Chapter 389 – New Destination


Ged remained anxious to go find his father, but he agreed in the end not to leave his army in an unstable situation. It wasn’t just to prevent morale dropping because the commander suddenly departed; Ged’s officers were adamant that his troops fought better with him present. They needed him to deal with the matters they currently faced.

Dealing with those matters meant taking Cara Ita. We needed a forward operating base against the eventual re-emergence of the demons. It would be far better to oppose them right at the egress than to wait for them to eventually show up in Thuriben, fifty miles away. The closer that base was to the Carael Mines, the better. A fortified city like Cara Ita, sitting just below the foothills, was the perfect choice. And with the enemy currently disorganized and reeling after a devastating loss, this was the time to act.

The army had been in the middle of a march when the battle began, so their workday was not over once their formations reformed. But the destination had very suddenly changed. The city they had previously been trying to cut off from the rest of Hamagaar was now the target of the operation. 

They arrived an hour after sundown and set up camp in the dark just outside arbalest range from the city walls. Meanwhile, I rose into the air alongside Aenëe and we faced the walls of Cara Ita together. The waning crescent moons hung high in the sky and the air had a spring night chill to it, so I was circulating Light in my mana pathways to keep warm. The moonlight was weak, just three days before the new moon, so we hadn’t bothered with stealth yet.

“In a rational situation, I would be facing you, defending my city,” Aenëe mused as she surveyed the place she was sworn to protect. “I’m finding this a strange turn of events.”

I decided to ask a question I had been thinking about. “My Lady, do you understand that it is unlikely that Cara Ita will still be your city once it becomes Orestanian land? Above the level of manor lords, the nobility of the losing side rarely keep their titles. At best, your lord will live as a bureaucrat or a military aristocrat, and count himself lucky to hang on to his noble status at all.”

Her lip curled up slightly. “That was true until a few hours ago, My Lady.”

Puzzled, I looked over at her and wondered, “What happened a few hours ago?”

“Your prince asked me my price,” she answered with a coy twinkle in her eye.

That puzzled me. “I thought you wouldn’t hire to another lord until you’ve secured your young baron’s future?”

“Indeed I will do no such thing,” she stated tautly. “My Lord is My Lord until I’ve fulfilled my duty to his father. I fight for his sake only. But I was not talking about remuneration for fighting, My Lady.”

She’d ended in an airy tone, with her chin high. She was enjoying it, so I decided to let her have her fun.

“Very well, My Lady,” I stated in a patient, sweet voice, “Pray tell, what did my prince ask of you?”

The corners of her mouth curled into a full smile. “He wanted to know what my silence would cost, with respect to that dragon woman. I don’t know what she is, precisely, but it seems to be important that she remain a secret.”

“Ah…” I nodded. Right, Ged could use his royal authority to shush all other witnesses who might have seen Mirna transform from a woman into a pint-size dragon, but Aenëe did not work for him. She was at best a temporary ally.

“He did offer to pay for my fighting services too, but primarily he wants to seal my knowledge. So I told him, I serve My Lord. For as long as Orestania preserves his standing as Baron of Cara Ita within their realm, I must act as his knight under Orestanian law and the edicts of its crown. In return, I would remain his guardian and his knight until he reaches adulthood and assumes his baronship, and for as long as he and his heirs keep it, I would hold my tongue about all royal and military secrets of your kingdom, as is required under the code of fairy knights.”

I thought about it and smiled. It was a nice little piece of legal sophistry, but it was also a well-thought-out plan on her part. The crown wouldn’t dare take back the baronship at a later date and break the deal. I decided not to point out that she was blackmailing my prince, since it was Ged who offered to pay for her silence in the first place.

But I shook my head. “Aenëe, I feel like you are getting a poorer and poorer deal for your service as a fairy knight.”

“How so?”

“You aren’t getting paid by anyone, and when Cara Ita is back in your hands, it won’t be able to afford your contract. With the mines sealed and full of demons, the city’s source of income is gone. I’m not sure if it can even sustain itself as a city without those mines.”

Aenëe shook her head in disagreement. “Cara Ita is about to be full of soldiers spending their military pay, who won’t leave until those mines are safe again. That should keep us going in the meantime.”

Only allowed on

I hadn’t thought about that. The same brothels and bars serving the miners and adventurers would soak up a lot of that military payroll, and the blacksmiths and armorers would get plenty of military contracts to replace adventurer business.

She then conceded, “Even then, the city won’t be able to afford me, so I will use my authority as acting lord to reduce my contract pay for the long-term job. It’s fine, though. I’m getting paid something much more valuable than gold, anyway.”

“What’s that?” I wondered.

“My very first job as a fairy knight, despite the adversity I faced, will be a resounding success. My Lord will keep his land, his people will be delivered from a demon horde, and my sword will have slain countless enemies. I can throw my mettle as a knight in my family’s face and brag about it rightfully to the Fairy King when I return to court. Gold will come to me later, but I can never buy something as valuable as this with it!”

Her chin was still high, and her not-insubstantial chest was puffed out like a girl doing the boba tea challenge. It made a slight laugh escape my lips, but I nodded in agreement.

“You’re absolutely right, My Lady. I’d love to see Mára’s face when she hears how you’ve done.”

She blinked. “You know Dín’nedo?”

I nodded. “Your esteemed aunt openly mocked you to my face in front of a crowd, when she told them about our fight. Ever since she did that, I’ve been privately rooting for you to become a spectacularly successful fairy knight.”

Her lip twisted and her voice soured. “She’s the wife of my clan’s chieftain but…”

She shook her head rather than complete her thought.

“You’ll be a full fairy someday,” I told her. “And the moment you become one, you’ll officially be the Fairy King’s concubine and a member of the royal court. Once that happens, who cares what she thinks?”

She grinned and nodded. “My mother tells me the same thing. She doesn’t like her big sister much.”

Then she sobered, rotated to face me, and bowed her head. “Thank you for your kind words, Your Highness. I shall endeavor to live up to them.”

I blinked, then nodded. Since I didn’t want to throw cold water on her gratitude by asking her not to call me ‘Your Highness’ or whatever, I simply answered, “I could tell you were young and inexperienced when I first met you, but you had pride as pure as any fairy knight and I never saw you as unworthy. Lift your head, My Lady. You have nothing to thank me for.”

We were in the air in front of the wall that I once batted her over. Since I had probably just reminded her of that event, I guessed that it was the source of the wry curl to her smile as she lifted her head again.

“Shall we go, My Lady?” I asked, gesturing toward the city.

“Absolutely. I’ll meet you back at the camp in an hour.”

We both used our respective stealth techniques, and flew into the city.

Two important factors make taking over a fortified city on Huade a different process than on Earth. The first factor is magic, and the second factor is adventurers.

Magic changes up all the tools available. War engines such as battering rams and siege towers are footnotes in the history books on this world. They are too vulnerable to magical attacks, being too cumbersome to evade heavy attacks. On Earth, if city-gate-destroying battering rams hadn’t already disappeared thanks to the appearance of the much more effective siege cannon, they would have surely disappeared anyway due to the heavy artillery defending fortified towns.

But magic is available to the attackers as well. Teams of military combat mages take the place of siege cannons, conjuring massive [Earth Bullet] attacks to destroy gates and walls. Obviously, the defenders then do their best to target the enemy mages.

But that’s just one method, and because it tends to really make a mess of the architecture, it’s only employed if the attackers have no choice. Since they intend to use the city they are attacking, they would rather keep the walls and gates intact. That’s why, depending upon the state of the defenses, other methods are often employed, 

Determining exactly what method to use depends upon how well-prepared the town is against invaders. Learning this is normally the job of the adventurer class politely known as scouts, because it is rude to call them thieves. Well, Brigitte doesn’t care if you call her a thief, and I suspect that is the case with other scouts, as well, but we call them scouts anyway.

Armies have scouts too, but they specialize in field tactics, spying on enemy ranks and carrying out sabotage of enemy supplies and equipment. Sneaking around bandit hideouts, demon-infested ruins and monster nests is better training for the job of secretly scaling city walls to find gaps in the defenses to slip through. Commanders turn to the handy scouts of the adventurer corps for this reason.

Not this time, though. Ged had two fairy knights on hand. He did avoid saying outright that we made better thieves than the adventurer scouts, but he did imply it with a twinkle in his eye.

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Those scouts and other adventurers would still have a part to play, though. Our reconnaissance would determine what that part would be.

It didn’t take long to confirm what the intelligence unit suspected, that many of the soldiers for the enemy’s attempted envelopment operation had come from Cara Ita. The enemy had gambled the town’s defenses on getting an overwhelming victory.

The walls were barely defended. Lookouts were only posted in two of the ten observation towers, and I only found three men patrolling the battlements. In the barracks for soldiers detailed to the wall defense, only a few dozen soldiers were getting their evening meal, even though beds for a few hundred were available.

It was early enough that a significant number might be in town, enjoying the bars and brothels, but with enemy troops in the region, that seemed unlikely. I went investigating anyway, only to find a notable lack of such institutions open for business. There was nowhere for those missing soldiers to play.

When I returned to camp, Aenëe had a similar report. Ged made up his mind immediately. The battle of Cara Ita would begin before dawn.

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Aenëe reveals her actual motivation for sticking with her preschooler lord. Although, as his foster mother, she probably has an emotional attachment to him as well. Not that her pride will allow her to admit it.

The presence of high-skill adventurers would change everything about how armies operate, I think. I doubt I have guessed exactly how many different things would be different, but I do think reconnaissance would be a very different game.

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