71. Canibar Territory (1)
“F-first, I’ll head to Lenia Territory, then Bellon Territory, then… the capital… No, here before that… and this place too…”
Halsem struggled mentally while looking at the map in the VIP room of Count Shabel’s estate. He was deciding on the best route to buy all the Dwarves they needed, according to the information he had obtained from the Merchant Guild regarding the movements of the Slave Merchants and the places where they conducted their business.
“T-this is hard! It’s way too complicated…! These slave merchants… why are they moving all over the place?! Just pick a spot and sell your slaves!”
“If it’s too hard, wanna just give up?”
Halsem’s head shot up upon hearing Ellin’s taunt, and he shook his head.
“What do you mean! There is no such thing as giving up for a gambler! Also, since I’ve already been compensated, my pride won’t let me quit! Don’t you know the number one rule of merchants: you must give back twice the original compensation upon failure! How would I pay twice the amount of gold you’ve given me?!”
Ellin looked at Halsem as she leaned over and whispered to Tom, “This guy, can we trust him?”
“He’s a nice guy at heart, and he’s more trustworthy than the average merchant. Besides, if what Halsem says is correct, we’ll just garner more suspicion hiring other Slave Merchants. The job is buying Dwarves in bulk, after all. I think he’s the most appropriate person for the task.”
“Nnng, but still, no matter how you break it, he says it’ll take too long?”
“Yes, but there is a solution. For the short term, we can hide out without buying any Dwarves.”
“Is that right…? I’m relieved if that’s the case, but…”
Ellin nodded and looked outside. There was a dark cloud overhead. The wind was starting to blow, and even though it was evening—with the sun still loitering around above their heads—the sky was dark as the night. Soldiers holding torches were quickly moving through the city.
“Ey! Hurry up…!”
The city’s residents, sensing something was amiss, were nervous. The movement of so many soldiers was far from ordinary.
“All refugees, please gather here! After a simple investigation, we shall let you go!”
The soldiers were directing the refugees to leave Canibar. As they did so, they didn’t disclose the fact that the Holy Kingdom was currently launching an attack. This was a measure taken in the hopes of minimizing the certain chaos such news would bring.
“It looks like they’re quite busy. Do you think something happened?”
Tom rubbed his chin ar Ellin’s question.
‘…They haven’t announced that the Holy Kingdom is invading.’
It was a wise decision. If they frightened the people now, the security of the city would become unstable; it could even lead to riots.
‘But… there wouldn’t be a riot if there were only ordinary citizens.’
It would be naive to assume that there were only actual refugees among the throng of people below.
“It’s an invasion!”
Someone within the crowd began to shout.
“The Holy Kingdom is attacking!”
“We’re all going to die!”
“This is all because of King Paulie! That bastard dared to refuse to worship God!”
This was a common tactic. Agents of the aggressor would infiltrate, sow chaos, and incite the masses. These plants among the refugees were currently shouting for all they were worth.
“We have to give up now!”
“If we want to live, we have to open the gates and surrender!”
“We’ll all be burned at the stake if we are found to be heretics!”
“We must pledge allegiance to our God, Lord Artarrk and Pope Salem…!”
However, their ploy didn’t last long, and the soldiers moved quickly to find and capture them.
‘They acted rather swiftly. Were they already monitoring them?’
Tom smiled in amusement.
“What? An attack? By the Holy Kingdom…?”
Tom nodded in response to Ellin’s question.
“Yes, they’ll arrive in two days’ time.”
“W-why are you only now telling me such an important thing!?”
Tom stared at Ellin for a second before clapping, having remembered something.
“Ah, I forgot to tell you.”
“Y-you’re too much! I have to know things beforehand in order to help!”
“Yes, you’re helping plenty. Probably.”
“Probably…” Ellin’s shoulders sagged. “Then what about us…? Shouldn’t we flee? If there are high-ranked Holy Knights, won’t they recognize us? What if they catch on that we’re buying Dwarves…?”
“It’s alright. I was actually waiting for them to attack.”
“…What do we do after they attack…?”
“We stop them.”
‘Stop…? The Holy Kingdom…? Why?’
Ellin frowned, looking at Tom.
“I just don’t know what you’re thinking.” Tom merely smiled instead of responding. “Then, we don’t have to tell that guy?”
When Ellin pointed to Halsem, Tom shook his head.
“He’ll be fine. If we tell him for no reason, he might start shouting that he wants to leave again.”
Halsem was so busy double-checking the map and the information on merchants, that he wasn’t aware of what was happening outside.
Count Shabel Canibar moaned. He, who was staring at the commander’s map, slammed his fist down on the table and shouted profanities.
“…Those crazy bastards!”
‘To think they would actually invade early! They’re moving at a rapid pace. It’s as though they’ve been planning this for sometime, rushing to attack only a week after gathering 50,000 men. They didn’t even show a moment of hesitation. From their resoluteness, their only desire is to crush the Kingdom of Aylans in one fell swoop.’
“Are they actually looking to turn the entire continent against them? Salem Gottshuranche! To be so crazy…!”
He had heard rumors of the premise upon which the war between the Holy Kingdom and the Kingdom of Aylans had begun: It was because Pope Salem had insulted King Paulie and Akareal, his queen.
He had heard that Salem had battered the Queen with insults so vile and depraved, that he dare not repeat them. As such, Shabel had believed these rumors to be exaggerated. Despite how graceless or clueless the Pope may be, as one who had risen to such a station, he didn’t believe that the Pope could act in such a way. However, he now had a whole different view. The Pope was… mad!
“…If the border is overrun through, we’ll also lose the opportunity to defend the other territories.”
He had sent out a request to the king and the other territories for reinforcements, but it would take much too long for them to arrive. His territory would be a battlefield in two days’ time.
He might be able to endure for a week against 50,000 men, but the chances of reinforcements arriving in that window were almost nil.
“Evacuate all the refugees and distribute every weapon we have to every man capable of fighting! If we fall, the kingdom won’t have time to stop the bastards! If we don’t hold them here, the capital itself will be at risk!”
The knights gathered around him nodded in response to his orders. Shabel turned to the side as a drop of moisture trickled in from a small crack in the window. A heavy wind accompanied the rainfall. There was a storm brewing.
‘… That’s a relief. With this kind of weather, it should delay the Holy Kingdom’s march. But…’
It was eerie, as though the ominous weather was a premonition of the days ahead.
And so, two days passed. Not once during that time did the storm subside. The army known as the ‘Paddle of God’ arrived at the edge of Canibar territory, having marched through the heavy rain for days. The regular soldiers, wearing their chainmail and surcoats, were cutting down trees at a nearby forest in order to set up their camp. Janus complained while looking at them.
“Just half-ass it. Save the energy of putting up the camp to kill one more of those bastards. We must crush them as quickly as possible to show our loyalty to our lord, the Pope!”
Even after the soldiers had erected their tents, his frown remained. He continued to sit upon the war table, watching the rain.
“This… rain is really annoying. How are we supposed to perform our purification work like this?”
He poured some wine that a soldier had brought him into a glass and raised it, downing the drink in a single gulp after enjoying its scent..
“Well, I suppose there is no better weather to wash away their filthy blood.” Janus turned to the Holy Knights gathered behind him. “Let’s… get started. Show those heretic bastards how scary the Paddle of God is.”
Halsem gulped. His entire body was soaked by the downpour, but his back was drenched in a cold sweat. Now that winter was approaching, the rain was freezing. Exhaustion mounted faster through drenched clothes, numbing his senses. He wanted to shed his wet clothes to find a warm inn to rest in, but now was not the time.
Halsem looked at his own hands with trembling eyes. He was holding a worthless weapon—a long stick with a kitchen knife fixed to its end. Canibar had distributed this as a ‘weapon’. No matter what, even a farming tool was better than this.
Halsem turned to the side. There were other residents that had been handed such a weapon and forced out onto the outer walls, quaking in fear just like him. They didn’t even have armor. Only the regulars of the Kingdom of Aylans were well equipped.
Seeing this, Halsem turned back forward. A small distance away from the massive outer wall that surrounded Canibar were countless soldiers.
‘Did they say… that there were 50,000?’
He had seen a great many residents gathered in the plaza, but this was his first time witnessing properly equipped soldiers organized in that way. Terror gripped his heart as he tried to step back, but the commander behind him shouted at him.
“Never step back! If you fall back, we’ll treat you as deserters under military law!”
‘Don’t retreat? Military law? What nonsense is this…? The enemy’s the Holy Kingdom…! How do they expect to win!’
Halsem screamed internally. Wasn’t he a merchant, not a soldier? How could he be held accountable under military law? They had suddenly closed and sealed the city gate before forcibly drafting every eligible male, regardless of whether they were refugees or merchants. Due to this, Halsem was conscripted as a soldier as well.
‘The atmosphere in the territory was strange recently, but to think they’d invade…! There must have been some clues before this, but why didn’t I notice…?’
When Halsem turned as he trembled, he noticed Tom and Ellin. They looked calm, as though they had known all along.
“…Did you know?”
“Hm? No, I didn’t know at all!”
Ellin avoided his gaze, and her legs began to fidget. She hefted the makeshift spear as she tapped on Halsem’s shoulder with a nervous smile.
“Since it’s come to this, we have to struggle through it with our best efforts.”
“Uwaaack! Tom! Tom, say something! What happened? You told me that you’d protect me as best as you could…?”
Tom nodded in response to Halsem’s cries.
“Yes, of course. Until you’ve bought the Dwarves and handed them over, that is.”
“Then you’re saying you’ll protect me?”
If the Devil of Lania protected him, he had nothing to fear. He had witnessed his strength in the Golden Fief! When Halsem asked his question expectantly, Tom smiled and replied once again,
“I will protect you after you’ve bought the Dwarves and are ready to hand them over.”
‘…I’m doomed! If I’d known this was going to happen, I would’ve just fled…!’
“J-just what’s your scheme? The Holy Kingdom has invaded, yet you choose to remain here. You definitely had the opportunity to leave a few days prior! Wasn’t your goal to buy Dwarves?”
“That’s just one of the plans. I think this is going rather well.”
“That word ‘rather’ is making me nervous…”
“It’s all so that the work goes smoothly.”
“Smoothly…? Are you saying that a war against the Holy Kingdom is smooth?”
It was when Halsem was yelling in a shaky voice that the soldiers on the outer wall began to shout.
“They are coming…! Maintain positions!”
According to the commander’s orders, the soldiers began to gather at the outer wall.
‘Shit, okay. I have no option other than to fight for my life!’
Halsem felt assured that he would survive if he just followed orders. He had no experience in battle, but he figured that the commander would know more about surviving on the battlefield than he ever would.
Following the commander’s orders, he tried to gather where all the refugees were to maintain their formation, but someone grabbed his neck and pulled him back. The crowded refugees all perished as a massive boulder flew over and crushed them into meat patties. All he could see was the ruined outer wall and the splattering of blood and appendages.
“Are you okay?”
Halsem grabbed his mouth in response to Ellin’s question.
The Knights shouted, indifferent to Halsem’s desires.
‘Maintain formation…? What nonsense are you spouting…! I was almost blown apart thanks to you!’
Halsem cursed the commander. However, the Knights on top of the outer wall continued to direct the battle. The archers gathered on the outer wall and hunkered down to evade the enemy’s siege weapons as best they could.
Count Shabel Canibar climbed the command tower installed on top of the outer wall and looked over the situation. The soldiers of the Holy Kingdom were pouring all their efforts into firing their siege weapons.
Ten ballistae were shooting bolts, while ten catapults were raining down boulders. Also, they were pushing a siege ram to break through the castle gate. Behind them were siege towers filled with infantry and archers approaching the outer wall.
“There are a lot of them, but these are just primitive attacks! We’ll show you why the Kingdom of Aylans is the Kingdom of Magic!”
Count Shabel raised his hand. At various places on the outer wall, massive cannons, Magic Artillery Cannons, were installed.
“Show these religious fanatics the might of the Kingdom of Aylans-!”
— Ω —