Upon seeing Josk, Lorist noticed that he looked rather haggard glum. There were a large group of people behind him numbering around 400 people of ages ranging from their mid-teens to their fifties. Every one of them held held makeshift weapons or farming tools in their hands.
"Milord, I have let your expectations down..." said Josk humbly before he saluted.
Lorist laughed and said, "Don't worry about it. The tide of battle is really hard to predict, so accidents like these really can't be blamed on you. Moreover, we have troubled you so much to go all the way there and back. So let's cut the pleasantries short and enter the camp first. We'll talk after we get you something warm to eat."
The aromatic smell of cooked meat wafted around the camp. Charade had ordered to have the dead mounts of the pike cavalry to be skinned and cooked in a big cauldron into stew, providing a hearty serving of meat for all within the convoy.
Upon hearing what Lorist had just said and taking a whiff of the mouth-watering smell of food, Josk's men instantly let out a loud cheer as their stomachs growled aloud.
Embarrassed, Josk said, "Milord, to be honest, we haven't eaten for the past day. Everyone's pushed to the brink of hunger already."
The near 400 men settled down in the camp pretty quickly after thirty or so tents were set up in the northwestern section. After that, Shadekampf had someone bring over some horse meat and potato stew for them to fill their stomachs with.
Within the tent, Josk could be seen wolfing down his food: he almost instantly finished the whole bowl of horse meat stew and the tens of pieces of bread Reidy had brought for him. After having his fill, he started to recount his experience after returning to the stronghold.
Among the insurgents who fought against Count Cobry, Josk could be considered as a rather influential person with almost 700 men under his command and a total of 2000 people including the soldiers' family members. However, he didn't have the intention of setting up his own stronghold and instead chose to let the family members stay at the largest stronghold, the Hiddenbull Stronghold, while he led the soldiers to cause trouble for the count, enabling him to be one of the most active insurgent groups in the area.
The recent skirmish between the Hiddenbull Stronghold and the count's forces had caused Josk to lose nearly half of his own men and drove him to try to burn the supplies of the count in an act of desperation, resulting in him getting acquainted with Lorist. When he left the convoy to rally up the other insurgent groups, he had imagined that they would be thrilled to join the war effort.
However, when he arrived at the western mountain area, he was only met with rejection and ridicule. To the people living in the mountains, the fact that the count's rebel-sweeping corps had left the mountains was already considered a victory for them. They believed that they should take advantage of the peace that was to come to rest up instead of provoking the rebel-sweeping corps, lest they once again fall into their sights. They even suggested to Josk to let the convoy and the count's forces wipe each other out.
Some of them even suspected Josk for entering into a secret agreement with the convoy. Otherwise, why would he bother asking the rest of them to attack the count's forces? Given that they had struggled so hard just to protect their strongholds from the rebel-sweeping corps, to take the initiative to attack them was like knocking an egg against a rock.
And some others even hoped that the convoy and the count's forces would mutually obliterate one another so that they will be able to take advantage of the whole situation. Given that Josk had told them about the size of the convoy, they inferred that it would definitely own a huge amount of resources that would instantly make them filthy rich.
Toiling away for three whole days at the mountains to try to negotiate with the insurgents, Josk ended up heavily disappointed that nobody bothered to join his cause to aid the convoy in attacking the enemy's main camp. To make matters worse, the leader of the Hiddenbull Stronghold invited Josk over and told him that they would no longer be able to sustain the 2000 family members of the soldiers and Josk's men due to the losses they sustained during the recent skirmish with the count's forces and suggested that they either join the stronghold and survive on some meager amount of rations until spring the year after or bring them away from the stronghold to find other means of survival.
Josk was angered beyond belief as that signified that the Hiddenbull Stronghold intended to take advantage of Josk to make up for their own losses without even taking into account their contributions in resisting the count's forces. In fact, the stronghold did not lack any supplies at all as they had obtained two-thirds of the supplies pillaged from the count's warehouse that was just recently conquered by Josk's forces.
The prideful Josk instantly exposed the lies of the stronghold's leader and left with his men that very night. After that, he brought them to another stronghold within the mountains that had been ravaged by the count's forces. Josk was starting to feel a headache welling up when he saw the pained and crying old people and children as well as the 100 or so injured men. The mere thought of the leaders of the western mountain insurgents caused him to grit his teeth in anger. These short-sighted ambitionless bastards who only dare to hide in their little corner will never be able to help me avenge my family. They are completely satisfied with staying at the strongholds for the rest of their lives within the mountains.
When he recalled his arrangement with Lorist and the way the stronghold leaders treated him, for the first time in his life, Josk felt like rushing into battle and dying to end it all. That was why he left all of his rations with the women and children at the abandoned stronghold and rushed all the way to the encampment with 300 of his able-bodied men to the camp. He thought that as long as the convoy was still fighting with the count's rebel-sweeping corps, he would sacrifice himself and do whatever damages he could to the enemy to fulfill his promise with Lorist.
However, when he arrived at the battlefield with an empty stomach, the fight had already ended for two whole days. At that moment, Josk instantly regretted that he had spent so much time to convince the stronghold leaders to no avail.
Lorist gave him a brief summary of the battle that had occurred and said that the convoy was only able to obtain victory due to a series of unlikely coincidences. After that, Lorist suggested that Josk move his men and their family members to this camp as the convoy would leaving in the next two days, citing the reason that the camp was much easier to defend and incredibly hard to besiege with ample land for farming as well. He said that as long as he occupied the camp, his days in the future would be much easier and he wouldn't have to face the likes of the mountain insurgents ever again. If Josk was willing to do as he suggested, Lorist said that he would have some of his carriages help out with the moving and even leave enough equipment and supplies for them.
After considering it deeply, he shook his head and turned down Lorist's goodwill and gave a response that greatly shocked him. "Milord, I would like to join the convoy and follow you up to the north. However, when we arrive at your homeland and dominion, I will come back here after everything is settled down to kill the count and all his illegitimate sons before returning to serve you completely."
Lorist wondered why Josk would end up at that decision as well as his history with the count.
Josk sighed and said, "Milord, I'm truly, very tired. I really gave it a lot of thought on the way here and I realized that I may not be as good a leader as I had hoped. I even ignored the feelings of my own men to go through such lengths to resist the count due to a personal vendetta. After all this time they took me as their leader, I still can't give them and their families the care they deserve. I only realized all my mistakes when I led these men away from the Hiddenbull Stronghold. I really have wronged the warriors who have fallen in battle under my command for not being able to provide their families with a sustainable and peaceful environment to live in... I really can't do it...
"Milord, I'm really grateful that you were willing to give the camp to us. But I understand that even if we were to stay here for the time being, we wouldn't be able to avoid the inevitable conflict and battles that are to come. That's why I would like to entrust you with my men so that they can have a peaceful life when they reach the Northlands. I believe that you will definitely be able to let them have the comfortable and blissful life that they deserve."
After that, he told Lorist about why he hated the count so much. To Lorist, it all seemed like a children's tale of happiness as well as one of revenge.
Josk's father was a Gold ranked knight who had left his newlywed wife around twenty years ago to answer the call to arms of the empire to resist the invasion of the trade union, only to die on the battlefield and never return. After Josk was given birth to, his mother soon left the world from a sickness that has ailed her since she had gotten wind of her husband's death. Orphaned from young, he had only managed to survive thanks to the goodwill of his neighbors. During one fateful day when he was twelve, he managed to save Baron Omador from a raging wild boar and was brought back to the castle of the thankful baron.
Among the landed nobles in the area, Baron Omador was considered to be an eccentric person. First, he was extremely devoted and never had any illegitimate children nor affairs with his maidservants and has remained single after his wife passed away and lived with his precious daughter ever since. Additionally, the baron also had a great relationship with the citizens of his dominion and rarely punished them for no good reason and usually laughed it off when anyone committed a simple mistake. He would even distribute food and clothing to his citizens during festivities, earning him the reputation of the most benevolent noble in the area.
After understanding Josk's family history, the baron decided to adopt him and trained him strictly in hopes that one day he would become a Gold ranked knight like his father. Josk himself also trained zealously and successfully became a One Star Gold Knight who was well-versed with the bow and arrow under the baron's tutelage at the age of 24.
During the 14 years Josk lived at the baron's castle, the baron's daughter also gradually grew up and the two of them fell in love to nobody's surprise. The baron was extremely pleased with the relationship and let his daughter get engaged with Josk and said that they would officially become husband and wife when his daughter reached 20 years old.
Up to that point, the whole story seemed like it came right out of a children's storybook. However, on the day when Josk was supposed to get married to his lover, the count sent someone to request the baron's daughter's hand in marriage for one of his illegitimate sons. During that time, the baron was incredibly furious and chased the messenger away. Who knew that right after that, Count Cobry and his army invaded the baron's dominion and surrounded the whole castle and declared war with the baron using the excuse that the act of chasing away his messenger was a grave insult to his status.
The castle that was prepared for a wedding ceremony was naturally not a match for the count's army and was breached within two short hours. Josk, who was defending the castle at the frontlines, had ended up severely injured and only managed to survive from having been rescued by his subordinates. On his trip away from the castle, he regained consciousness for a moment and witnessed a scene that he would never forget: the castle that he had lived in for the last 14 years had been set on fire with black fumes rising high up into the sky, with his betrothed plunging to her death from the highest floor of the castle in her snow white gown.
Josk let out an inhuman shriek before falling back into the indifferent embrace of unconsciousness. It took another half a year before he completely recovered from his injuries and infiltrated the count's mansion in an attempt to kill the count and his illegitimate son. However, of the three arrows he had managed to unleash, two of them managed to take the illegitimate sons' lives while the third only hit the count's shoulder. After that incident, he was under constant pursuit of the count's forces. Due to his seething hatred for the count, he eventually formed an insurgent group that aspired to cause as much trouble to the count as possible.
In the middle of telling his story, Josk broke down into tears and suddenly knelt in front of Lorist. He said that if Lorist was willing to help him take revenge, he would definitely accept him as his lord and will be willing to serve the Norton Family for life.
Quickly helping Josk up from the floor, Lorist expressed that he had always admired Josk's skills and said that he would definitely be glad if Josk was willing to serve him. However, he said that he couldn't agree to exterminating the count lightly as the main objective of the convoy was to head to the Northlands and the whole convoy's wellbeing will be affected by that decision. However, he assured that the convoy's travel plans was still not set and he would definitely see how he can help out if it was within his abilities, as the Norton Family also had a grudge against the count for killing off their merchant convoy.
After that, Josk finally calmed down and was led by Reidy to a nearby tent for some rest. After all, even a Gold ranked knight would be exhausted after traveling such a long distance without food or sleep.
Lorist stroke his chin as he drowned himself in his thoughts. He strongly believed that Josk would be a great addition to his forces and would make a stellar subordinate. However, he had to fulfill his wish and exterminate the count and his family in order for that to happen. Hm? I suddenly feel like I'm in an RPG game. The Gold ranked marksman Josk is like a quest reward for exterminating the count.
Alright then, let's think hard about how I can complete this quest, mused Lorist to himself as he sat down on a desk and started analyzing the map of the area.