Episode 155

Crossroads (1)
1 week ago
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Rheinfalz Imperial Palace, Grand Banquet Hall.

In principle, the emperor of the empire and the count-level nobility should all gather to discuss this war…

The emperor has been bedridden for a long time, and today, or perhaps tomorrow, he is too ill to attend.

Thus, before the meeting started, the nobles gathered, supposedly to discuss who among them was marrying into another family, or how a certain absent count was so scandalous that he was on the brink of ruin…

“……”

The mood was too somber and gloomy for anyone to dare to bring up such frivolous and light-hearted topics.

“Then, I, Duke Friedrich von Adelheit, acting on behalf of the absent emperor, will discuss this war. Honestly, none of us are really deserving of awards, but some certainly deserve punishment.”

The Imperial Field Marshal, holding a mostly honorary position, spoke, and everyone started to listen to him with serious expressions.

The signs of a civil war within the empire were maturing, but until it officially began, they had to pretend to be loyal nobles of the ‘Rheinfalz’ Empire.

It was crucial to appear united under the emperor’s banner.

It would be just the perfect mistake to stand out now, unsure who was ally or enemy, and become a ‘traitor’ who would be thoroughly beaten up.

“First of all, as everyone knows, our side lost the war. There are mainly two reasons for the defeat.”

Friedrich raised one finger.

“One is that the Medici’s combat ability was far superior to ours. Despite our thorough preparations and defenses, to have Pinehart, Bryun, Hillus, and Zerkheim among seven castles fall within a month was unexpected.”

The mentioned castles, or rather cities, had populations of around 4,000—somewhat larger or smaller than Villa Hora Castle, which we had also conquered.

Even though the enemy needed to conquer numerous border castles, they couldn’t deploy much of their forces, so we expected them to last at least two months.

However, the Medici fought better than expected, causing the aforementioned castles to fall quickly, which undermined the foundation of our original tactics…

“The original plan was to wear down the enemy with a siege of about a month and a half, and then strike the exhausted enemy from behind with a large force, starting by smashing those surrounding Villa Hora Castle.”

Friedrich gritted his teeth before speaking.

“We had urgently sent 6,000 troops after hearing that Villa Hora Castle was surrounded. If that scoundrel Castor had only done his job defending the castle… With nearly 7,000 troops, we could have easily crushed Baron Casano’s 2,000 troops. But that trash Castor couldn’t even hold the castle for half a month.”

A count who had Castor as a vassal gritted his teeth at that.

“I am terribly sorry.”

“You ought to be very sorry. This war was ruined because of that scoundrel Castor. And what on earth is that idiot Baron Maurer doing?”

This time, a duke who had Baron Maurer as a vassal bowed his head.

“…… I have nothing to say.”

Friedrich slammed his hand down on the table.

“How could you lose so badly to those damn Whitebeard Mercenaries with over 2,000 troops! If the Whitebeard Mercenary Group had 2,000 troops, it would be one thing, but losing to just 600 men?! 700 of our men, including the Baron, were captured, and 540 were killed or missing.”

If the emperor had been in good health and power-hungry, this could have been used as an excuse to strip Baron Maurer of his title, and the count would have been unable to argue against it.

“It’s fortunate that His Majesty is unwell. If His Majesty had been younger, he would have stripped Baron Maurer of his title first. Your power would have been much weakened.”

The Imperial Field Marshal sighed and sat down.

“That’s why the plan completely fell apart. All thanks to those damn good Whitebeard Mercenaries!”

Even Martin, had he been there, could not have contested Friedrich’s words.

Defeating 2,000 of Baron Maurer’s troops and playing a significant role in the conquest of Villa Hora Castle with just 600 men was indeed a feat of ‘skill’. However, such a minor feat deciding the outcome of a war involving nearly 100,000 troops belonged more to the realm of luck.

Martin himself had never guessed that his actions would influence the outcome of the war to such an extent.

“Since His Majesty is unwell and the empire is in turmoil externally, I will not request that His Majesty strip the two barons of their titles.”

Though phrased as a request, in the emperor’s ill state, it was equivalent to ‘I shall decree in the emperor’s stead.’

“Instead, I hope that Duke Andalorf and Count Kraut, who have these two fools as vassals, will reflect deeply. Whether you pay their ransom is up to you.”

With that, the Imperial Field Marshal stood up and quietly left the room.

As soon as the Imperial Field Marshal exited, life returned to the eyes of the assembled nobility.

Because from now on, the real ‘exchange of war information’ begins.

“Which mercenary unit that fought on the side of the Medici Republic was the strongest? Shouldn’t we hire them for our empire when the next ‘war’ breaks out?”

After all, it was information that would become known over time, so there was no problem in sharing it even with potential enemies or other competitors.

“The Red Lion Mercenary Group was incredibly strong. They had as many as 20 expert-level swordsmen. The first unit that clashed with them was torn to shreds.”

“The Blue Shark Mercenary Group was also very dangerous. Although they didn’t show explosive offensive power, they held their ground without crumbling in their first battle, facing more than twice their number of soldiers…”

“The Golden Barley Mercenary Group was also impressive…”

Thus, he mixed inevitably leaking information with harmful lies that one could not avoid believing if trusted.

“Ah, Count Colin.”

“Yes, Estel, the Border Count.”

“It concerns the Brown Wolf Mercenary Group, who fought under our command. They number only about 100, but their significance is undeniable. Even Martin Meyer, whom I’ve endlessly praised, pales in comparison to Peter Mainz of the Brown Wolf.”

Estel, the Border Count, lied without a change in his expression.

However, the somewhat naive Count Colin was captivated by his words.

“Is that really so?”

“Ha, during Martin Meyer’s era, it was because that traitor, Pappenheim, died, leaving the barony leaderless, that I proposed making him a baron. Now, my senior knight, Ritenheim, has taken over the Pappenheim barony, making that option obsolete. Hence, I reluctantly offered him a senior knight’s title, but Peter Mainz refused, claiming his worth was beyond just that.”

Estel then presented a letter of appointment he had indeed written, showcasing Peter Mainz’s refusal signature on it.

“…… I’m only sharing this because it’s a rumor bound to spread, and you’re likely to align with us.”

“It’s an honor, Count Estel.”

While a few of the gathered nobles trusted Estel’s judgment and mentally noted ‘Peter Mainz’…

The letter of appointment for a senior knight that Estel recommended was, in fact, a forged document.

To be precise, Estel had crafted the appointment letter, and Peter Mainz had indeed signed it.

‘Peter Mainz, that fool, I secured his signature on the rejection of the senior knight’s appointment letter by offering him 100 gold coins.’

Believing this to be genuine and hiring Peter Mainz at a substantial cost would spell disaster for anyone.

Because paying a high price would mean placing him in a pivotal role, only to then face significant setbacks.

Amidst this, the topic shifted to the Whitebeard Mercenary Group.

“So, what about the Whitebeard Mercenary Group?”

At that moment, Count Kraut, who had Baron Maurer, thoroughly beaten by the Whitebeard Mercenary Group, as his vassal, spoke up.

“Compared to that guy, Martin Meyer, surely Dalton von Prime, the captain of that mercenary group, is more exceptional? The young fellow Martin is good with a ‘sword’ and somewhat smart, but Dalton, who accommodates and executes these ideas, is truly more remarkable.”

This was a very sensible statement.

Because no matter how competent your subordinate is, if the person above is like a spineless ruler, then what?

Like how one could not avoid foolish actions that would spoil the entire naval force at the Battle of Chilcheollyang, if the commander lacks the skill to manage competent subordinates, their talents are useless.

Therefore, among the commanders, it was often said that a commander with competent subordinates is ‘slightly more competent’ than a competent subordinate.

“So what do you think is the value of this captain, Dalton von Prime?”

At that, Count Kraut chuckled.

“He’s worth giving a senior knight’s title and bringing under my command. He did repel more than three times his number of troops, but wasn’t that all just luck?”

Calling it luck once might be acceptable, but showing consistent results two or three times indicates pure skill.

Therefore, no fool would believe that statement.

After several hours of meeting, the nobles finally dispersed…

As soon as he left the meeting room, Count Kraut casually mentioned to his close vassal, Baron Nipelheim,

“Estel seems to rate Martin Meyer higher than Whitebeard Mercenary Group’s Dalton, but the real genius is Dalton for trusting and executing the opinion of a mere soldier. Don’t you think?”

Nipelheim nodded upon hearing this.

“To pull off a bold strategy successfully, you need the acumen to judge whether it can succeed. The most competent person is a commander who can make that judgment. Frankly, if a hundred bold strategies are proposed, ninety-nine are trash, Count.”

“That’s why I must secure Dalton before the civil war breaks out. If that bastard falls into another faction’s hands, I don’t know how hard he might hit me from behind.”

A good weapon reassures when in my hands but terrifies when held by an enemy.

Not securing truly competent talents when facing a crisis means paying a hefty price later, which is basic knowledge.

“I must bring Dalton von Prime and the Whitebeard Mercenary Group under my command. If I give Dalton about 3,000 troops, he’ll be worth at least 6,000 to 7,000.”

“That’s a wise decision.”

“I have a barony to spare, so I might as well use it as bait.”

“You mean Baron Maurer’s territory?”

“Considering the loyalty the Maurer family has shown us, I should at least pay the ransom for them. But that’s it.”

And at the same time, several other nobles were harboring similar thoughts.

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