Apologies for the late release.  This is the third one of the week.



'Entrance with no exit' - the quintessence of the plan Lorist and Shuss had devised. Lorist needed the group to be able to spend two days in undisturbed peace. The rest would allow the slaves to rest and recover and allow them to find ways to arm the slaves.

There were around 1600 slave at the dueling grounds. Coupled with the female slaves and other servants, there were more than 2000 people. Unfortunately, even after turning the whole place upside down, they only found 400 sets of weapons and armor. Most of them were obtained from the instructors of the slave fighters at the dueling grounds. Apart from Charade and the other Norton household knights and soldiers, only Blademaster Shuss and roughly a hundred slave fighters were armed. The rest were completely unarmed.

The main reason Lorist left the dueling grounds to return to Blood and Flame was to see whether he could find a way to get his hands on weapons. All 1000 slaves had already awoken their battleforce. They would be a force to be reckoned with if they were properly armed. Lorist felt that the slave fighters could play a huge role in the upcoming assault on the capital. For the time being, however, he did not have the means to put the plan into action.

It was already noon by the time Els got to Blood and Flame. When the innkeeper inquired about his absence, he said that he had sprained his ankle and had had to rest for a few days before he was able to return. The guards had also changed shifts, so no one knew of his whereabouts, which had led to the issue. It hadn't been until his morning that he learned that his guild's guards were looking for him, which was why he was in such a rush at the moment.

After satisfying the innkeeper's curiosity, Els took Lorist to a corner for some food and a chat. He took out a report from Charade and handed it to Lorist. the report stated that the group was short on medicine, weapons, and food. The slaves were under tight guard despite the state of war the kingdom was in and its recent deployment of the majority of its forces.

Of most immediate concern was the shortage of food. The food they had could only feed the roughly 2000 people for three days. On top of that was the fact that the rations were extremely bare. The group only had two single-serving meals of porridge a day, it was hardly a proper diet for a force soon to go into combat. The current state of their food stores was only possible thanks to the stashes they found near the instructors' dorms. If not for those, they would have run out of food that very day. Besides the dire state of their food supply, they were also severely wanting for proper medicine to treat the 300 injured slaves.

Charade urged Lorist to remedy the situation as soon as possible.

Lorist felt quite troubled. They were in the enemy's capital, even if they could procure all the necessary supplies, it was nigh impossible to get it all into the dueling grounds without raising the suspicion of only every armed individual in the city. Even if everything else went off without a hitch, just the royal defense army alone - camped right outside the grounds - posed a severe problem to the success of the operation. The majority of the army had been deployed, but, even so, around 20 thousand men remained. Most of them were the bumbling drunks of the Snowshame army, but there was bound to be one or two vigilant people. If he made any mistake, the entire force in the dueling grounds would end up trapped there without any escape route or possibility of survival.

"Milord, what if we launch an ambush in the night?" Els asked in a low voice, "Before I returned, I passed through the army's camp. I even went inside for a walk. the food stores and armory are located at the back of the camp, with only a wall between them. If we attack in the dead of the night and catch them off their guard, we should be able to take hold of the two before they can react."

Lorist shook his head.

"Things won't go that smoothly. Our forces might be able to pull it off, but the slaves aren't disciplined. They won't follow orders nearly as easily. If we bring them with us on the attack, there is a good chance they'll run amok, disregard our orders and go on a killing spree. They'd be surrounded by the time they finally snap out of their frenzy, if at all. They'll be completely wiped out. We must not underestimate the hatred they hold for the capital's citizenry. If we give them a chance to vent too early, it'll do us no good."

Els couldn't argue, he knew Lorist was right. He had himself heard the slaves clamoring for a weapon and demanding a chance to kill their captors and masters. Some even claimed satisfaction with an equal exchange, their life for one of the enemy's, anything more would be a bonus. It took Blademaster Shuss and his gold-ranked companions quite a bit of time and persuasion to calm them down. If not for their careful work, the Norton soldiers would have long since been robbed of their weapons and equipment.

"Ah, Els! You're back!" exclaimed a joyful voice. It seemed that Tarkel had just woken and was glad to see his friend sitting with Lorist as he descended the stairs.

"Those bastards spent almost the whole night drinking... I had to accompany them until I vomited twice. Darn, I still feel hung over..." complained Tarkel as he walked over.

He took an open seat at the table and asked the innkeeper to bring him something to eat.

"Milord, did you find Knight Charade and the rest?" whispered Tarkel.

There was a glint of sharpness in his hungover expression as he asked Lorist. The latter nodded ever so slightly and waited for the maidservant serving the food to leave before he recounted his trip. At first, Tarkel received the news just fine, but when Lorist came to the part about helping the slaves secretly take over the dueling grounds, Tarkel spat out all the ale he drunk.

"Mi-milord... Your excursions always bring unexpected results," resigned Tarkel.

"Unexpected my ass. I already have a huge headache and haven't the slightest idea what to do. Even though the 1000 slaves would be a decent addition to our force, the problem right now is how we'll keep this force hidden until the rest of the household troops make their way over," said Lorist as he knocked his head repeatedly with his wrist.

Els described the slaves' situation.

Tarkel gave it some thought before he said, "So Milord intends to keep these slaves hidden until the attack, then use them to deliver a crippling blow to the defenders to ease your entry into the city?"

Lorist nodded.

"That's the idea, but we lack the supplies necessary to last that long, and the equipment to make the slaves useful. Even if we manage to procure it, we won't be able to move it into the dueling grounds. Well, it's not that we'd be able to source the supplies so easily anyway. Els's idea to ambush the Snowshame army's campsite is the best option we have.

Tarkel furrowed his brow and spun his mug of ale around.

"Milord, you've forgotten to take into account another important piece of news. Didn't Drei say yesterday that King Lud III would organize another large-scale show at the dueling grounds during which the Snowshame Army will pit the slaves against one another as a sacrifice to Singwa? That ceremony marks the boundary of the amount of time we can hide the slaves in the city for. If the Snowshame army finishes forming, the current state of affairs will be revealed.

"Additionally, given that the supplies at the dueling ground are so lacking, there will be a resupply run every two or three days. We don't know if the guards will be changed either. If either of these things happens, everything will be exposed. It's hard to say whether we'll be able to hide this for another two or three days, let alone until our forces arrive."

"You're saying that we should take the initiative? So you also agree with Els's suggestion to ambush the slavers and mercenaries?" asked Lorist.

"I do, Milord," said Tarkel, "After all, the Snowshame army's purpose is to reinforce our enemy. If we can inflict a lot of damage we could incapacitate them and it'll be another burden off our minds. our forces will be able to breach the capital with more ease and fewer casualties as well. The only thing we have to consider is how to preserve the slaves' fighting strength so they can deal as much damage as possible."

The scene of the alley where several drunks laid sprawling flashed into Lorist's mind.

"If we can make everyone in the camp drunk, then everything will work out..."

The plan sounded wonderful, but it was completely impractical. There were at least 20 thousand people in the camp, Lorist had no idea how much alcohol would be needed to get them drunk.

The door to the inn opened and four garrison soldiers marched in. After they talked a bit with the innkeeper, they came to Lorist and the rest and one of them asked, "Do you people know Kalik?"

"Oh?" Tarkel mused as he stood up, "Yes, Kalik was the one who fled to the capital with me. I guess you can consider him my friend. He left yesterday night and still hasn't returned. Did something happen?"

"Well, your friend went to the noble's sector and threw a drunk fit. He even cursed Viscount Timba for forgetting the kindness he was shown. In the end, he was pummeled badly by the servants and locked up in the garrison. When he regained consciousness this morning, he begged us to deliver this letter to you. He wanted us to ask you to help him get out of there," said the soldier as he rubbed his thumb and fingers together in a wanton gesture.

"Oh, so that's the case. I am indeed Tarkel, thank you for your troubles," said Tarkel as he handed the soldier a gold Forde before he had the innkeeper cook up some good dishes for the four.

The soldier stared at the coin in his hand with a beaming smile before he hurriedly stashed it into his pocket.

"Friend, how should I get Kalik out of lockup?" asked Tarkel.

The garrison soldier smiled and said, "You can always spend some money. Otherwise, Kalik will be sent to the dueling grounds. The king has already ordered that those who escaped from Nupite to the capital be drafted into Snowshame. People like Kalik who haven't reported to their station yet will be sent to the dueling grounds. Any deserters will face the same fate. The more fearful of death they are, the sooner they'll die. Naturally, nobles are an exception."

"Then, friend, can you help me and take us to Kalik?" Tarkel asked.

Seeing the soldier look at his three companions enviously as they were served their food, Tarkel smiled and said, "Friend, I will have another table ready for you. Your satisfaction is guaranteed. I have a huge reward waiting for you if you deal with this matter properly."

The moment he heard about the huge reward, the soldier felt his waist pocket and wet his lips before he responded, "Alright, I'll go with you."

Tarkel left with the soldier and returned half an hour later with a haphazard-looking Kalik. He had a bruised and dirtied face. At that moment, Drei, Chelwar and a few other mercenaries got down from upstairs and laughed at Kalik's sorry state, saying that there was no way that kissing that viscount's ass was going to do him any good. Fortunately, Tarkel had interfered and bailed him out. Otherwise, his life would definitely be over.

No longer being able to stand the humiliation, Kalik snapped and said, "Is there anything wrong with trying to get on Viscount Timba's good side? After all, I was one of those who accompanied him during our trip to the capital. As long as he put a word in for me, I wouldn't have to give my life..."

Tarkel hurriedly ordered more dishes for the soldier that had accompanied him before walking over and saying, 'Kalik's right. With but a word from the viscount, he wouldn't have to report to serve the army. But I heard that the viscount wasn't in his residence last night. He was held back at the palace by his elder sister. That's why Kalik was just a little unlucky last night. He had visited when the viscount wasn't around and ended up drunk to the point of causing a fit. He can hardly be blamed considering all he went through."

The rest continued to laugh. Kalik blushed intensely and shut up.

Tarkel shook his head and said, "Well, Kalik still has to report to the army today or he'll be dealt with as a deserter. Chelwar, since you're his friend, make sure to see to it that he doesn't end up too badly. But don't worry, Kalik. I will visit the viscount's mansion this afternoon to deliver a message to him on behalf of my guild. If he returns and sees the letter, I'm sure that he'll send someone over to invite us there. I'm sure we can ask the viscount for a favor and get you guys out of Snowshame. I only have the few of you left of the friends I've made, so I hope that nothing bad will happen to you."

The words made Kalik tear up and also caused Chelwar, Drei and the other mercenaries to praise Tarkel for his camaraderie. Tarkel brushed the praises off before having the innkeeper prepare some more food. In the end, Tarkel ended up reporting to the army camp completely drunk with Chelwar's aid.

With the inn finally quieting down, Tarkel returned to Lorist and Els's table.

"Is this how you spend the funds the house provides for you? What's the benefit of making friends with those hoodlums?!" Els said, contempt laced in his voice.

Tarkel smiled without giving Els an answer.

"Milord, let's visit Viscount Timba after having a change of clothes. The garrison soldier informed me that the viscount has just returned to his residence. I have an idea that can get us out of our sticky situation."

"Let's hear it," said Lorist, raising an eyebrow.

"We can use the name of Viscount Timba to get large amounts of food and wine into the army camp. We can say it's to bolster the army's morale. When they're drunk and passed out, we can mobilize the slave fighters for an ambush. Not only will we be able to cut down on casualties, we'll also be able to get what we need," explained Tarkel as he mimed a cutthroat gesture when no one else was looking.

Lorist's eyes widened before he said, "The crucial part is convincing the viscount to go along with our ploy..."

"We can use the Peterson Merchant Guild's name to make a business proposal to the viscount which he can profit from without any financial investment on his part. I'm sure the viscount would also love it if the deal can benefit his sister and brother-in-law at the same time."

Lorist stood up and said, "Well, time's running short. Let's visit Viscount Timba right away."