight shone upon her beautiful ‘blue hair’. She was the songstress Juna who only by brushing up a stray hair would make for a beautiful picture. Before the King, she was the songstress who owned the music café [Lorelei], but within the Royal Navy, she was the leader of their two thousand elites who was gathered on the premise of working on the ground, ‘Canaria’. Yes, this surprise attack was conducted by Ecksel’s subordinates, the Royal Marine Corps.
Having successfully accomplished her task, Juna pat her chest in relief.
(After Grandmother did her job so well, I couldn’t afford to fail here)
By Grandmother she meant Ecksel Walter. Other than “Songstress” and “Canaria”, Juna also held the role of being Ecksel Walter’s granddaughter. Indeed, being so long-lived and having so many lovers, Ecksel had a great many children. She had so many relatives that if one were to put together all her grandchildren … and great grandchildren, one would be able to create a small town with them. Because having so many relatives would allow her to usurp the whole country with just her descendants alone, she kept the name ‘Walter’ for herself to avert any suspicion of ulterior motives and severed relations with all her children once they’re grown up, sending them off to other houses. Juna was the daughter of one such son of Ecksel’s that married into another family.
Seeing the Amidonian troops being cruelly left behind made a grimace came upon Juna’s beautiful face that she inherited from Ecksel.
“… If we leave them be, we would risk wild animals acquiring a taste for human flesh. Take anyone who’s still breathing as prisoners, we’ll bury the rest”
“Are we helping the Amidonian troops?”
“The soldiers abandoned by their own King was saved by Soma who should rightly have been the enemy. The rumors will raise His Majesty’s fame, which wouldn’t be a bad thing”
Just like the mood about her, Juna had a mature line of thought. As she gave instructions to her subordinates, she cast her eyes north. It was the direction where Soma would be right about this time.
(Your Highness. May the fortunes of war be with you)
◇ ◇ ◇
The march of the Amidonian Army after having received the attack at the Gordoa Valley had a greatly subdued speed. When they regrouped their forces after having left the valley, their thirty thousand strong numbers was reduced by fifteen thousand. This includes not only the death toll of the surprise attack and those trampled to death after having been caught in the mud, but also a considerable number of those who deserted from the ranks. Also, because the supply troops had deserted the wagons when they ran, the Amidonian Army was attacked by not just fatigue but also hunger.
With the soldiers’ stress reaching its peak, not knowing when it will erupt, and also with their numbers reduced to a mere fifteen thousand, it had become harder to win against the fifty-five thousand Elfriedenian Royal Army even if they were to conduct a pincer attack with the defenders of Vannes. The first thing Gaius VIII did in this situation was to lay the blame for the loss of the provisions on the commanding officer of the supply troop and took his head in order to soothe the soldiers’ anger. Next, he scraped up fighting men from the surrounding villages and towns and conscripted the townspeople, somehow restoring their numbers to twenty-five thousand in this way. Of course, he invited discontent in the process, but with the life and death of the country at stake, Gaius had no room to worry about that.
Although he somehow at least regained his numbers, the process of gathering provisions and troops delayed their movements, and only after two whole days since their retreat they were able to restart towards their goal of reaching Vannes. Then half a day after that, the noon of the fifth day counting from the day the first of the series of battles, the [Battle of the Crimson Dragon Castle Village] broke out, the Amidonian Army finally came within a day’s march away from Vannes.
However, the Amidonian Army had made a fatal mistake these few days.
They had marched too quickly. One may think what’s wrong with that? Didn’t even Sun Tzu say that [speed is the essence of war]?, but where in the original text he said [Though we have heard of stupid haste in war, cleverness is never associated with long delays]³ he meant that “in war, because of the consumption of national resources, it is beneficial to be short and brief, and there is seldom benefit to a protracted war”.
³ «TN: Sun Tzu. The Art Of War, ch. II : Waging War»
Which is why what would be best applied to the Amidonian Army was what Sun Tzu said afterwards:
[Maneuvering with an army may be advantageous, or they may be dangerous. If you set a fully equipped army in march in order to snatch an advantage, the chances are that you will be too late. On the other hand, to detach a flying column for the purpose involves the sacrifice of its baggage and stores]⁴
⁴ «TN: Sun Tzu. The Art Of War, ch. IX : Maneuvering the Army»
[War] is a competition of who takes the strategically important positions first. In case of the Battle of Yamazaki between Hashiba Hideyoshi and Akechi Mitsuhide, this strategic position is “Mt. Tennou”, and in the case of the Russo-Japanese war, it’s “203 Hill”. Certainly, if one were to be able to acquire these strategic positions before the enemy did, the battle will proceed more favorably. However, Sun Tzu said that persistently competing with the enemy for these strategic positions is a dangerous act. If one were to march one’s entire army there they would fall behind the enemy, whereas if one were to dispatch a quick force the force would have to leave the supply transports behind. Thus no matter how important the strategic position is, the act would have been meaningless.
Sun Tzu also said that by marching a hundred li⁵ only 10% of one’s army will reach its destination, and the leaders of all one’s three divisions will fall to the hands of the enemy, whereas by marching fifty li, only half one’s force will reach the goal and the leader of one’s first division will be torn away. Securing the strategic position will exhaust the army and without supplies there would be nothing one could do. Looking once again at the actions of the Amidonian Army, they stubbornly persist in gaining the strategic position of the capital Vannes, discarding their supply train, and their soldiers had been exhausted by harassment. This is exactly what Sun Tzu called a foolish move.
⁵ «TN: 1 li = about 416 meters (1365 ft) in Sun Tzu’s time, so 100 li would be around 41 km (26 miles), and 50 li would be about 20 km (13 miles)»
Now, what the Amidonian Army saw as they approached the plains several ten-odd kilometers south of Vannes was the ranks of ‘The Elfrieden Royal Army in perfect health waiting for them to arrive’. Seeing the ranks, Gaius felt his strength leave him and nearly fell out of his horse.
“Impossible … has, has Vannes been captured already …?”
There was nobody there who could answer his mutterings.
◇ ◇ ◇
Jumping straight to the conclusion, at this time, the capital of the Principality of Amidonia, Vannes, still hasn’t fallen.
The fifty-five thousand strong Elfriedenian Royal Army under Soma arrived at Vannes one day earlier than the Amidonians, but didn’t attack the five thousand elite troops barring themselves inside Vannes. Instead, they allotted ten thousand troops to keep the fort’s defenders in check while the main army moved to a plain ten-odd kilometers south of Vannes and lay in wait for the eventual coming of the Amidonian Army main force.
Yes, Soma’s aim from the start had been the Amidonian Army main force. This was the reason why he deliberatly told Gaius of the strategic objective that he should rightly have concealed. By declaring “I will attack Vannes”, he would wait and crush the Amidonian Army who would come in panic. Of the thirty-six stratagems of Sun Tzu, this was a plan implementing number six: “Make a sound in the east, then strike in the west”. It was also the reenactment of the “Battle of Maling”, which was the namesake of number two: “Besiege Wei to rescue Zhao”. It was a plan to run from and capture the rival of the second Sun Tzu, Sun Bin – namely Pang Juan. The likes of Gaius could not have seen through it.
Facing the twenty-five thousand Amidonian Army who was all exhausted and had lost most of their supply train, was the Elfrieden Royal Army who was in high spirits after having eaten the ‘provisions for the whole army’ prepared by Poncho and resting in these plains for a whole day. A completely rested fifty-five thousand versus an exhausted twenty-five thousand. It can be said that the direction of the battle was already obvious before it even began.
At the headquarters established in the center of the crane wing formation of the Elfrieden Royal Army, Soma who had been sitting on a stool stood up, raised his right hand, and swung it down toward the Amidonian Army.