Occupying the Bastide
Seeing Lorist and the other two return to the battlefield, Els rode over to greet his lord.
"Milord, the battle was a huge success. We even managed to conquer their main camp," said Els excitedly with a face reddened with excitement as he shouted towards Lorist's group of three.
Lorist asked, "What are you doing? Walking the horses?"
"Nope, Knight Potterfang had me scour the area for any slavers that might have escaped," Els answered.
"Did you just say that we conquered their camp?"
"That's right. Locke, when you unleashed the beast within and started slaughtering nonstop among their ranks, the slavers' forces broke formation and rushed back towards their main camp. We have successfully taken advantage of that and occupied their base in one fell swoop. Just now, Charade had someone carry him to the enemy base so that he can help manage the loot and asked me to call you over." Even though Els was a Norton Family knight, he was pretty casual when he talked to Lorist and frequently forgot the formal nature of their relationship and behaved as he would when they went on mercenary missions.
But Lorist didn't mind it as it made him feel less awkward around him. He asked, "How are our casualties?"
"Casualties? There were none, other than two slave soldiers who accidentally tripped and fell during the charge and sprained their ankles and got some bruises here and there. The two of them instantly became the laughing stock of the whole camp. As for the slavers, at least half of them perished and the rest were all apprehended by our forces. Oh, and you better head there quick. There are still another 2000 plus captured slaves waiting to be handled based on your decision," Els said.
"There's no rush," said Lorist. He turned to the old man behind him and asked, "Hey, old man, where did you guys get the slaves in your camp from?"
The old man looked rather pathetic as he was tied up all over with a long rope with its end held in Dulles's hand. A quiver with five javelins was also hung on his back because Lorist was worried that the horse would tire out quickly from the load. Lorist said that even though the captured fighter looked aged, he was nevertheless a Three Star Gold rank and had incredible physical endurance. Otherwise, he wouldn't be able to run all the way to the town in one breath. Having just escaped the fate of certain death, the old man could only accept his treatment without a single complaint.
The old man replied, "Master, these slaves had all been purchased or captured from the Redlis Kingdom during the past half year. I heard that some of my colleagues had razed several villages and killed all the elderly while enslaving the young and able."
Life in troubled times truly is akin to that of a dog's. As a common peasant, not only did they have to labor tirelessly to pay the unreasonable taxes levied by their lords, they also had to survive invasions from enemies, especially slave traders. The common folk could be carrying out their daily routine like any other day only to end up as slaves with their family members killed overnight from slaver attacks.
Lorist said disdainfully, "Old man, as a Three Star Gold Swordsman, why are you hanging around these scum that are no better than foul beasts?"
The old man said, "Master, I did not have a choice in that matter. Six years ago when I was on the way to Morante City with my granddaughter, she fell ill when we were resting at Armatrin Harbor and I didn't have enough money to give her the appropriate treatment. She only managed to survive because I relied on the slaver group. During these six years, I have never harmed a single slave and even helped quite a number of people......"
The old man was originally a garrison captain of a small city back in the days of the Krissen Empire and lived quite a decent life. However, when the three princes started the struggle for power, the first wave of battles engulfed his hometown. WIth his son and daughter-in-law both dead, his own wife soon passed away from extreme depression. Worried about his daughter's livelihood, the old man deserted the army and brought his 12-year-old grandchild to Morante City, only to be forced to stop at Armatrin Harbor due to severe seasickness. When he found that he had no way to overcome that hurdle, he met the leader of the slaver group, Sloph and joined their group to ensure her daughter's health and safety and has remained within it ever since.
The old man said that the leader of the group knew that he didn't like to do dirty work, so he was tasked to stand guard and protect their army camp instead. He explained that he managed to stop some others from needlessly hurting the slaves during his years of service there.
"But in the end they were still sold off, right?" said Els in a dissatisfied tone. "Old man, since you are of the opinion that slavery is an unethical business, why didn't you leave right after your granddaughter recovered? For you to have stayed there for 6 whole years... They say birds of the same feather flock together. Since you stuck with them for so long, don't pretend to be a good person."
"Do you think they'll let me leave just because I want to?" said the old man bitterly. "When my granddaughter recovered, they moved us to the Sloph Bastide right away and we have stayed there ever since. That is Sloph's main base of operations and the security there is nothing to laugh at. It would still be fine for me to escape alone, but there was no way I would be able to pull that off with my granddaughter. Aside from that, Sloph himself is also a Gold ranked fighter with his cousin brother Pike being a Blademaster. At that time, I could only accept my fate."
Lorist's expression was a little heavy as he said, "Old man, tell me about Sloph and his bastide as well as that Blademaster cousin of his. I'll need as many details as I can get."
Having spent six years with the slavers, the old man was quite informed about their situation. He said that in the early days, Sloph used to be a mercenary who somehow got to know a slave merchant at Port Nupite and started catching slaves for him. The internal conflict within the empire was a golden opportunity that he exploited and over the years, his band of slavers had expanded quite a lot with over 300 men in present day. Even the local lord couldn't do anything about Sloph.
When Sloph started profiting quite a bit from the slave trade, he commissioned for a bastide to be constructed over a large plot of land and made it his home base. Within it lived the family members of the slavers as well as 800 other slaves who worked at the vineyard within the bastide. The wine produced by Sloph had started gaining quite a reputation in recent years.
There were two main factors that contributed to the bastide's strong defense: terrain and manpower. However, just last month, Sloph intended to get a noble title and establish himself as a landed noble and brought a couple of people to the capital for that purpose before proceeding to Port Nupite to handle some other business dealings and would only return after around 10 days. Now that most of the slavers were at the camp in the pine forest, the bastide's defense was currently at its weakest with only 10-odd Silver Swordsmen and 50-odd Iron ranked constables who were put in charge of patrolling the town and keeping the slaves in check.
Even though Sloph was a Two Star Gold Swordsman, his recent successes had caused him to gain quite a bit of weight and his combat ability to even deteriorate. Right now, his main backing was that Blademaster cousin of his.
"Have you sparred against Blademaster Pike before?" asked Lorist.
Nodding his head, the old man answered, "Yes, I have. It was almost half a year ago during a banquet held in celebration of the harvest festival. I was picked to be his sparring partner and fought for about 10 bouts and dropped my sword and surrendered when I saw his displeased expression. I estimate that I can continue on for a hundred more moves and might even stand a chance to win."
Nodding, Lorist already had an idea about the Blademaster's skills.
"Oh, that's right. I forgot to ask for your name," said Lorist.
"Milord, I am called Engelich," replied the old man.
After arriving at the main camp, Lorist saw that the the main entrance was open. As he was about to bring his horse to the stable, he saw Charade sitting on a cushion in the middle of the camp plaza, enraged. It turned out that Charade was angry because the scribe he tasked to write down the things he said because his hand was injured had terrible handwriting and kept getting the words wrong. The senior student who was helping him out also had a rather bad temper; after being scolded, he threw the pen and beastskin down and said that his hand was meant to wield a sword, not to write and that Charade should be grateful that he bothered to help out in the first place. After that, that man left and Charade started blowing up again.
Trying hard to suppress his laughter, Lorist picked up the stuff on the ground and handed it to Dulles. "Dulles, go to the slave camp and pick a few of them who can write well and let them serve Charade. Els, bring Knight Potterfang and Knight Terman over, I have something to discuss."
Without delay, Terman, Potterfang and his two comrades came over hastily.
After briefing the knights on the situation of Sloph, Lorist suggested that they attack the bastide right now as it is at its most unguarded state and handle Sloph and his cousin Blademaster Pike when they returned ten days later.
Lorist planned to have Engelich, who had just surrendered to him, trick the guards of the bastide to open the gates before having Terman bring his troops to quickly wipe out any resistance that sparks. Finally, he would have Dulles lead the slave soldiers to clear out the bastide while Els would lead another group of slave soldiers who could ride to seal off the entire bastide to avoid letting anyone from within to escape. When the trouble settles, the group would then abandon the camp in the pine forest and move over to the bastide entirely.
And while they attack the bastide, Potterfang was to stand guard at the camp and make sure nothing out of the ordinary happens.
Everyone agreed to Lorist's plans except for Potterfang who was worried Lorist would run into trouble by bringing the Three Star Gold ranked old man alone with him to trick the enemy to open their gates. However, Wales said, "Why don't I accompany Mister Norton here on that trip? I've been feeling quite bored and don't have anything better to do anyway."
Potterfang was extremely pleased that Lode Wales had offered himself to help and thanked him while patting his shoulder. Lorist politely saluted him and expressed his gratitude as well. "Mister Lode, I shall be troubling you to help me out. I'm really grateful for your assistance."
Wales quickly returned the greeting. "Mister Norton, you're being too polite. If you don't mind, you can call me Loze just like Pog does."
Lorist laughed out loud and stretched his hand out for a handshake. "Alright, Loze. You can refer to me as Locke too. That's what my friends call me."
After taking a bath and changing out of his bloodstained garments, as well as letting Engelich wash up and change his urine-stained pants, he got the rest to complete the preparations and rode off to Sloph's bastide with Loze and Engelich.
The bastide was approximately 7000 meters from the slaver camp. Several buildings could be seen on the hills west to the main highway near the town. Lorist and Loze chatted and laughed along the way to their destination.
In actuality, Loze was quite a candid and proud youth. He said that his father used to be a mercenary and had left him a high-ranked Battle Force manual, hoping that he would one day become a legendary mercenary. However, due to having been exposed to stories of knighthood and chivalry at a young age, Loze enlisted for the army without letting his father know. His dream was to become a knight instead of a mercenary and that enraged his father to the point where he almost got a stroke.
In the Whitelion Legion, Loze was known as a fearless and unparalleled general. However, the legion was disbanded after the civil war tore the empire apart. Loze returned home only to find his family and friends all gone. Suddenly losing everything he cared about, he no longer had any attachments and formed a group with a few other of his comrades to go venture the world. On one fateful trip, he rescued a slave trader from a bandit attack and got hired as a bodyguard and followed him all the way to Port Nupite. It was then when he bumped into Potterfang who was there to purchase some slaves to form the main force of the Norton Family on the journey to the Northlands. Intrigued by the prospect of adventure, Loze brought another friend who was unwilling to continue working as a bodyguard for a slaver, Mons Malek, along to see Potterfang.
The conquest of the bastide went without a hitch with Loze not even having to fight himself. Any sign of resistance was settled swiftly by Lorist using his javelins. Upon reaching the gates, the guards who were on duty dropped their guard entirely after seeing Engelich and lowered the drawbridge for them to enter. After Lorist slit the guards with his sword, the other Silver ranked guards all rushed over to swarm Lorist's group, thinking that they had an edge because of the disparity in numbers.
At that moment, Lorist took a javelin out of his quiver and with lightning speed, flung it out one after another, unleashing a rain of javelins unto the enemy forces. Of the ten Silver ranks that rushed over, easily half of them fell from the first volley with the rest preparing to cut down the javelins with their swords, only to be met with following waves of incessant javelin fire and ultimately experiencing gruesome deaths from being pierced straight through. After Lorist expended three quivers' worth of javelins, not one enemy remained standing.
Having witnessed that terrifying scene, Engelich started shivering and felt extremely fortunate that he recognized the might of that man and surrendered quickly, thus having his life spared in the end. Loze on the other hand was admirably praising Lorist's skill.
Terman subsequently brought the rest of his troops into the bastide and successfully occupied it, followed by him cooperating with Dulles to clear out the whole bastide of enemy troops. Even though the Iron ranked slave supervisors attempted to retaliate, under the assault of Terman and the senior academy students, they gave up entirely after ten or so of their own died with not even one of Terman's men injured in the slightest. Dulles commented that the supervisors were digging their own graves for being crazy enough to take on a fully-armed group of Silver Swordsmen with only a few whips and shortswords.
Lorist then instructed Terman to bring a group of people to go back to the camp and inform Charade and Potterfang to move over to the bastide and have some carriages go to the port to transport their other resources and equipment.
After that, he told Dulles to gather the slaves in the bastide together before detaining the other family members of the slavers and kill anyone who dares to resist. He also instructed Els to increase the level of security at the bastide. The tasks he had to do just kept piling up.
Wistful cries at the residential area of the bastide could be heard as the fierce, imposing slave soldiers marched inside and gathered the residents per Lorist's orders. Some sounds of battle and conflict rang out as well.
However, the resistance was short-lived and was soon quelled, resulting in a few lavishly-dressed corpses littered around the pavements and yards of the houses. It could be seen from the state of the corpses that the pent up rage and hate harbored by the slaves was no small matter.
During all that, Lorist followed Engelich to his granddaughter's residence. Along the way, the patrolling slave soldiers all greeted him respectfully and the families of the slavers looked at him with hateful glances.
Lorist was relieved that the slave soldiers didn't break any regulations, and only killed the ones who resisted without harassing the women nor taking the slavers' belongings as they pleased. Though, perhaps that was because the knew that they would have to hand in the loot anyway and would end up being punished for any attempt at embezzlement. After forcing the family members out of their houses, they patiently awaited their next order.
Engelich's granddaughter was quite the beauty, being quite fair-skinned and having a quiet air about her. She stood in front of the yard with a slight look of terror on her face beside a 16-year-old handmaiden. After seeing her grandfather, she leaped forward and hugged him tightly, unwilling to let go.
Nodding towards a saluting slave soldier nearby, Lorist checked out Engelich's granddaughter before saying, "Let's talk when we're inside."
Even though the hut was small, it was quite well-kept. Lorist saw a half-written beastskin on the table and picked it up to take a look. The words on the beastskin were organized and neat except for the last one, which ended in a very long stroke. It was apparent that she was in the middle of writing the document when the slave soldiers attacked.
"Are you copying a book?" asked Lorist. The girly shyly nodded.
"Your words are pretty neat," praised Lorist.
"Engelich, it's time you handed over your goods," Lorist continued.
The old man's expression turned downcast as he entered a small room and took out a small box with a beastskin book. Upon opening the box, a pile of glimmering gold coins could be seen.
"This... This contains all my savings over the years. There are 1437 gold Fordes within," said the old man with a pained heart.
Taking out one gold coin, Lorist said, "Old man, do you know how much blood and tears have been spilled for these gold coins? These coins are unclean and tainted. If you spend them, you will one day face the consequences. If you don't get punished, eventually, your descendants will. I think it would be better for both of us if I take it away and resolve that problem for you."
He then took out a pouch from his pocket and tossed it to the old man. "Within that is 10-odd gold coins which are clean and rightfully earned and isn't the product of anyone's suffering. You can spend them with a good conscience, knowing that nobody has been harmed for those gold coins. I'll be giving them to you."
"As for this water attribute Battle Force manual......" Lorist flipped through the manual and tossed it to the young girl beside. "Have your granddaughter make me a copy and keep the original for yourself. During these two days, you are to stay here with your granddaughter and her handmaiden while I think about how I should handle you. If you need anything, just tell the patrolling soldiers outside, understood?"
The old man quickly saluted and said, "Thank you, milord. I will await your further instruction."
Lorist then took the box full of gold coins and left the hut.