Solon accompanied the platoon. Most likely he was doing so because he knew the coming mission would not be too difficult. The platoon was created for his sake, so his security whilst in their company fell to Locke and Jersson. Solon had not come empty-handed, however. He brought with him a set of exquisite Mikhelli chain mail and a pair of sharp two-handed swords. That set alone would triple his chances of surviving even a severe encounter. He had also, however, brought two guards. Neither had a piercing presence, but they were the picture of physical fitness. Locke also suspected that although neither could probably match him in a fight individually they were far more powerful together.
Barons Cardoj and Cashel were just finishing their senseless pleasantries by the campfire.
"It won't be easy. I assume you came prepared?" Cashel asked.
"Of course. I'm not as good as you at little things like information gathering, but I can do it decently enough," Cardoj replied.
"The mayor is Margrave Felippe's son. He is far from the Margrave's favourite son, but even so he hasn't been given an impoverished city to govern. We'll make a killing from the loot even if we have to fight a tough battle for it--" Cashel turned his gaze on Cardoj. "--I heard Viscount Wester's troops are rushing over as we speak."
"Which is why we can't just sit around and starve them out."
"I agree. And despite my earlier comment about fighting a tough battle, we honestly won't have to break a sweat. Other might find it harder going though."
An old grey-robed man stepped forward from behind Cashel as he spoke.
Wyr stepped forward as well.
"Having Meister Jackson makes things much simpler. I certainly won't complain to have a low-rank Lerhling on our side," Cardoj laughed.
"Cheers!" the two grinned, clinking wine grasses which had magically found their way into their hands.
"We will still have to rely on you, Herr Wyr. A high-rank Knecht like you can rival even a first-rate division jarl! Cheers again!" Cashel exclaimed.
The two glasses vanished down throats in large, quick gulps.
"I heard your son will be joining the assault?" Cashel asked, changing subject effortlessly, "Even if we won't have to break a sweat overall, the people on the ground will still have a stiff fight, especially in the more heavily-defended areas."
"A young hawk must fly through rain and storm if he wishes to grow up. Time has come for Solon to face the weather and see if he has the strength to fly," Cardoj answered coldly.
Cashel didn't offer further comment.
A long wooden arm swung up into the air with silent fanfare, announcing the start of the assault.
Beneath the arching trebuchet-launched rocks men lifted ladders on armoured shoulders and charged for the walls. They had been given until sundown to take the city, the order had come just a few minutes earlier, and the men were just a little too close to rushed for comfort. This was a change from what everyone had been expecting. It had changed the battle from a siege to an assault, and those never ended with light casualties for the attackers. No one was going to question the barons' decisions, however, so an assault it was. A key target in this assault was the city's gates. They were the weakest point in the defences, and if they fell, the city fell. Locke's platoon had been assigned to one of the gates.
It was quite rare to see the giant trebuchets and armoured rams joining this battle. Only the best first-rate division had access to them. In most assaults, the attackers only had ladders, most of which would have been built on sight from whatever could be found in the city's surroundings. Even so, Cashel only had two trebuchets.
The attackers had settled on assault in waves. The men would launch themselves at the walls like the waves of the ocean. The following wave would crash against the walls just as the previous wave's energy was spent, allowing them to pull back and recuperate. It kept the pressure on the defenders, and once they came to grips with them in close combat, generally meant the outside of the walls were relatively safe from ranged attack since all the defenders were occupied with those right in front of them. If Locke could think of such a tactic, the baron would definitely be able to do so as well. As he had expected, a messenger soon came to their platoon and passed the order on for their unit to get ready in an hour.
The soldiers felt something was going on as well and were getting rowdy. Locke and Jersson announced the baron's orders and quickly calmed them.
"Let me go up against them first, Jersson. You watch Master Solon," Locke said.
This was the moment for guts. The first in had the greatest chance of death, but also the greatest chance at glory. At this point, however, Locke didn't really care all that much about making it in first. Jersson stared at him for several seconds, on the edge of saying something, but he never did. He eventually just nodded with a grunt of agreement.
3rd Platoon's probes ended quickly. Locke stared at the city gate the whole time. 3rd Platoon had more than a hundred men but they retreated before even touching the gate. They left several corpses in their wake and Locke's heart sank. He had hoped, prayed even, that it would be straightforward, but clearly providence had decided otherwise The gate must be held by at least a platoon. He'd even seen heated stones flung at the men when they got close to the gate. That had been what had finally broke them and sent them back the way they'd come.
"This is wrong," Jersson remarked, "Such a small city shouldn't have more than two platoons in the garrison. How can they afford to put half of their force on just one gate? Even if they'd doubled their numbers with conscripts, they should still not be able to afford this kind of concentration of manpower."
"They might have added the refugees to the mix," Locke offered, "If so, however, they're of no concern. They'd have been forced to take up arms and they'll break without much incentive on our part. What worries me is the stones. For all the same reasons you mentioned, they should not have as many of them as it seems they do. They're practically farting them over the wall!"
The current 3rd Platoon was formed from the original members of 3rd and 4th platoons. In terms of the combat strength, they could definitely match the 1st and 2nd platoons, not to mention that the two jarls were elites who had fought their ways up through bloody battles. No one had expected them to be repulsed.
Locke noticed the jarl from 3rd Platoon, no weaker than Yoshk, had slashed two oil barrels thrown from the walls. But he had finally been forced to turn back by a hail of arrows. Chris, wearing sturdy body armour, had turned into a porcupine as he retreated from the firing range. His armour and impetus had kept the worst of them our of him so he looked in a worse way than he was.
1st Platoon and 2nd Platoon took 3rd's place as they withdrew. They were the battalion's main force. Locke and the baron observed them just as closely as they had 3rd. The baron took note of the performance of 3rd Platoon but did not and could not blame them. The defenders were more desperate to repulse them than the attackers were to breach the walls, after all.
Platoon Jarl Mond from 1st Platoon took the lead and rushed to the front with a giant shield. He had witnessed the arrow rain and had concluded that even the strongest armour would not be able to block it. That was why he could only try to withstand the impact of the arrows with a giant shield. The gigantic, glossy black shield was no ordinary equipment and no one knew how Mond even got such a specimen. Suddenly, a faint green light encircled his whole body. He rushed forward with the shield held high, opening a path for the soldiers behind. This was a special ability of low-rank Knechts, which allowed them to enhance their physical strength with their impetus for a short time.
The defenders on the gate seemed to have noticed it, too. After gathering a crowd of men, a huge arrow, which was a good half-metre wide, appeared on the gate. Mond, while advancing, caught sight of it and his expression immediately changed. It was a ballista; a weapon used specifically to kill elites like him. A few ordinary people working together was enough to kill elite fighters below the mid-rank thanks to it.
Mond could not dodge everything freely. He was too occupied defending against the arrows and flaming jars. The ballista would almost surely kill him if it hit. It was a standard anti-elite tactic. With no elites of the same level as the opponent's on one's side, the only option would be to overwhelm them with an abundance of arrows and then fire a deadly shot with a lethal weapon such as a ballista.
With the threat of the ballista looming over the city wall, Mond lost his initial confidence and began jumping around nonstop, making it much harder for the ballista to target him.
Fortunately, Mond was eventually able to close in on the city wall. The ten soldiers behind him also arrived safely under the protection of his giant shield. The remaining three platoon jarls each led a wave of soldiers and approached the gate rapidly. Although the resistance was stronger this time, it was not their first siege, and everyone was mentally prepared.
The battle was in full swing. If 3rd Platoon's first trial attack revealed both sides' strength to their respective surprise. The real struggle was about to begin.
The Shalorians appeared at the front of the city one by one, throwing stones and firing arrows at their attackers. The Faustians were not outdone so easily, however. Their two trebuchets flung large stones at the city as quickly as their operators could make them do so.
It would be a battle of attrition from here on. Fighting flared up at the other gates as well as those sides finally got to grips. Although Baron Cashel's troops were a bit disorganised, their numbers alone was an impressive advantage. It was quite a sight to behold, men rushing the walls like ants an insect's carcass.
Meanwhile in the city's main hall, as day began to break...
"Let me go, you beast!" Glace shouted as she struggled frantically against the soldiers' grip.
"My dear sister, just hand over the map, " a skinny young man said as he stood in front of the woman, unmoved by her desperation.
"In your dreams! Where did you take Kristin? Give her back!" Glace thrashed desperately.
She managed to loose herself partially and seized Willis by the collar. The men charged with holding her got their hands on her again, however, and pulled her back again.
The young man fixed his disheveled collar calmly before he spoke again.
"Give me the map, or you will never see her again."
"She is your niece!" Glace shouted desperately.
"Niece? Haha, have you and that old man ever treated me like one of the family? Everyone lounged their lives away in the capital but you exiled me to this backwater! And what about my mother? Where's she? I've never seen her. Did that old man's other binbo have her killed? Tell me the truth!"
Willis found his hands on Glace's shoulders, his fingers clenched so firmly his nails drew blood as he shook her like a doll.
Glace felt hot streaks on her cheeks as she listened to the madness, the years of grief, in the young man's voice. She knew what had happened to his mother. Her aunts had killed her while Glace's mother was away from home. They had done it because they could not accept a maid being elevated to be their equal. She was a bloody peasant. She had no place in the house of nobility besides cleaning the floors, washing the clothes, and cooking their food. They had all of society on their side as well, so when the father, Margrave Filippe, had returned to find his maid dead, he could do nothing to them. They had yet to get to his dead maid's son, his son, however, so he had sent him away, exiled him, for his own safety. That was cold comfort for a son who'd been abandoned by his entire family, and it did nothing to quell his current fury, his madness, and Glace knew that all too well.