Maybe it was because he felt Lorist's sincerity, Freiyar accepted the invitation without thinking for too long. "Lord Norton, I can agree to temporarily serve you, but it's only limited to the conflict with Count Cobry to avenge the death of my adopted mother. However, I hope that you can agree to let my family and I leave if I wish to."
Lorist laughed out loud and said, "Of course. Even if you don't help me out, you are still free to leave with your family. I can promise you that on the Norton Family's name."
"Thank you for your magnanimity, Lord Norton," said Freiyar as he bowed to indicate his respect.
Lorist stretched out his hand to shake Freiyar's and said, "Please call me Locke. That's what all my friends call me."
Now that he had agreed to help Lorist for the moment, Freiyar didn't hold back at all. "Lord Locke, you said that you lacked manpower, right? Can you tell me about the status of your troops?"
Lorist then briefly described the number of troops he brought to ambush the city and also told him about the two new companies of pikemen that were formed from some of the laborer prisoners. "And that pretty much sums it up. Right now, we're still holding up well. But I'm worried that once the count finds out that the city has been conquered, he will have his soldiers come back here right away to retake the place. Given the size of Geldos City, as long as the count manages to gather one pike cavalry company and one garrison regiment led by his Gold ranked sons, they will easily be able to take the city back in one go. After all, the two laborer companies are only good for show and don't have any real combat ability."
Freiyar understood what Lorist had meant and turned back to look at the prison facility. "Lord Locke, do you intend to rally them up?"
Lorist laughed out and said, "I've heard Josk mention that the people locked up here are all either veteran soldiers or garrison troops that have awakened their Battle Force. That's why I intend to rely on them to form a temporary unit. I don't need them to be the vanguard and take the full brunt of the count's forces. Instead, I only require them to defend against a few waves of the count's attacks to allow my family's armed forces to arrive."
"Lord Locke, I understand. Please be assured. I, Freiyar, understands best what the people who are locked up there want. Had it not been for the damned count, they wouldn't have to be imprisoned for so long. Even those who went to serve him did so only to let their families live better lives and are not truly loyal to the count. Now that they know Count Cobry is on the verge of falling, I'm sure they'll be happier than most and try their best to add as much oil to the fire as they can. Trust me, I will gather them up right away. Um, you, hand me the keys. Lord Locke, I will send good news your way in a short while," said Freiyar as he took away the keys hanging from Tarkel's waist and set out to free the prisoners.
Having had his keys taken, Tarkel felt a little dissatisfied and was mumbling something softly.
Lorist looked at him and said, "Do you have anything you'd like to say? I can't hear you that well, Tarkel."
Tarkel turned to look at Lorist hesitantly before saying out loud, "Act-actually... You can defend Geldos City without using these people. Milord, if the prisoners don't obey their orders when they are let out, it'll cause even more trouble for you..."
"Oh, Tarkel, tell me then about the plan you have in mind to defend the city," said Lorist curiously.
"Milord, half of the garrison regiment and the pike cavalry company that had set out with the count are fresh recruits that haven't been in service for more than two months. Their names are recorded in a listing at the duke manor. You only have to hold their families hostage according to the list and bring them to the city gates when the count arrives. I'm sure the soldiers will definitely panic and might even fight back against the count on the spot. Then, you can easily obtain your victory..." said Tarkel.
"Erm..." Lorist really didn't expect that the chubby man in front of him could really come up with an effective plan. "Tarkel, tell me more about your family and your experiences."
Lorist suddenly felt interested in the man whose face was filled with flabby meat.
"Milord, I have a family of four that consists of me, my wife, my dumb daughter-in-law as well as my son. Other than that, I have a brother who's a blacksmith and he lives in the city as well and is in charge of making the count's weapons and equipment. Our family used to be serfs during the days of my grandfather and we were only granted the status of free men when my father joined the count's garrison troop. After that, my father had passed away during one of the count's excursions to eliminate mountain bandits and I have been chosen to fill his position. After the count's return to the city, he had suddenly started to expand his military forces. Not wanting to be enlisted, I spent quite a sum to bribe my way to become a prison guard and have been doing this job ever since and got promoted to the position of a warden," said Tarkel honestly.
"Then, do you understand the big and small matters of this city?" asked Lorist.
"That's a given, milord. I don't want to sound too arrogant, but there isn't a corner of the city that I'm not familiar with," boasted Tarkel.
Lorist naturally didn't take it at face value and started questioning Tarkel about the area. To his surprise, Tarkel really could describe almost every place he named with great detail. He was even familiar with the rough number of resources that were stored in the various warehouses.
"Tarkel, you have truly surprised me today. While the method you proposed earlier is indeed effective, but there are some things that you can do but I cannot. If I obtain victory using the method you mentioned, I will effectively taint the reputation of nobles and lose the honor of knights. No noble would ever use the enemy forces' family members as hostages to win a war. That would constitute to shame and humiliation for the family that chooses to do so. That's why, I can only thank you for trying to suggest an alternative for me," said Lorist.
"Milord, it's my fault for not considering your status well enough. I'm just an uneducated man after all. I didn't consider the honor and reputation of nobles at all," Tarkel said in a horrified manner.
"How about this? Follow me around in the future. Naturally, I will want you to go to the Northlands with us when the matters here are concluded. I also want your blacksmith brother to tag along when the time comes," said Lorist.
"This... Milord, can I refuse?" said Tarkel with an agonized face. He didn't expect that his showing off would cause Lorist to start to fancy him.
"Of course you can. I won't agree to it though," Lorist said while laughing.
At that moment, the laborer camp was illuminated by various bonfires with groups of people gathering around the plaza and making merry like a sudden flash mob. Sounds of laughter and chatter could be heard throughout the night.
Lorist brought Tarkel to the plaza and saw Josk leading a group of men approaching from the front.
Josk said excitedly with a flushed face, "Milord, this is the garrison captain of the territory of Baron Omador, Nors. Over here is the knight of the baron's family, Lind. And these over here are guards Hawk, Marius, Eite and Saibert. I thought they were all dead. I didn't expect for them to be imprisoned here for the past half year..."
Lorist looked towards them and nodded in greeting. At that moment, Freiyar squeezed into the group and said, "Lord Locke, I have already briefed them about the situation and they are all happy to serve you. Oh, before I forget, many people within the laborer camp are their subordinates. As long as you provide them with arms and equipment, a regiment's worth of soldiers can instantly be formed."
"Good work, Freiyar. How about this, let's form a company of pike cavalrymen and three companies of garrison troops first. Freiyar, you will be the commander of these companies with Joe as your second in command. Start allocating the laborers into their respective companies as you see fit. I want them to be battle-ready as soon as possible. After forming all four companies, leave one garrison company to defend the laborer camp as the family members of some of the prisoners here are still at risk. The other three companies will be stationed at the city's army camp and begin training right away," said Lorist as he made his decision.
Freiyar and Josk stood straight up and made a salute. "Milord, we will do as you wish."
"I will ensure that the necessary equipment be delivered as soon as possible. Freiyar, Josk, I am counting on you two. Don't hesitate to report to me if anything urgent comes up."
Lorist brought Tarkel back to the duke manor, only to cause him to puke uncontrollably after he witnessed the bloody scene, causing Reidy and Patt to look at him with curious eyes. It wasn't only Tarkel; ten other laborers who were also present had thrown up their meals cleanly.
"Sol, how can anyone eat with this smell in the air?!" Lorist was incredibly pissed as the group of people had puked while he was just about to have his meal.
"Reidy, please close the doors and windows. Remember to have them clean up after they finish puking," said Lorist.
The busy night was over and Geldos City still remained the same with the count's flag that depicted a bull's head flying up high. To the citizens, there was no other change apart from the increased presence of soldiers on the streets as well as the curfew order they were given the laborers' halting of the city's construction with the official reason being that an assassin was on the loose in the city. Nobody knew that the control of the city had already changed hands overnight.
The next day was pretty uneventful as well.
During the night, the duke manor's main hall was brightly illuminated by candlelight.
Lorist, Josk, Freiyar, Terman, Els, Yuriy, Tim as well as the several officers from the newly-formed laborer companies all sat at a round table on which a large beastskin map was placed and were listening to the pale-faced Tarkel who was revealing the secrets of the Cobry Family.
"... Count Cobry has 67 illegitimate sons in total and under his training and nurture, 17 of them became Gold ranked and 38 others managed to get to the Silver rank. That was the situation ten years ago. After that, the count brought 38 of his illegitimate sons to serve the First Prince and 6 Gold ranks and 13 Silver ranks died in the process. However, two years after his return, there was 1 son who had just broke through to the Gold rank with 4 others making their way to the Silver rank. However, this wasn't publicized so nobody outside the family knows about it.
"Ever since the count began launching his attacks on the neighboring nobles that didn't submit to him, 2 Gold ranked sons as well as 5 Silver ranked sons have perished. These include the two sons Josk had assassinated when he infiltrated Geldos City once. When the count sent the rebel-sweeping corps to the western mountains, he still had 10 Gold ranked sons and 24 Silver ranked sons. The remaining nine are either not at the Silver rank yet or have not awakened their Battle Force altogether and held administrative posts in Geldos City.
"The rebel-sweeping corps that the count had sent out was led by 3 Gold ranked sons and 8 Silver ranked sons. However, I heard that milord's convoy has completely wiped them out. The reinforcement sent by the count to recapture the camp that was led by 2 Silver ranked sons was also decimated. The Gold ranked son that was stationed there when the count set out for Burdock Bastide was also killed as well.
"After the count set out, he was entrapped at Motz Hills by our lord and I heard that one of the captive pike cavalrymen who were on their way to deliver the letter said that when they first started to attack a stronghold. one Gold ranked and another Silver ranked had fallen. After that, during the operation to conquer Geldos City, 1 Gold ranked and 2 Silver ranked illegitimate sons perished. Among 9 of the illegitimate sons who were not even Silver ranks, 7 were killed within the hall of the duke manor and only two remains by the count's side with his army currently.
"Other than the 1 Gold ranked and 2 Silver ranked illegitimate sons stationed at Williamiles Castle, the count only has 3 Gold ranked and 9 Silver ranked sons remaining. If we include the count himself, they only have 4 Gold ranks on their side. Given that our lord has already prepared the city appropriately for defense, there is no need to worry that they will be able to recapture it based on their forces," said Tarkel as he concluded the report on the count's forces, calming down the restless minds of the ones present.
Lorist laughed out loud and said, "I'm not worried about his forces though. I believe that by the time the count comes back to attack the city, his soldiers would have to deal with the desperate lack of resources as well as the allies that are closing in on them from behind. I'm sure their morale would be extremely low. I am however considering whether I should take the chance to conquer Williamiles Castle as well now that news of Geldos City being conquered still hasn't spread out yet," said Lorist as he pointed to a spot on the map where Williamiles Castle was located.
His plan was rather simple: he would first bring a company's worth of soldiers wearing the count's equipment and request access into the city in the name of helping out with the city's defense and sneak into the castle. As long as he manages to kill the three illegitimate sons that are stationed there, Lorist's group would be able to absorb the garrison forces by telling them that Geldos City, where many of their family members are living in, was under their control. He believed that there would not be much resistance on that front.
Els gave an alternate opinion in that there wasn't enough time. Given that Williamiles Castle was around 1 day of travel on horseback away from Geldos City, a journey to and fro would easily take two days. And the coming two days was the most crucial moment as the count might run out of resources and retreat to the city during that timeframe. If Lorist wasn't able to make his way back at that time, the situation might very possibly turn for the worse.
Lorist disagreed and explained that if he let Williamiles Castle be, the count would still have a place to escape to and be able to recover his forces, causing Lorist's group to be delayed there even further. "That's why I believe the best way to settle the matter quickly is to remove all of the count's foundations and cause him to have nowhere to fall back to. After that, we can swoop in and finish him off to end this conflict. Currently, the defense at Williamiles Castle is at its weakest. When would we attack if not now?"
Lorist then instructed Yuriy, Terman and Josk to get a light cavalry squad, a knight squad as well as the two newly-formed pike cavalry squads to change into the count's pike cavalry equipment and each bring two horses along to prepare for departure within an hour. Lorist will also take Tarkel along the way. As for the defense of Geldos City, he entrusted it to Els, Freiyar and Tim.
Freiyar hesitated in agreeing to that order as he believed that Josk would be a better choice for defending the castle and said that he would instead prefer to follow Lorist to conquer the castle.
Lorist laughed and said, "It cannot be you, Freiyar, as the illegitimate sons of the count will recognize you. Given that they know that you definitely won't submit to the count that easily, your presence would only serve to bring their guards up. That's why I picked Joe instead. The reason I left you behind to defend the place is precisely because I trust you, as should any lord or leader. Els and Tim, Freiyar will be the first in command during my absence, alright?"
"Yes, milord," Els responded.
"Please be assured, milord. This one will definitely not disappoint you," said Tim as he bowed.
Lorist patted on Freiyar's shoulder and said, "I'll be counting on you during these two days. Once I take WIlliamiles Castle, I'll definitely rush back immediately."
Freiyar stood straight up and saluted Lorist. "Milord, as long as I am here, the city will remain ours."