Here's the last release of the week! Happy Christmas Eve and cya guys next week!

On both sides of the bank of the lower stream of Metropoulos River, tightly congregated camps could be seen. Rectangular tents were packed tightly  along the banks of the river, bringing with it the prophecy of war. The moment the side of The Northlands finished their preparations, the war would break out. But from how the defenses on the side of the Madras duchy seemed, the forces of The Northlands didn't look like they would be able to pull through. Even if they dyed the whole river red, it seemed like an impossible feat for the forces of The Northlands to breach the defenses at the opposite side of the bank.

The 32nd day of the 10th month was a cloudy day with strong winds and light drizzles. Lorist looked at the opposite bank on horseback using a telescope before he turned to Baron Shazin Hennard and asked, "Is everything ready?"

"Of course. All the rafts and boards for the floating bridges are already prepared. This part of the river stretches around 300 meters to the other side that is filled to the brim with barricades, moats, and short walls for obstacles. A hundred meters away from the bank is where the defense towers are situated. The towers have an octagonal structure and has five floors, bringing it up to around 15 meters in height. There are two ballistae each on the upper three floors. The fishing boats I sent were shot down before they crossed the stream halfway back then," said Hennard as he grit his teeth in anger.

"You can give orders for the bridge to be built now. You'll soon be able to exact revenge on those on the other side," said Lorist with a smile.

Hennard waved his hand downwards, causing a few guards behind him to blow their horns. The loud blowing of the horns resounded across both sides of the river as groups of soldiers flooded to the riverbank alongside carriages filled with materials. By then, a group of worksmiths and soldiers had already began laying out the rafts with the wooden boards.

Lorist once again used his telescope to observe the opposite bank and saw that the soldiers of the Madras duchy wearing an assortment of leather and metal armor flooding to their battle stations. All of them knew that the battle has begun.

The rafts were each laid with an extra wooden board on top and relied on a soldier to push it along slowly using an oar. More than a hundred such rafts lined themselves side by side by the bank as the worksmiths secured the finger-thick boards together with large chains. By the time noon came, a long boat ramp roughly 300 meters in length was fully constructed.

Lorist said with a little bit of frustration, "Hennard, you should've constructed the boat ramp beforehand. That would've saved us quite a bit of time."

Hennard laughed and said, "It was my intention to trick those idiots on the other side of the bank by intentionally waiting until now to build the boat ramp. Locke, look. They thought that we were going to approach through transporting our soldiers on rafts on the other side before making our charge. Not only that, those guys on the other side were busy building barricades to resist our charge while we waited. Do you see all those barricades they're tossing into the river over there? I've practically made them work hard for nothing at all. They didn't think we would approach slowly using our boat ramp. What they definitely won't see coming is our catapult bombardment that will precede the docking of the soldiers on the other side so that their defensive fortifications will be crumbled beforehand."

After lunchtime, the gigantic boat ramp was already 40 meters away from shore. Currently, the worksmiths were busy working on a floating bridge that would connect to the boat ramp. As the bridge got longer, the boat ramp would be pushed along further into the river.

"I believe that we only have to push forward another 30 meters before we start moving the catapults onto the ramp," said Hennard as he looked at the floating bridge.

Lorist said, "Watch out for the fire arrows from the other side. Since that ramp is made of wood and interconnected, all it takes is for a couple of fires to start to burn it down to ash."

Hennard said, "Don't worry. I've already made some estimations. We will be roughly 320 meters away from the defense towers by the time the floating bridge grows another 30 meters in length. Since their ballistae can only shoot as far as 300 meters, we are just slightly beyond their firing range. Not only that, the catapults can fire roughly 350 to 400 meters away, so we can pulverize them without worrying about their attacks reaching us. Not only that, I will have the soldiers splash some river water onto the surface of the ramp as a precaution. There's no way it'd be set on fire that easily."

Count Kenmays looked rather bored as he yawned and said, "How much time left until we start launching our boulders?"

Hennard thought for a bit before he replied, "I think there's still another hour or two to go."

"Fine," Kenmays said carefreely, "Then I'll go take another nap within my tent. Make sure to call me when the action begins. I drunk a little more than I should in the afternoon so I still feel rather dizzy now."

After another two hours, the boat ramp finally got into position. The worksmiths no longer worked on building the floating bridge and took the opportunity to rest after a long day of work. On the other hand, Ovidis commanded the troops of Thunderbolt Brigade to retire the horses pulling the catapults and had them carefully load them onto the boat ramp in two neat rows. After securing the catapults on the ramp, the soldiers began moving rock projectiles of various sizes for the squad of soldiers on the ramp.

After an hour's hard work, the preparations were finally complete. Count Kenmays came over on his own accord without needing anyone to call for him.

"The prep work is far too troublesome. Almost a day has passed since we began," said Kenmays.

"No worries," Hennard said, "We can still fight during the night. Darkness or not, they will be smashed all the same. Give the signal for Knight Ovidis to begin."

After hearing the horn signal, Ovidis quickly ordered the 500 catapults on the ramp to begin firing. Rocks and boulders rained all over the opposite side of the bank, causing one defense tower after another to collapse into a rubble of smoke. When three volleys of rocks were fired, not a single defense tower remained standing, with the cries of numerous soldiers from the other side crying out in despair after the baptism of rock. What remained of them retreated backwards as quickly as they could in an attempt to escape the fate of those that were manning the defense towers. Initially, after the first two volleys of rock were fired, the troops in the defense towers that still remained standing began firing back in the direction of the river. Half of the projectiles they loosed seemed to be set alight as well. However, all of those projectiles landed straight into the river tens of meters before they reached the boat ramp. In the dozen of minutes following that, apart from more than ten ballistae operators that were unwilling to accept the results of their retaliation and wanted to try again, the rest of the soldiers in the defense towers could only watch as the next volley of rocks came crashing town against the structures within which they stood.

A large empty space on the bank on the side of the duchy appeared following every volley of catapult fire. Not one defensive fortification managed to withstand the onslaught of falling rocks. The moment Ovidis ordered for the remaining defense towers to be felled, all soldiers within the towers had already given up on their posts and ran for their lives.

Now that the defense towers were no longer a threat, the worksmiths resumed construction of the floating bridge to push the ramp further ahead to connect it to the other side of the bank. Ovidis on the other hand began to fire jars filled with fuel towards the rows of barricades at the side of the river. It didn't take long before some cinders could be seen The light breeze near the river only served to help the fire to spread to the forest nearby.

Standing at a mound near the river, Lorist looked at the roiling smoke and flaming lands as he sighed and said, "The game is set. We will be able to get ashore by tomorrow. However, we still have to be on guard during the night. It's hard to tell whether the desperate soldiers of Madras duchy will launch a surprise attack on us."

Hennard laughed and said, "Don't worry, I've already prepared for this long ago. I guarantee that nothing bad will happen."

Despite Lorist's worries, the forces of the Madras duchy were not as resilient as he thought. By the time the boat ramp neared the other side, the worksmiths began to construct a simpler floating bridge for the catapults to be moved ashore, all the while a regiment of troops were sent ahead to the shore to stand guard. At the same time, a regiment of troops were on the opposite bank, around 10 thousand soldiers of the Madras duchy appeared and made a wary approach with the intent of chasing their enemy back into the river.

However, the enemy crumbled instantly right after Ovidis ordered for another volley of attacks to be launched. It didn't take long until all of them were far out of sight.

"Locke, with such an amazing weapon like the catapults, why don't we sweep past the whole of the Madras duchy? There's no need to wait for spring next year for the decisive battle," suggested Hennard confidently.

Lorist shook his head and said, "Let's just stick to our plan. Hennard, what I want is not just the Madras duchy's territory. Their population and resources are also very important to us. If we push our attack across the duchy, Duke Madras will definitely rally all the citizens to fight it out with us. Even if we emerge victorious, we will be left with a shell of what the duchy used to be. Not only would we have to spend money and resources to rebuild the area, we will also be hated by the surviving duchy citizens.

"If we want to make the duchy our domain, we will have to minimize the damages incurred by the commoners. What we want to deal with are the nobles of the duchy. Let's just follow our original plan to set up a defense line near the shore. We'll let the nobles of the Madras duchy take the offensive and let them have a taste of what our forces are capable of. After that, we'll start negotiations with Duke Madras and demand him to guarantee our passage on this side of the river for trading purposes. We can misguide him of our intentions this way, and that is also the reason I had Count Kenmays come over."

Hennard said disappointedly, "I know, I will secure the bank here as Kenmays does the negotiations. But I really want to go all out on them..."

"Did you forget about the second prince? Back then, he led his army of 50 thousand against the Madras duchy and still lost at the Battle of Kobo. While it's definitely possible for us to wipe out the duchy forcefully with the combined forces of all four of our houses, we would also incur huge losses in the process and gain the enmity of the neighboring nations. We must ensure that we as few casualties as possible to obtain our goal. This is the same for the Madras duchy as well. Not only would we be able to conserve our strength after our goal is achieved, we will have enough vitality left to stave off and deter any attack from other foes nearby. Do you understand now?" warned Lorist.

Hennard nodded a little begrudgingly.

"Hennard, you are currently under a false impression. You think that now that our side has catapults, we have won it all. Actually, catapults aren't as amazing as you imagine them to be. I already have more than ten methods myself to neutralize the threat of catapults. For example, light cavalry troops are one of them. Catapults are only good for attacking stationary targets such as citadels or defensive fortifications and are not of much use in an open-field battle. Not only is the firing rate really low, the time the rock projectiles travel across the air is not short either. Any unit with enough mobility will be able to evade the area the rocks will land in.

"That's the reason why I think cavalry is an effective measure to use against catapults. If one was willing to sacrifice part of the cavalry unit's fighting force and have them hurl fuel jars in a suicidal manner at the catapults, one would be able to burn the catapults down. The catapults can also be taken out by surprise attacks when one sets up camp for the night. The soldiers of the Madras duchy only appear so terrified because this is the first time they're pit against the catapults. But if the war drags on, they'll no doubt gain more experience with each subsequent encounter and come up with effective measures to counter our strategy."

Thinking that what Lorist said made sense, Hennard laughed and said, "Ah, it's my bad for overlooking it. I'll follow your instructions, so don't worry Locke. I won't act on my own."

When Lorist patted on Hennard's soldier and was about to say something else, an urgent-sounding staccato of approaching horses could be heard. The horses seemed completely drained by the time they arrived at the foot of the mound. Three messengers wearing the armor of the Norton house dismounted and ran towards Lorist.

When they were within a distance of ten steps, the messengers stopped. Els went forward to check on them before he returned and said, "Milord, they are from the guard brigade. They rushed all over from the dominion with an urgent letter from Silowas."

"What? What happened?" After Lorist opened the letter and took a look, he gasped in shock. The letter was jointly penned by Supervisor Hansk and Knight Freiyar. One was an administrative official and the other a military officer. Something must've occurred for the two to sign the same letter.

When he read its contents, Lorist was completely stupefied. Count Kenmays asked curiously, "What's going on? Did something happen? Would it be okay for me to know about it?"

Lorist handed over the letter and said, "Just look."

Kenmays began to recite the letter, "At seven during the evening of the 24th day of the 10th month, the second highness and a few others snuck onto Silowas aboard an old fishing boat disguised as fishermen. Among his cohort were Norton Glacia and four other guards, with one gold rank and three silver ranks. Supervisor Hansk received them and Knight Freiyar hoped that they could rest for a period of time at Silowas while they awaited word from the main dominion. However, the second highness and Glacia insisted to be transported to The Northlands immediately to meet up with Milord Lorist. Unable to withhold them any longer, they were ferried to The Northlands on the 25th day of the 10th month, the same day when this letter was penned and sent to Milord through the Flying Fish of Dawn.

"The second highness is still alive and is coming to The Northlands?" said Kenmays after he finished reciting the letter and stared at Lorist. That truly was shocking news.

"But you're no longer a noble of the Andinaq kingdom. Why's he coming to The Northlands at all?" asked Hennard curiously.

"Idiot! Even though he's no longer a noble of the Andinaq kingdom according to the traditions of the peerage, the second highness is still the senior noble of the Norton house. He must've come here to ask you to lend him troops to restore his position of power at the kingdom," said Kenmays assuredly.

The current date was the 33rd day of the 10th month, so the second highness must've arrived at The Northlands already, given that it took only seven days to travel from Silowas to there. Even though Freiyar had sent the Flying Fish of Dawn to deliver the letter to The Northlands two days ahead of the second highness's arrival, the messengers took three days to deliver it to Lorist at Metropoulos River. Even if Lorist rushed back, it would already be too late.

"I still have to make my way back there, so I'll have to count on the two of you over here. Just proceed as planned. I will definitely notify you if there are any changes to be made," Lorist decided, "Els, have the rest make preparations to leave in 30 minutes immediately. We're heading back to the dominion."

"Yes, Milord."