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After finishing breakfast, Hiro left Liz and walked to the courtyard. As he approached the courtyard, he could hear a cheerful voice. It wasn’t just one voice, but hundreds of voices that combined to form a chorus that shook his eardrums. Soon after, he stopped in his tracks and caught sight of a group of soldiers wielding swords in an orderly formation.
“Yeah. It’s pretty neat.”
Those engaged in mock battles. Those learning pole arts. There are also some who are learning how to use a bow. The equipment also varied from light armor to heavy armor and even robes.
However, perhaps because of the uniformity of the black color, it created a bizarre scene. There was a single commander in charge at the front of the soldiers, which were divided into several small groups. The commander was standing on a platform away from the soldiers, giving them a stern look.
Hiro walked up to the stage and looked up at the figure there.
“It looks like things are going well.”
The man wearing full body armor ― black grooved armor ― looked down at Hiro and leaped to the ground with his huge cowl.
“They used to be a mercenary. They have got the basics down.”
The soldiers in the courtyard were former mercenaries of the Liberation Army. Hiro accepted all the volunteers from among those who had been brought in as prisoners of war.
However, soon after the training began, more than half of them asked to be discharged due to the training’s severity. There are only about three thousand of them left now.
“But was it necessary to match the colors of the equipment?”
The complete set of equipment he had given them had been purchased with support money from the Kelheit family’s widow. However, their equipment did not have Hiro’s crest engraved on it. There were several reasons for this.
No matter what kind of master craftsman he was or what kind of large workshop he had, there was no place that could produce thousands of pieces of armor within a few days of ordering the equipment. This is even if it is the work of engraving a coat of arms. So they started by buying black equipment ― or something similar ― from neighboring cities.
“If the enemy sees the uniformed equipment, that alone will make them wary of us. If this was an elite group, we could do the opposite and expand our tactics.”
Hiro’s words were harsh. They can’t be a force to be reckoned with if they’re not skilled. That’s what he’s saying. The man in command neither denied nor affirmed, but he lifted the corners of his mouth as if to say something ironic in his helmet.
“I will soon make them more elite than the Fourth Imperial Army, or even the best in the Great Grantz Empire.”
“That’s very encouraging. The equipment they had when they were mercenaries is in storage. They were hoping that they will have the time to use them again.”
“It will come soon.”
The man’s face was revealed by pulling up his armor. It was a pale purple ― a skin color unique to the demon race. His sharp eyes make even the bravest warriors hesitate, and although his armor hides his strong body, there is no hiding the supremacy that exudes from his huge body.
He is a pure-blooded demon from the southern archipelago, Ghada Meteor.
The kingdom of Levering, located in the north of the Great Grantz Empire, is called the land of the demon race, but even the royal family is no longer pure blood because they have been intermingled with other races throughout their long history.
In other words, to be precise, there are no pure demon races in the central continent. After considering Ghada’s personal safety, Ghada chose to cover his entire body with armor in order to hide the magic stone on his forehead and skin color even in the heat.
“That being said… if they were to go into battle from now on, would these guys be of any use?”
“It depends on the skill level of the opponent, but if they move alone, there will be no problem. But if they are fighting in coordination with the Fourth Imperial Army, it will be difficult.”
“Then I guess it won’t be a problem.”
“…Are there any signs of war?”
Hiro passed Ghada’s question with a calm face and looked up above him. White clouds that color the clear sky. The sunlight peeking through the gaps was pouring down on the earth. The breeze, which still feels cool at the moment, will soon turn into a steaming hot breeze.
Hiro smiled as he turned his gaze back to Ghada, knowing that it would be another hot day.
“It’s basic to be prepared for emergencies.”
“It’s true, but… my guess is as good as yours, though?”
“I’m a little concerned about something. I don’t have any proof, but I guess it depends on time.”
It was a bit cryptic, but Ghada nodded without pursuing it too deeply.
“Then let’s train them as long as time permits.”
Ghada lowered his armor and looked at the soldiers who were training. If someone who was not familiar with the scene saw a large number of soldiers thrusting their spears with a shout, they would be overwhelmed and think they were sharp soldiers. But a skilled soldier would not miss the rough edges.
But it is the commander’s skill that fills in the gaps ― it is up to him to make the best use of them.
“I’m counting on you. I’m hoping that you’ll be able to meet my demands, even if they’re as absurd as possible.”
“If you want to strengthen them in a short period of time, the only way is through actual combat, right?”
“Yes, that’s right. It is only in life and death battles that one can realize one’s potential.”
Hiro’s lips formed a crescent moon as if he were a child who had come up with a devious idea.
“I’ve been told that bandits and brigands ― deserters from the Principality of Lichtine ― have joined forces to form a bandit gang in the neighborhood.”
“Is the location close?”
“It seems that they have taken advantage of the chaos of the recent war to set up strongholds in caves and narrow passages in the wasteland.”
Hiro held out two pieces of parchment to Ghada.
“I want you to choose one of them. The remaining one will be taken by the Fourth Imperial Army.”
Seeing that Ghada was checking the contents, Hiro continued.
“The first is a cave about a day’s walk east of here, with about fifty caves. The second is near the village of Suresh, where Mirue lives, a day’s walk south of there, in a narrow path in the wilderness, about three hundred in number. I heard that this one includes deserters. There is no end to the number of people who will join up with them even now… and there may be more than three hundred when we face them… What do you think?”
“I’ve already decided. Let’s take down the bandits at the narrow passage. Is there a deadline or conditions?”
“We want to do this as quickly as possible… We’ll take 800 with us too. We’ll be back in two days. Since the horses will have to take a break, we’ll only be able to fight for about three hours at most.”
“You have to limit yourself. Otherwise, you won’t get any experience.”
“So, One-Eyed Dragon, how are you going to defeat them?”
“There are only three hundred of them. I will go in alone and――.”
He swallowed the words “exterminate.” This is because Ghada was glaring at him. It seemed as if it was telling him that he alone was the problem. But Hiro pretended he hadn’t seen it and corrected his words.
“Joking aside, the enemy is holed up. Although we have the advantage in numbers, it will be meaningless if we can’t take advantage of it.”
Hiro moved his mouth, showing signs of thinking.
“And it’s the place where they’re based. They know the area’s topography, so they should think that they have the advantage of the ground. If we are not careful, we may suffer unexpected damage. So, if it were me, I’d drag them out and turn the tables on them.”
When he finished, Hiro put a finger to his mouth and smiled.
“Well, the sooner you see it, the better. Can you get ready for it?”
“Hmph, you will be amazed at the movements of the soldiers I have trained. They look better than they did when they were mercenaries.”
Arrogance ― a frank attitude towards the imperial family. If someone who was loyal to the Grantz imperial family had heard this, they would have pulled out their sword and unleashed it on Ghada. If Driks, who has always been known for his calmness, had heard this, he would have fallen into a rage.
“Haha, I’m glad to hear that.”
However, it didn’t matter what their feelings were because the person in question didn’t think anything of it. If anything, this tolerance and friendliness have solidified his popularity in the Fourth Imperial Army, second only to Liz.
That said, it would undoubtedly be unbecoming if he behaved like this in front of the soldiers. Ghada seems to understand this, and if anyone around overhears him, he treats them with a condescending attitude that gives one goosebump. It was an interesting scene, but after all, if he wanted to have a heart-to-heart talk, he would only do so when there was no interruption.
“Well, I’ll leave you to it.”
“I’ll let them rest a bit, and then we can depart.”
Hiro was about to leave when he suddenly remembered and turned to Ghada.
“Oh, yeah… I also decided to take some of the old equipment that was stored in the warehouse with us.”
Ghada seemed to be searching for the meaning of the words, but he seemed to understand and gave a small nod after a while.
“All right. I’ll have them prepare it for you.”
“Then I’ll go get ready too.”
As he waved his hand behind him and began to walk away, he heard Ghada’s loud voice giving the soldiers rest.
Eight hundred cavalry galloped through the wilderness in a cloud of dust. With only one cell (three kilometers) to go to their destination, Hiro’s private army, the Raven Army, stopped its march to hide behind a cliff. They are still not well trained, but they are no less powerful than the Fourth Imperial Army.
“Well, let’s draw out the bandits.”
Hiro gave a signal to the rear. Then the line of cavalry cracked open to reveal a hundred soldiers dressed as mercenaries. There were another twenty or so dressed as farmers, and they were pulling a cart.
They headed for the narrow road ahead, surrounded by cliffs ― the narrow road where the bandits had their stronghold.
“Then the first and second cavalry should also begin to move.”
After receiving Hiro’s order, the soldiers marched off to the left and right, hiding in the dust created by the carts. The remaining 100 cavalrymen are commanded by Hiro and his aide, Ghada.
“I hope it goes well, but they’re not amateurs. I don’t think they’ll be so easily fooled.”
“Surprisingly, people can be easily fooled. In some cases, even the most experienced are often inferior to amateurs.”
After telling Ghada, Hiro narrowed his eyes as if looking into the distance. Ghada, too, was caught up and looked at the same spot. In front of both of their eyes, the troops dressed as peasants had stopped just before the narrow path.
“I suppose they’re being questioned by now. What do you think they’ll do when they see the bait?”
“Many will be suspicious that it’s a trap.”
“That’s what the cart is for. The cart has a lot of armor on it.”
The cart is loaded with armor and swords. If bandits see it, they will want it desperately. They don’t have enough money to procure the equipment, nor do they have the means to plunder it. They would need armor if they were to continue to plunder for food on a regular basis.
That’s why Hiro had his men pose as peddlers.
“But isn’t one hundred too many for an escort?”
“It was necessary in order to avoid suspicion.”
“What if they are too cautious and don’t come out of the narrow passage?”
Ghada had a good point. There are only about three hundred of them. If they knew that there were a hundred guards, there was a chance that they would be too timid to make a move. Even so, a few of them would probably jump out of the narrow path and threaten us. They would probably say that they had more men than us and threaten to send the carts to them.
“I have instructed them to attack without hesitation.”
“Hoo… and after that?”
“I told them to run straight to us after they provoked the bandits.”
Then the bandits, inflamed by their comrades’ loss, came running out of the narrow passage in pursuit of their fleeing prey. Then, the first and second cavalry units, which had been diverted, came up behind them, blocked the entrance and exit, and attacked.
“Here we go. We should go too.”
The battle began. The wind carried the sounds of sword fights to this location. The carriage carrying Hiro slowly started to move. Ghada, who was riding alongside, pulled on the reins of the horse while looking ahead. Hiro and the others, with the remaining one hundred cavalries, slipped out from behind the cliff.
“It seems that the enemy acted exactly as I expected.”
“They are so easy to fall for this kind of trick… No wonder the Principality of Lichtine was defeated.”
“Still, they are stronger than most bandits. You can’t let your guard down just because we’ve surrounded them.”
After saying that, Hiro instructed the remaining 100 cavalries to join the battle. Upon receiving the order, they acted swiftly and began their assault, leaving Ghada and Hiro behind.
By the time Hiro and the others arrived, the battle was probably over.
“You were supposed to let those who surrendered live, but… are you sure you want to do that?”
“That’s fine. What’s the problem?”
“If it were up to me, I’d order everyone to be killed. That’s why I’m wondering why you let them live, even the ones who surrendered.”
“Aah, that’s very simple. If we wipe them all out, the corpses will attract more monsters. Then the neighboring villages would be affected, wouldn’t they?”
Whether the bandits’ corpses are buried or burned, the smell of blood will attract the monsters. They will live in the narrow passages, and when they lose their food, they will start attacking the neighboring villages. If the bandits were taken care of, but the monsters spread, it would be the worst thing that could happen. That’s why he instructed all the soldiers not to attack those who showed their willingness to surrender.
“They’ve just lost the war. They’ll surrender soon.”
When Hiro and the others reached the battlefield, most of the bandits had surrendered, as expected.
However, not a few of them fell prey to the cavalry. The number of bandits had dwindled to around two hundred. The corpses were loaded on carts and were to be disposed of by a separate team at a distant location. Those who were captured would be punished accordingly. He planned to leave the matter to the second-class military officer Driks, who stayed at the Berg Fortress.
“It looks like we didn’t need three hours. It was all settled so easily.”
Hiro smiled and nodded at Ghada’s words. He didn’t expect it to be a hard fight, but the Raven Army did more than he expected.
“Let’s rest for a moment and then return to the Berg Fortress.”
Hiro said, and Ghada gave the order to the soldiers. As Hiro watched, he looked up above him. The clouds are flowing gently in the sky ― the sun’s rays piercing through and lighting up the wilderness like steam.
(I will be called to the Great Imperial City soon. What should I do with the “Raven Army” then?)
It would be a waste of time to have them march through the streets in peace. Then it would be better to let them spend their time training until Hiro returns.
(But if they ask me to go to Felzen, I want to take them.)
A letter arrived from Aura the other day, but it seemed that Felzen was still unpredictable, and there was a great possibility that the Emperor would get fed up and order him to go to Felzen.
It would be the perfect opportunity for the “Raven Army” to gain some experience.
(Well, there’s no point in thinking about it now… I guess I’ll just have to figure it out depending on the situation at the time.)
Hiro loosened his collar and wiped the sweat from his cheeks. He then closed his eyelids and began to breathe softly in order to regain his energy.