Regis Auric was a soldier who was proficient in neither swordsmanship nor horsemanship, a youth who likes to read. He was exiled to the borders and met the young girl with vermillion hair and crimson eyes, the Fourth Princess Marie Quatre Argentina de Belgaria— nicknamed Altina. This girl who was ostracized by the court because her mother was a commoner, and was appointed as the commander of a border regiment at the tender age of 14. But Altina didn’t lose heart, and was determined to change the Empire that was oppressing its citizens. Hence, she hoped to recruit Regis as her strategist.
“I want to be the Empress, your wisdom is necessary.”
Altina challenged the former commander Jerome, a renown hero acknowledged by the troops, and barely emerged victorious. Even though Regis didn’t have the confidence, he still promised to be her strategist.
The barbarians based in the northern forest launched a surprise attack under the cover of a blizzard. Regis, who was now the strategist, came up with the the plan that captured the leader of the barbarians, Diethart. Regis negotiated with him as an equal, and in exchange for supplying the barbarians with resources, asked for their support in battles. There was more than enough military strength for Altina to stake a claim to be the Empress.
After gaining the cooperation of the barbarians, the Marie Quatre Army received an unreasonable order from the capital. To seize Fort Volks from Varden Arch Duchy, which was part of the Germanian Federation. That fort was famous for being invulnerable. It was reckless to attack with just the Border Regiment, and was actually a plot by the Second Prince Latrielle to grind Altina’s forces away. A direct assault would definitely end in failure. Regis used a stratagem he read in a book in the past to come up with a plan to take the fort.
Fortunately, the plan worked, and the battle to seize Fort Volks worked with some sacrifices. A few days later, they received a letter from the Second Prince Latreille.
“As you know, there would be a founding day festival in April. Marie Quatre Argentina is cordially invited to attend. This is also the wish of our father, I look forward to our family reunion.”
“I will go to the capital, even if only darkness awaits me there.”
Altina returned to the palace. This was the first time Regis visited the scene featured in many novels, and felt both tense and excited.
But he couldn’t enjoy a carefree vacation and the festivities of the founding day.
The strategy of the Second Prince Latreille was to absorb Altina’s camp. At the same time, the First Prince garnered the support of the southern new nobles and expanded his influence.
Altina was 4th in line in the line of succession— She couldn’t become Empress if she wasn't able to win against them.
On a side note, the Third Prince Bastion did not take part in the succession fight, and escaped to High Brittania to study abroad.
Regis was at a disadvantage in the beginning, but he discovered that the First Prince Auguste was actually being impersonated by his sister Felicia, and used this fact to counter the strategy of the Second Prince. He also obtained the help from Eleanor, the leader of the southern new nobles, leveling the playing field.
On the surface, they made it seem like Auguste gave up on his succession rights and supported Altina instead.
And the fact that Altina defeated the First Imperial Army’s ‘Knight of the White Wolves’ made her a strong candidate to be the next Empress.
Imperial Year 851, 23rd April——
Belgaria received the declaration of war from the Kingdom of High Brittania.
At the same time, the neighbouring Varden Arch Duchy also launched an attack against Fort Volks.
Even though they fended off the attack, Eric was shot by an archer of the mercenary group, ‘Renard Pendu’. Altina’s treasure sword ‘Grand Tonnerre Quatre’ was also damaged.
After this, they passed by Rouen city on their way to engage the High Britannia forces. Regis’ brother-in-law, the blacksmith Enzo, was asked to repair the treasure sword.
Imperial Year 851, 19th May, Battle of Lafressange—
The Imperial 7th Army used the classic tight formation to charge the High Britannian forces, and suffered heavy losses from the enemy's new rifles and cannons. The commander of the 7th army also fell in battle along with many of his soldiers.
“If we can’t win on land, then let’s attack by sea. If the enemy loses their supply ships, they won't be able to resupply.”
The Field Marshal of the Imperial forces, the Second Prince Latreille suffered serious eye injuries because of a surprise attack by the Mercenary King Gilbert. However, he kept his injuries a secret and held a war council with Altina to decide the next course of action.
First, Altina’s Border Regiment and the remnants of the western forces would be reorganized into the Imperial Fourth Army. Next, the strategist Regis was promoted to third grade Admin Officer and bestowed the name of Regis d’Auric.
Accepting Latreille’s orders, Altina headed for the ocean while the First Army stayed to defend the capital,
The ‘Queen’s Fleet’ of the kingdom of High Brittania consisted of the 74 guns Princess Class warships, powered by a steam engine and did not rely on the wind. It was faster, tougher and armed with powerful cannons.
In contrast, the warships of Belgaria were antiquated sail ships.
However, Regis used the information he got from the local fishermen to substantiate the tactics he read from a book. By utilizing various stratagems, they finally defeated the enemy fleet.
Imperial Year 851, 25th May—
The blacksmith Enzo rubbed his dry eyes.
The adrenaline rush of finishing a heavy workload, combined with the fatigue from working through the night, made him feel weak.
Sunlight shone in through the window.
His six disciples had already began preparations for the day’s work.
As the shop was right beside the main road, he could hear the rattle of carriages and the chatter of pedestrian clearly.
It was almost time for Enzo’s shop to open.
This was Rouen city, about half a day journey by foot from the Imperial capital, Versailles. Many craftsmen live in this town: bakers, seamstresses, carpenters, etc.
And of course there were many blacksmiths as well.
All the workshops were located on the western side of the city, and this place gradually became a workshop street.
Normally speaking, it would be better if there was less competition, but there was a reason why they congregated here like this.
Blacksmith was a profession that crafted and fashioned steel. No matter how many brick walls there were, clanking sound could still be heard. If they had to rush a job, the neighbours wouldn’t be able to sleep the entire night.
If the neighbours were not in the same line of work, they wouldn’t be able to live there.
And the professionals had different specialties too. Some were skilled in making belt buckles while others were good in rivets or hinges. If they were all located in the vicinity, the workshop could ask each other for help. This meant that work would be easier.
The professionals in the workshop streets were covered by the blacksmith guild.
The Union had two important duties.
First would be qualification.
Most professionals would take in disciples. They might be work assistants, or the inheritors of their skills, or even be treated like their own children or relatives.
Enzo was a master who had six disciples in the past.
Naturally, their goal was to open their own workshop.
In order to strike out on their own, they needed to pass the qualification test of the guild. To prove that they possessed the necessary skills to put "Rouen's blacksmith" on their signboard.
By the way, a recommendation by their own master was needed before one could take the qualification test. Without the recommendation, they couldn’t even attempt it.
There were all sorts of people, and Enzo was fortunate amongst them. He passed the qualification in less than three years.
So far, two of his disciples passed the qualification and set out on their own.
The other four gave up on their goal of becoming a blacksmith, and sought other work back in their home town.
And now, Enzo only had one disciple who had the potential, and he would be ready after enough training.
That disciple was — Lionel.
“Morning Master. It’s about time to open the shop.”
Lionel was thin for a blacksmith, and he mentioned that he wanted to be a painter in the past.
And of course, Enzo was also studying art. Creating beautiful designs were one of the tasks of a blacksmith.
I can’t lose to my own disciple, he is really talented. Enzo thought.
“Master, the guild still have not sent the steel plates over today… I heard the High Brittania Army is going to attack here soon, what should we do.”
The guild had another important responsibility, which was the procurement of steel plate.
It was impossible to craft good work without good steel.
The professionals alway talked about the guild controlling the supply of steel plates, so one could not even work as a blacksmith unless they joined the guild.
On the flip side, if the guild was tardy in their procurement of steel, and affected the quality of the blacksmith’s work, the guild would be heavily criticized.
That’s how the relationships was between the two sides.
During this period of war, job requests for weapons and armour kept coming in, so there was a delay in the procurement of steel plates. The market price was very steep too, so the guild had to do all that they could.
Lionel removed the bar lock and used all his strength to open the metal door.
This was ‘Le forgeron d'Enzo Bardot Smith’ (Enzo Bardot Smith Workshop). The words crafted from steel gleamed under the morning light.
Enzo wrapped the giant sword he just finished in a white cloth. It seemed to be something that shouldn’t be shown to customers.
Lionel asked as he swept the floor near the entrance:
“Master, is that finished?”
“Perfectly. I just need to package it nicely. I can’t hand it over just like this, it’s an important client after all.”
“That’s true. When Master addressed Her Highness as ‘you’, it might have angered her.”
“Don’t talk about that, if it concerns this treasure sword, I will even lecture my wife. It looks like something out of a dream.”
“Haha… Ah, welcome.”
Lionel stopped sweeping and attended to the customer.
It was a gloomy faced middle aged woman, who was followed by a maid.
She was the wife of a viscount living in the city center.
A customer they received several commissions from in the past. The request form was vague and she was picky when receiving the work, delaying payment by more than a year. Simply put, a difficult customer.
That might be so, but they still had to welcome her with a smile.
Enzo stretched his back lazily and walked up to her.
“Welcome, anything I can help you with?”
“Of course, I won’t come here if I have no business with you.”
“Please tell me.”
“This might be a workshop, but just knowing how to forge steel isn’t good enough. You have to learn the skills on how to attend to customers.”
“Hah… You are right.”
Is she here to lecture me? If that is the case, I will just bear with it and let it go.
The viscountess gestured with her eyes, and the maid took out something from her basket that was covered with a cloth.
Enzo took and opened it, and found sewing scissors inside.
“Ah, they are scissors crafted here in the past.”
“Yes, they handle smoothly, but broke just recently.”
They were sewing scissors he entrusted his disciple to craft, that was half a year ago.
It wouldn’t be strange for a seamstress, but the durability was too poor if they broke after half a year when the wife of a noble family was using them.
He checked the workmanship, and it didn’t seem to be the quality of the scissors.
“The blades are chipped all over… Were they used to cut something other than cloth, such as leather?”
“Who would cut that sort of thing!?”
The viscountess shouted suddenly, and the disciples all looked her way.
“Hmm, is that so… Why would there be so many chips on the blades from just cutting cloth?”
“I wouldn’t cut something like leather! It’s your fault for producing such poor quality scissors! Hurry up and fix them!”
“Well, they were made by us after all, just grinding the blades will do… But our schedule is full today, can you come back a few days later?”
“Don’t joke with me, I need to use them now. That’s why I came here first thing in the morning!”
“Even if you say that, we will still need to work according to when the job request was made.”
“What, they are just requests by the commoners right?”
“I am using those scissors for the Viscount House. Instead of commoners, wouldn’t the repair of my scissors take priority?”
I really feel like chasing her out.
A few days ago, he was rude to an arrogant customer and got lectured badly by his wife. If she knew that he rejected the business of a noblewoman, the consequences would be dire.
As he was at a loss on what to do, his disciple Lionel ran over and whispered.
“The client who made that request is here.”
He glanced outside and saw a soldier in light armour holding the reins of a warhorse.
The white cape on the shoulders of the soldier bore the insignia of a green land with white shield, the Coat of Arms for Princess Marie Quatre Argentina de Belgaria.
The soldier entered the workshop after saluting.
From his dry skin, eyes covered with dust and the rough way he dismounted, it was clear where he came from.
His voice was rasped.
“I am a messenger from the battlefield bearing urgent news, may I have a word?”
Enzo glanced at the customer he was attending to.
“If the Viscountess permits.”
Rouen city was near the capital, but the tense atmosphere of war was rarely felt here. The sudden appearance of a soldier returning from the battlefield made her realize that war was very close to her.
“Pardon me! Sir Blacksmith, please take this letter.”
Enzo accepted the letter from the soldier, undid the wax seal and read.
The content was simple, and the handwriting seemed to be from his wife’s brother— Regis Auric. According to the latest news he heard, it should be Regis d’Auric.
But signature was that of the commander.
The content of the letter included the situation of the Imperial Fourth Army, and the urgent need for the treasure sword repaired by Enzo.
“Hmm… Seems like I need to deliver it to the Army.”
“There are soldiers to guide the way at the place indicated. Initially, there would be more men to escort, but there wasn’t any cavalry to spare, and infantry are too slow.”
“If you set off like this, you will have to steel yourself as you might die at any moment. I was chased by High Brittania army on my way here… However, this isn’t an order but a request. The commander instructed me not to force you.”
“I understand. Seems like you guys encountered the High Brittania army. Did you travel on the main road?”
“The main road is inaccessible, we will need to make a detour of 10Li (44km).”
“Hmm… It will be fine if that is all.”
“Shall we depart?”
“When I took the request, that Regis kid… Oh, no… Your Sir Strategist already told me. He said the units will probably be in the battlefield when the repairs are done, and the collection will have to wait until after the war. Isn’t that nonsense? The job request is for the repair of a weapon, isn’t the point of a weapon existing for its use in war?”
“I told him that ‘I will deliver it no matter where you are, just tell me the location ten days later, I will finish its repair before then.’”
And today was the tenth day.
The soldier lowered his head with an expression of respect.
“My deepest gratitude… That sword is the spiritual support for me and my brethens. If it can be sent back to the army, it will definitely guide the Empire to victory!”
Enzo nodded deeply.
And then looked at the Viscountess who was besides him.
“I am sorry, but please leave the scissors here. If I return safely, I will repair it and send it to your residence in one month. If not, do you want this soldier to wait for me to grind their blades?”
Enzo showed the signature on the letter to her.
Marie Quatre Argentina de Belgaria.
The Fourth Princess of the Belgaria Empire, Commander of the entire western forces, which is now the Fourth Imperial Army.
The Viscountess’ eyes went wide.
“Sorry, not all my request are from commoners.”
Enzo said with a superficial smile, and the face of the Viscountess turned red instantly.
But she couldn’t say something like ‘the scissors of a Viscount House are more important than the sword of the Princess’. She could only try her best to keep her face from twitching.
“E-Eh… It is a great honour to perform a job for Her Highness, of course her task takes priority. Even though I am unworldly, I still know about that. Fu, fufu…”
She sounded generous, but her voice was trembling. She then yelled at her maid “Why are you still standing there!” and ran away.
Enzo turned around and gave a long string of instructions to his disciples.
“We are heading west! Get ready!”
Imperial Year 851, 27th May—
High Brittania’s attack was much later than expected, probably because of the three consecutive days of rain.
Their already heavy cannons became even harder to move on the muddy roads.
Thanks to the rain, the First Imperial Army led by Latreille had enough time to make their defensive preparations.
They built a fort named Bonaire to the south of the capital.
For the Imperial Capital Versailles that had no city walls, this was the last line of defence.
After absorbing the remnants of the Seventh and Third Army, the First Imperial Army numbered more than forty thousand men, with a large number of cavalry.
Latreille deployed twenty thousand men inside the fort and twenty thousand men outside.
If they focused only on defence, they could garrison all the soldiers inside the fort. But the enemy could ignore them completely and head straight for the capital, so there was no point in doing that. If the enemy didn’t remove this threat, they might be attacked from the rear.
When the High Brittania army showed up, it was already the morning of the 27th.
And so, the battle started before noon.
The enemy’s cannon— Type 41 Elswick bombarded the Empire.
Fort Bonaire was built on top of a hill, the attackers had a hard time scaling the slope, while the defenders could counter easily.
That might be so, but in terms of the cannon’s range, High Brittania had the advantage.
The walls were hit by the shells.
Counter artillery was also fired back.
Fort Bonaire took the shape of the hill, stretching to the east and west in the shape of a crescent.
The towers on the east and west tip attacked the invading enemy troops.
As the defensive towers on both sides were hard to defend, it was built as a separate structure from the beginning. Even if the enemy seize the structure, there would still be a wall blocking them out.
This formed a triangle defence formation.
On the conference table was a map showing the entire battlefield.
Latreille's strategist Germain placed pieces on top of it.
“This is the formation taken by the High Britannians, cannons and infantry in front, while their cavalry covers the flanks and the rear.”
“Hmm… I heard that the commander Oswald is a good tactician, but he is using an unexpected head on attack.”
In the conference room, the commander of the Third Army, a middle age Lieutenant General, a young knight commanding the Seventh Army, and seven other officers stood around the table.
Outside the conference room were heavily armoured guards.
The commander of the Third Army, Lieutenant General Buxerou shook his thick beard and spoke loudly:
“Field Marshal, we should send the cavalry to attack now! If we attack their rear, even the new rifles and cannons would be nothing to be afraid of! Let’s show High Brittania our might!”
Coignieres, The young knight commanding the remnants of the Seventh Army said:
“Our main mission right now is to defend our base, there is no need to engage in a war of attrition.”
This knight was a 2nd grade combat officer, a middling rank in the Seventh Army. But with General Barguesonne and the other ranking officers killed in battle, he was tasked with taking command.
Many of the officers deserted before the might of the High Brittania army.
Lieutenant General Buxerou sneered.
“You are scared to such an extent just because you lost one battle?”
“Well… If we don’t face them directly in battle, we won’t be ravaged by the enemy correct? Being arrogant will just lead our subordinates to their death.”
“What did you say!?”
Both sides insisted on their opinion.
It would take a lot of effort to consolidate these opinions.
More importantly, Latreille had bigger problems to tackle.
One week ago, the sneak attack by the Mercenary King Gilbert inflicted a serious injury to his head. He was poisoned back then, and his eyes were gradually failing.
According to the diagnosis of the military doctor, he would remain completely blind in his left eye, and even though his right eye would recover shortly, he will still lose his sight in a few years.
If this news was to spread, it would definitely affect the troop’s morale.
It would even put him at a disadvantage in the succession battle.
They definitely must not know about this.
“The enemy formed a line, then we just need to blast at them with cannons. We do have the means for a counter offensive, but with the enemy’s rifle and shield composite formation, attacking recklessly would just increase our casualties.”
“Prince Latreille already considered this much. Since the enemy could hit our walls, that means it is close enough to fight a melee battle.”
“No, it is still far away.”
Although they were within the range of the enemy’s cannons, the principle that the greater the distance, the smaller the power still applied.
However, if there was danger of the enemy closing in, they would need to reconsider their strategy. They couldn’t ignore firepower strong enough to break through walls. The stone walls built in a rush were fairly brittle.
Latreille raised a hand to stop his subordinates’ argument.
“Enough, I will consider all of your opinions.”
They stopped their quabbles and stood at attention.
The sound of the bombardment could be heard from the windows.
Latreille spoke in a composed manner. If the generals started panicking, it would cause more unease for the subordinates.
“The goal of the Britannia army is to lower the morale of our troops with cannon fire and draw us out to fight. Bonaire’s walls are strong enough to withstand such attacks. If Argentina’s Fourth Army fails, it won’t be too late for us to attack… That will be the plan for now. Everyone keep an eye out for the enemy’s movement and focus on defending.”
The young knight Coignieres had a cheerful smile when his proposal was adopted.
In contrast, Lieutenant General Buxerou gritted his teeth vexingly with his huge beard shaking.
“Field Marshall, are you questioning our abilities?!”
“I have never doubted the might of the Third Army, did my orders showed such doubts?”
“Erm… Not really…”
“If the enemy can’t take down Fort Bonaire, their attack would be halted here forever. One day, they will fall apart and retreat. When that time comes, we will start our counter offensive. Aren’t you looking forward to such a chance?”
Lieutenant General Buxerou shied away fearfully, then stood at attention and saluted.
Everyone else did the same.
Seeing that the Belgaria Army didn’t take any special actions, the enemy commander Oswald Coulthard withdrew his troops.
Germain barged into Latreille’s office.
“... What happened?”
Latreille who was leaning on the chair covered his wounded eyes with bandages. He took it off and washed it with water.
As per the doctor’s instruction, ‘to disinfect, try to use boiled water that had cooled down to wash your eyes’.
Germain closed the door and saluted.
“My deep apologies, Prince Latreille. Enemy movement! They are herding the refugees our way.”
“They are probably citizens from the villages and towns subjugated by the Britannian Army.”
Belgaria’s citizens had never been attacked by enemy states before, Belgaria had always been the side doing the invading.
But for the war this time, be it the Second Army that engaged in the first battle or the Seventh Army that fought them next, both were decimated in no time, the speed of the enemy’s advance was mind blowing.
“How many of them”
“A conservative estimate would be more than ten thousand. It’s probably because of the slow enemy movement, that’s why they only reached the battlefield now.”
Latreille fell into deep thought.
“That is to say, the Britannian Army captured citizens during their invasion and is using them as hostage?”
“They are herding the masses this way, but they didn’t make any demands so it seems that they just want to release these citizens.”
“Shall we opened the gates and take the refugees in? This might be dangerous…”
“There might be a second layer or even third layer of traps. If we keep the gates shut, it might infuriate the refugees and soldiers.”
“This is a trap after all.”
Germain was a strategist renown for his wisdom and have already thought of the inherent dangers.
“If we open the gates, and the enemy launched their attack as the refugees swarm in… It would be difficult to close the gate then. Even if we close the gate then, it would be hard to watch the citizens being massacred.”
“And there is also the possibility of the enemy disguised as refugees sneaking in. Even if the regular army adheres such a method, there is no guarantee the mercenaries wouldn’t do so.”
“Yes, even if a small number of enemy infiltrate the fort, there is the danger of them attacking and seizing a part of the walls. If that happens, the fort would be no different from a leaking bottle.”
The enemy would then charge the place that had been seized.
He would be severely criticized if he abandoned the refugees.
But accepting the refugees was very risky.
Latreille fell into deep thoughts once again.
“If we instruct the defending army clearly, we should be able to stop any surprise attack. We will only open a part of the gate, and only allow some of the refugees to pass through and check them for weapons. We will be able to finish before dusk.”
“What about the arrangements after that?”
“Taking in ten thousand citizens would increase the consumption of our provisions.”
That might be so… But we can hang on if it is just for half a month. News of the Fourth Army’s victory should be here by then.”
If Altina succeeded in cutting off their supply lines, the enemy wouldn’t be able to carry out its invasion of the Imperial capital.
The enemy’s supplies would run out before the Empire’s if they defended the fort staunchly.
However, Latreille still had doubts.
“What should we do about the refugees after this?”
“It might be the husband now, and the wife next time. If we don’t let the refugees in next time, it might incite a riot. If we fight a civil war with ten thousand citizens in this small fort, we won’t be able to defend the attacks from the outside.”
“Hmm… But we have no other choice but to take in the refugees.”
“We don’t have the actual numbers of refugees captured by the enemy. If they number thirty to forty thousand, the provisions in the fort won’t be enough.”
“We might not even last for two weeks.”
He had to make a decision.
“Fort Bonaire is the last line of defence for the Empire, we can’t risk it for just ten thousand refugees… On our shoulders is the responsibility of protecting the 1.3 million citizens of the Empire.”
At this moment, sound of cannons came from outside the window.
Germain’s face turned pale.
Shortly after, a messenger came to report without even knocking.
“It’s the enemy! They opened fire at the refugees! Lieutenant General Buxerou have opened the gate!”
Latreille nursed his temple in resignation.
If the enemy shoot at the refugees, he won’t be able to ignore it.
Germain stated his consul with a trembling voice:
“Should we take in the refugees, please give us your orders quickly!”
“Sigh… Instead of taking back the hand we offered, it would be better not to do so in the first place. This will incur the wrath of the troops, and it would be easier for them to be spurred by emotions instead of military commands. Accept the refugees, we will think about how to deal with them later.”
“Yes… I understand, we will check the refugees for weapons now.”
Latreille stood up.
And said to Germain who was about to leave the room.
“We lost the initiative because of our misjudgement. It is unwise, but we can only take to the field now.”
“B-But, what about your health!?”
As the messenger is still outside the room, Latreille said softly:
“A lot of the poison had been cleared… My sight is still a bit blur, but it’s good enough.”
“If it is this close, I can see your face clearly.”
Latreille looked at Germain with his right eye. It was a bit blur, but being about to discern the expression on his face was proof that his eyesight was recovering.
“Sigh… I can’t let my guard down. The enemy commander Oswald is a very cruel character.”
“That is true. Using refugees he captured to carry out such a tactic! Just like a snake!”
“What about me, who considered abandoning the refugees…”
“T-That’s because your highness…”
“Enough, no need for pleasantries in a war.”
Latreille closed the door himself.
The messenger saluted, and walked out to the corridor.
Venomous Snake of High Britannia, it will be our counterattack next time.