Chapter Ten: Priorities

The Harbor Master Office

The Harbor, Shipbreaker bay

Alvia province,

Algrim.

19.13.223. ST

“How did this happen!?” Prince Everhard asked, his expression furious. The Prince tapped his fingers incessantly on a wooden table.

On the table was a slip of papyrus lying innocently in front of him. He stared hatefully at it.

“Your Grace, I advise you to remain calm.” A man seated in front of him said.

The speaker appeared to be in his late forties. His supposedly formerly ink-black hair was now ‘stained’ with multiple grey streaks. 

“What should I do then, sir Richard?” the prince asked.

“This is supposed to be a learning experience for you, your highness, not me,” the man replied blandly.

The prince cussed.

“Learning experience or not,” Prince Ever said, gritting his teeth, “we have to return immediately.”

“That would be irresponsible of you, your highness.”

“So what should we do then? We can not just stay here while the capital is under threat of an invasion,” Ever said furiously.

“I am not taking any chances. I am going to lead the army back first thing tomorrow.”

“But Algrim—”

“I do not care! Would you like Ivonne, Aries or Verum to desecrate our capital just as we have done this one? If there is one thing I have learnt from this expedition. It is that no fortification is truly invulnerable.”

The prince reeked of agitation.

“Calm down, my prince,” sir Richard chuckled. “No one is conquering Hertalese anytime soon.”

“How do you know that?” Ever argued back, causing the tutor to chuckle again.

“You are failing to see something important, your Grace. Verum just announced funding a crusade to aid the affected regions. An army of mercenaries has been slotted to help defend the Grotha-Buzely border and another to expel the pirates ravaging the affected coastal regions.”

“But, Veum can not be trusted—”

“Yes, they cannot, but there is nothing to worry about. Neither Ivonne, Aries nor Verum would make the mistake of sending an army within a hundred miles of the capital. At most a bit of foul play at the fringes of the kingdom, but nothing too devastating.”

Sir Richard thought for a moment before relenting his stance.

“How about you leave a third of the second fleet here to manage things while the rest return to Hertalese.” he proposed.

“I assume these would be enough to tip the scales and force Blacksails to make a retreat, while his Majesty can focus his attention on the conflict brewing in the north.”

Prince Everhard’s eyes brightened for a moment before quickly dimming again.

“Who is going to manage Algrim until I return?” he asked.

Sir Richard went silent for a few moments before replying with a sigh.

“Fine, I will do it.”

“Really?” Everhard asked, sounding somewhat doubtful. “I thought you hated dealing with other nobles. You will be doing a lot of that if you are in charge, you know.”

“I do,” Sir Richard replied blandly. “This is only for until you settle the issues with the pirates and return to take over. I would not involve myself in this any longer than necessary.”

“It is settled then,” Ever said, sounding particularly pleased with himself.

“Thank you.”

“It is not a problem, your highness,” the older knight said as he got to his feet.

He walked towards the door, stopping just short of walking out.

“What do you intend to do about the missing princess?”

“Iris?”

Sir Richard nodded without turning back.

“I do not know,” the prince sighed.

“Be careful, your highness,” Sir Richard cautioned mildly. “Your fixation with her is turning unhealthy. It might result in an undue obsession.”

“I am not obsessed. I just want what is mine!” the prince replied, his tone turning slightly aggressive.

Sir Richard glanced back, his expression unreadable.

“Take care, my prince,” he said.

With that, he turned back and left.

{COS}

Greenfields

Souville province,

Algrim.

21.13.223. S.T

“These are the men you recruited, my lord?” Sir Carter asked, looking at the crowd of peasants engaging in physical workouts in an open field. The blond, middle-aged man in his late forties watched slack-jawed. His left eye twitched at the sight.

“Yes,” Levi said, also observing the peasants. Under the supervision of Sir Turiel and three other knights, they underwent various physical workouts in the vaguely sloppy manner attributed to all beginners.

“Four hundred and fifty men within the ages 18 to 30, of passable physical condition, and with no tangible criminal records. I am sure we can work with this, right?”

Sir Carter stared at the group for a moment later before sighing. “Maybe? I am not sure… Ancestors help us if they do not s*** themselves and disperse when they have to face a proper charge, or even worse freeze up in fear while the enemy hacks them up. I still suggest we recruit mercenaries from Gena town or somewhere else in Quilton to defend Greenfields. At least until you can get real knights under your banner.”

Lancelot hesitated briefly before whispering to Levi. “Young Lord, This method… Look at them, which one of them can wield a sword? I am afraid that in front of a proper Knightage, they would not be able to stand a chance.”

Levi sighed, leading the two men away. “We have discussed this, Quiltonian mercenaries… no mercenaries, in general, are unreliable. They fight for money, not loyalty or faith and are notorious for turning on their employers for benefit. Unless you can provide a more reliable alternative, we will use these peasants.

“Besides, most yeomen and squires are usually selected from amongst the peasants. Since they would eventually make up the bulk of our forces, why not just use them for the entirety.

“You want an army of cannon fodder, my lord,” Sir Carter said with a level stare. Levi held his gaze expressionlessly.

“You summoned me to train them in combat, so what should we start with then, my lord?” Sir Carter sighed, relenting.

Levi smiled as he turned to walk away. The two men fell in step with him.

“Well, since I intend to drill them on discipline, basic formations and supervise their physical training exercises… You will handle defensive close-combat before moving on to more specialised programs like crossbow archery or the basics of spearplay.

“Lancelot would debrief you on the specifics later and assign a few more men to help lighten your workload. Steward Robert is in charge of the logistics. He is responsible for managing accommodation, feeding and acquisition of war materiel.

“I currently do not need warriors of your calibre,” Levi added,” those would take too long to grow and are not feasible even in my long term plans. Rather, I require a group of disciplined cohesive units that would follow and execute every one of my orders without fail. My goal is to form this clumsy rabble into a unified and responsive front in the shortest time frame possible. This I hope you can accomplish before next spring.”

“A tall order, my lord, but I will manage.” the older knight sighed.

“Good, I knew I could count on you, sir Carter,” Levi said with a small smile. “Now, please follow me, I would like your opinion on the new equipment.”

“Equipment?” sir Carter asked, baffled.

“Just wait, you will see soon.”

{COS}

The Strega Valleys.

Quilton-Algrim border

Autumn leaves fell, gilding softly.

Amongst the spiralling leaves was a man and his horse.

He was weary, he looked haggard. Dirty. Wounded.

He was also lost in a forest. All around him was a maze of yellowing trees.

He soon reached a stream, the sound of gurgling water drawing him in.

“Water,” a hoarse sound escaped his chaffed lips. The word was intoned with relief.

The wanderer dismounted from his steed and took wobbly steps in the direction of the stream. Falling to his knees by the edge, he scooped a palm-full of water. He drank with low slurping noises as he filled his dehydrated body with fluids.

The horse of its own volition walked towards the stream, stopping by its rider as it drank its fill.

Soon after, the man washed his face clean of grim. He pulled off his cloth and walked into the stream.

A stitched gash at his waist became visible.

The wound appeared to be an inch wide, crudely stitched with unknown items. He knelt in the stream, scooping water to clean the wound. Fingerlings gathered to pick clean the scabs that flaked into the flow.

“Infertile bastard,” the man cursed. A memory flashed through his mind.

After cleaning the wound, he washed his shirt in the water before leaving it to dry upon the stony bank.

Afterwards, he sat quietly on the ground a few meters from the stream. Unknowingly falling asleep, succumbing to the effects of prolonged exhaustion.

. . .

A few hours later

Evening.

The calmness was broken by the sound of footsteps crunching down heavily on forest litter.

The unnatural noise woke the rider’s horse. It neighed uncomfortably, which in turn woke the rider up from his stupor.

“Is that a horse?” A hoarse voice asked somewhere in the distance.

“Yes and a person.” Another replied

The wounded man stood up wobbly, quickly limping towards his horse. His injury was quite significant. He was not sure he could defend himself if someone decided to take advantage of his current situation.

He wisely did not consider that the newcomers might be friendly. For someone to appear so deep in the forest, they would almost certainly be unsavoury characters.

“Catch ‘er!” One of the newcomers shouted.

The sound running steps.

The rider successfully managed to mount his horse. Unfortunately, though, a strong arm grabbed him from behind, pulling him roughly off the steed.

Despair.

He fell heavily to the ground, hurting himself in the process. Against his will, he was made to face his newly acquired captors.

Three men, all dressed in generic tunics and hoses. They were armed with wooden clubs, with one wielding a short iron sword.

Towering above the rider, they eyed his formerly toned body. It now appeared quite pale and feminine as a result of malnutrition and stress-induced insomnia.

Unfortunately, with his delicate frame and shoulder-length blond hair, rather than a man, he looked more like an absurdly tall, flat-chested teenage girl suffering from anorexia.

“Let go of me, you infernal pigs! I’m a von Greifenberg! A man! Do not dare touch me like that.” Sean squealed in fear. He could almost feel the evil intentions in their lecherous gazes.

Disgust! Repulsion!

So much so that he did not consider the effect of the words he said until he blurted them out.

The blatant lust being directed at him sent a shiver racing down his spine. While he had always been proud of his looks, his narcissistic tendencies certainly did not extend to such self-harming aspects in life.

The men paused briefly, hearing his masculine voice. They looked pensive, glancing contemplatively at each other as if considering whether they should proceed with their previous thoughts or not.

On the verge of making a decision, one of them spoke up as if remembering something important.

“Wait a minute!.. Yer a von Greifenberg?”

“N-no,” Sean stuttered, still reeling in fear. Hearing the way the question was phrased, he now hoped they did not believe his earlier words.

The other men looked to Sean dubiously. They also seemed to fall into contemplation. A moment later, they looked back at each other with faint nods.

“Ple—” Sean’s words were interrupted by a sharp smack to the back of his head.

One of the bandits struck him with a wooden club. His vision swam. His head fell faint.

But just as he was about to lose his consciousness, he heard one say to another.

“I know yer called first dibs, but don’t damage him eh,” the bandit said, snatching the club from the other who was currently undressing.

“I am sure the big boss would be plenty agog to meet about tis pretty lad, so try not to smash erm brains in, alright. Besides, I like em lucid and squirming. Or whatcha think, brothers?”

The others chuckled menacingly.


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