「Say that one more time.」
A voice with barely suppressed anger echoed out during the Imperial Audience. The owner of that voice was one of the four Dukes that were only second in power to the Sovereign and shared his blood. He was Florandy. A particularly skinny man, yet the only thing about him that was wide were his pair of glaring eyes.
The room had a carpet so thick and luxurious that your feet could be buried in it as well as various vases and paintings that cost as much as an actual house.
「Yes. The hostages were safely exchanged Count Tilfore and Viscount Maribelle’s sons were safely recovered.」
Baron Lurvish said with a meek expression on his face as he made his large trained frame bow and seem smaller while reporting the results.
「Don’t be a smart-ass! Don’t try to gloss over this. You should instead report it like this ‘I took 20 elite soldiers and failed to kill one Elf. Lurvish you said before you left ‘The reason the Elves increased in strength suddenly was because of their new Chief. If we kill him they will collapse. In order to perform a sneak attack lend me elite soldiers. With them we can avoid unnecessary costs.’」
「Indeed, it is as you say.」
Lurvish said with frustration staining his voice. Using a spy they had planted earlier he had confirmed that the Chief Cyril was the reason for the Elves becoming stronger. For that reason he suggested taking some of the Elite Soldiers responsible for the Duke’s protection to kill him with certainty. If that succeeded then they would be able to deal with the Elven village easily.
「How did that work out!? The Elves took our money and almost all of the Elites I sent with you are dead! Even some the ones who survived said ‘I don’t want to fight against a monster like that’ and quit!! Those are not just simple soldiers, they are my Imperial Guards! There are no replacements for them! Do you know how much losing those soldiers will cost me?」
「It is entirely as you have said.」
「If you understand that then why did your efforts not bear fruit? How incompetent can you be!?」
Duke Florandy roared as he threw his glass of wine at Baron Lurvish. The glass shattered and several shards stabbed Lurvish, but his expression did not waver.
「In the first place that first battle was strange. A village of 200 people failed to be destroyed by 500 soldiers!? I told Count Tilfore and Viscount Maribelle that it’d be an easy scuffle so they could gain some points and let them set off. It was a complete and utter loss of prestige!! I even got stuck paying the ransom!」
「In regards to that, Count Tilfore was in command of that expedition. I have fairly little knowledge of it.」
「Don’t make up excuses!」
「Ha, I deeply apologize.」
Lurvish quietly grit his teeth. He had indeed heard of the details of that engagement. If only he had been there. There were more things he could’ve done.
Despite that, the foolish noble sons had turned it into a head on fight. In order to protect the prestige of their houses the commanding officer of those forces had been dismissed.
In fact Lurvish had thought of various counter-measures for the next battle. He felt that there would be no more need to fear their bows.
「Then there is this most recent failure. There are more. You left it to your subordinates to attack the Fire Fox Village! I heard you were victorious, but half of your soldiers died to their suicide attacks! Furthermore you didn’t get your hands on a single Fire Stone or a single Fire Fox woman!? Are you joking!!? It’s not like we wanted that chintzy little village. We wanted F I R E S T O N E S!!! You cannot rightly say you don’t even know why we attacked them.」
「I, did not expect them to take such drastic methods or that those methods were available to them. There has been no precedent previously and it was impossible to predict.」
「But doing so is your damn job! In order to recover from that failure you suggested we borrow that Hero from that damn Duke Arihal. You said that if it was the Hero then she would be able to knock them out or kill them before they self-destructed.」
Lurvish’s body further shrunk.
Lurvish’s subordinate had reported the matter of the Fire Fox Village to him. Despite them being able to defeat the Foxes, taking their magic stones would be practically impossible so they would need someone on the Hero’s level to accomplish it.
Upon reporting that, Duke Florandy had really requested to borrow the Hero from Duke Arihal who he hated so much.
There were only two heroes in the Empire. One of them was guarding the Emperor and could not be moved, the other was employed by Duke Arihal’s estate.
The Empire had 4 Dukes. They were each in charge of ruling and guarding one of the four cardinal directions with their chains of command completely separate. Because of that, the lending of soldiers was something quite rare.
If you looked at it another way, it would explain how valued the Fire Fox Stones were to the Empire that they would be willing to lend such a treasured Hero.
「What was the result!? The Hero slipped away from her guards and when they finally caught up to her they found a destroyed village with a mountain of dead Fire Foxes without magic stones or tails. Furthermore there was no Hero to be seen. It’s that Hero after all. With all those magic stones and tails they could escape and live the rest of their life having fun. Well…this could also be Duke Arihal pulling the strings behind the scenes. His territories dominate the Fire Stone market…」
「I cannot imagine the Hero being killed. Most likely it is one of those two options.」
Lurvish was clear on what kind of monster the Hero was.
No matter how you cut with a sword or shot with an arrow, not a mark would be left…an invincible existence. Magic would have some effect, but that monster would quickly begin to cut through it.
Furthermore, it was even rumored that the Hero would revive once killed. A more monstrous existence most likely did not exist in this world.
The corpses missing their tails and stones indicated that she had killed them quickly so she could get the job done easily. It made it much more likely that she had made off with the goods.
「Your subordinates are far too disappointing. Though she is a Hero, she’s still a child. To think they couldn’t handle a single babysitting job…」
「I apologize from the very depths of my heart.」
「Duke Arihal must be laughing his head off. Not only did he get the Fire Stones, I even have to pay him for his ‘lost’ Hero. Even without that the costs from the equipment, supplies, survivor’s pension, and war expenditures has already put us in a tight situation.」
Duke Florandy’s words were indeed true.
The ransom was quite a sum, but compared to other expenses it was chump change. High quality iron armor was expensive and crafting it took a lot of time and effort. The fact that all the soldiers who died were part of the Army was also a painful thing. Unlike mercenaries the survivor’s pension for soldiers was very high.
「I will regain my honor in the next engagement, the next fight I will bring a grand victory.」
「You had best!」
Duke Florandy had stood up from his chair and cried out with his eyes reddened.
At that moment someone intruded into the room. Lurvish’s adjutant rushed into the room completely out of breath.
「I deeply apologize. There is an emergency so I had to intrude.」
He bowed low and whispered into Lurvish’s ear.
When Lurvish heard what he said, his face went pale.
「What’s wrong Lurvish? What did he say?」
「T-that’s…this is a matter of great import that is to be confirmed after greatly detailed examination but…」
「Speak. If you won’t say it shall I ask your adjutant directly? I know you have secrets, but do not hide this and tell me.」
Lurvish cursed inside his mind.
If he were to say the issue here and now things would take a turn for the worst. Even if he tried to lie and hide things his adjutant who was nearby was very bad at lying. He was very capable but once he spoke a lie his face would expose it.
He finally gave up and decided to steel himself to speak the truth.
「It is information regarding the Elf Village.」
「That is of great interest.」
「….They have…offered the technology for crafting those incredible bows and their iron crafting technology to the Choline Kingdom in exchange for soldiers, money, and rights to resources. They are still in the midst of discussing the agreement, but once the snow melts they will go to the Choline Kingdom to enter negotiations.」
Duke Florandy shook violently when he heard that.
If, by some chance, this came to fruition…the Empire would gain an incredible threat to them.
In pure national power the Empire fell a little short of the Choline Kingdom. Their greatest advantage was in their high quality iron working techniques and goods.
If the Choline Kingdom got their hands on the Elves’ even better bows and iron working techniques then there was a good chance the Empire would begin to collapse.
「Lurvish…you said that you’ll attack two months after the snow begins to melt…we can’t wait that long. As soon as the snow melts you will set off. You will not just take 3,000 soldiers. Prepare more.」
This was the worst outcome Lurvish had imagined.
「I apologize, but I must say this Duke Florandy…the three thousand will come from almost all of our currently standing troops as well as a large mercenary band. Furthermore we will have to gather some more from the citizens. In order to improve morale and give sufficient coordination training it will take a few months. If we need to gather more at all costs it will greatly lower morale and our coordination will take a great loss. On such a long campaign a large force will instead become a burden.」
「I cannot believe your words. We cannot afford to lose. We have to crush them before they contact the Choline Kingdom. I will raise as many soldiers as I am able. Call every mercenary band there is. Increase the number of conscripts. Our goal is a force of 5,000. A ten times increase of the previous force. No matter what kinds of bows they have we will crush them. With this, no matter how incompetent you are, you should be able to win.」
Duke Florandy said with a laugh as if he had already seen victory.
Their military force was obvious. Previously the Elves had sent out a force of 100 and there were even women and children mixed in.
One-hundred versus 5,000 soldiers. A difference of fifty times. No matter who you ask the winner would be obvious. Rather than tactics they could push through with brute force.
However, Lurvish’s many years of experience was setting off alarm bells in his mind.
…..at the very least it would be better to borrow soldiers from one of the other Dukes. If they did that the quality and coordination of the soldiers would be practically guaranteed. However, after the matter with the Hero, Duke Florandy’s pride would most likely not allow such a thing.
No, not even that, but he could not allow an issue that could possibly destroy the Empire to emerge from the area under his purview.
「Duke Florandy, I can accept the increased number of troops. However, I would like to request that we still set off for the village at the original time. Two months after the first snow melt.」
「Tell me the reason.」
「Yes. Between the Empire and the Elf Village all the villages and towns are under imperial control. There is no way that we can pillage them for supplies.」
During most long distance campaigns the army would resupply their goods by plundering enemy villages and towns.
However, within Imperial territories, this was not possible.
「Instead of plundering them you can levy them.」
「That action causes an issue of time. If they have a surplus of food, a few threats and they will offer us food. However, directly after the snow melt their winter food stores will be nearly used up and they will need more time to harvest a new crop. If the villages and towns gave up their food at that point hey will die of starvation. They will definitely not give us food based on words. The best plan is to wait for the first harvest to make sure they have enough food to offer.」
In addition to this, before the snow started falling the people had been heavily taxed to pay for the first expedition to the Elves. Most of the towns and villages had almost no winter storage and would almost certainly have people who starved to death.
Their desire to revolt against the Empire strengthened. If they tried to press for further taxes then the villagers would most likely rise up in near insane resistance. In this army that was being built there would also be people conscripted from these villages and towns, if these events occurred there could be an internal revolt as well.
「As usual you can travel without weapons and armor until you reach the border, you can resupply at the relay points, and directly after you can attack their village. In that case you won’t need to stop at the villages or towns if you move fast and with the lightest burden possible.」
「Certainly that is possible, however there is a chance. If for some reason we cannot resupply at the storage depot our pace will will fall apart and we will run out of supplies. Dealing with this issue will be very difficult. If it is two months after the snow melt we will be able to easily collect food from the surrounding villages. With this assurance we can arrive at the village as planned and engage in…」
「Lurvish…what are you saying? There’s no way that a march within the Empire’s borders will slow down right? You’re surrounded by nothing but allies. Even in battle you have such a number of troops. It’ll end quickly. Worrying about supplies for an extended engagement is useless.」
Lurvish bit his lips. In war you don’t know what will happen. Especially with a force of 5,000 troops with poor coordination and plenty of luggage. He did not believe that they would be able to smoothly retrieve goods from the supply base and defeat the Elves in one decisive battle.
「More than that, if we don’t crush them quickly they will hand over the techniques to the Choline Kingdom. That’s even more troublesome. If that happens then can you take responsibility!? If we don’t move quickly enough we will end up facing the Choline Kingdom’s thousands of soldiers as they come for us you know!? They will come with those crazy bows that can fire 500meters away.」
「Certainly…it is as you say….I understand. This Lurvish will undertake the task, defeat them, and retrieve the magic stones.」
Lurvish said as he continued to feel a bad premonition about the planned increase in military forces.
Neither of them knew that their decisions had been carefully guided by another party.