Here's the first release of the week, released earlier to celebrate the launch of "The Sword and The Shadow"! Please check out the announcement on the home page!

"I was originally considering how we should deal with the Frontier Legion at Windbury. It'd be ideal if they chose to hole up in the city. In that case, the worst it'll come to is the capital's destruction. Nobody can resist our forces' attack. Even if the duke was there himself, we'd just bury him alive along with the rest of the legion and end the whole lot there.

"It's just one of the possible scenarios ideal for us. It's no understatement to call the duke a cunning fox, he's been in hundreds of battles. The moment he smells something fishy, he'll run far away and make it incredibly hard to track him. The moment he hears about our troops being sent to Windbury, he'll no doubt give up on the capital and move all its food and wealth away. He might even take all the youths as well. We'll only be left with the old and the sick. Even if we manage to take Windbury, it'll only be a worthless ruin.

"The duke will no doubt continue his retreat with all the valuable resources and manpower. When we conquer Winston and head to Southern, he'll find a battlefield large enough for him to employ hit-and-run tactics. He'll definitely exploit the Frontier Legion's mobility to sabotage our supply lines and cut us off from the support of our conquered land while also grinding down our troops' morale. He knows if he drags the battle on, the day our troops wear out and crumble will no doubt come."

They were in a large meeting room. Following the three-day-long new year's celebration, everyone involved, from high-ranking household knights to knight generals, were gathered in the room, listening to Lorist give a briefing on their strategy.

It was the 3rd day of the 1st month of Year 1778. Lorist had formally mobilized the house's carroballistae to Iblia against the Frontier Legion of House Fisablen.

"According to various sources, House Fisablen's total force is around 240 thousand. Naturally, the duke won't pour all his forces into this conflict. He has to defend the greater and lesser golden creeks as well as Eastwild. Coupled with the forces defending Wild Husbandry, they likely have around 120 to 150 thousand men they can deploy against us. There is a possibility he will recruit more soldiers from the grassland barbarians, so there should be another few tens of thousands serving House Fisablen.

"We don't really care for our enemy's numbers. But this foe will be a completely different beast from the ones we've faced so far. The main difference is their mobility. It far exceeds our forces'. When we attack Southern, we must take great precautions to defend our supply line incredibly well. This will decide whether we can cut off the duke's support from the duchies.

"We have to give it our all even for something as seemingly trivial as this. In our original plan, we will gather Tigersoar and Firmrock as well as House Felim's Pegasus to force our way through using our numbers. It'll force the Frontier Legion to retreat to Winston. Firmrock and Pegasus will invade Southern once this is achieved. Pegasus will be in charge of eliminating bandits while Firmrock will set up citadels and moats at locales with ideal terrain. We will lock Southern down complete to limit where Frontier can go.

"Tigersoar's mission is exterminating the waves of cavalry stationed at Winston to protect our supply line to Southern. We'll also take the most important citadel at the border of Winston and Wild Husbandry: Pedro. This way, we can sever any communication between the two provinces. As for Jaeger, currently stationed in the eastern part of The Northlands, they will be put in charge of attacking Wild Husbandry. I don't require our newly-formed legion to suppress the Fisablen forces at Wild Husbandry effectively. They just have to keep the battles within the Fisablen dominion. Making Wild Husbandry the battlefield to limit our enemy's ability to mobilize troops would be ideal.

"This plan has the benefit of being reliable and stable. We will have enough safeguards to ensure our success. Its downfalls are also obvious, though. Given our superiority in numbers, Duke Fisablen will have to be crazy to seek a field-battle or a siege. It'll be rather difficult to gather the enemy in one place and wipe them out in one go. The old fox will most likely abandon Winston to preserve his numbers. He'll trade land to keep the initiative in battle.

"The more places we conquer, the more troops we'll have to leave behind to defend them. Frontier Legion's mobility far exceeds ours, we can only fight defensively. With that mobility, the duke can also gather a large number of troops to attack the soldiers we leave behind to defend some places by outnumbering them. If Duke Fisablen reduces his Frontier Legions into many divisions instead and stations them in Winston, not only will our forces be forced to be on the defensive, our supply lines will also be at risk."

Lorist used a long thin stick to tap on the map of Winston hung on the wall.

"That was our original plan, as well as why I stationed Tigersoar at Winston. It was so our supply line would be kept safe. However, thanks to Viscount Eidis and the others joining our side, there's another way we can exterminate the Frontier Legion.

"If we can exterminate them and conquer Pedro, we'll no longer have to worry about being harassed by cavalry in Winston. We can see that, apart from the main crossing point between Winston and Wild Husbandry at Pedro, the two provinces' border is the precipitous Pisper Mountain Range that stretches all the way to Southern. No large army can cross Pisper, so as long as we can exterminate Frontier Legion at Winston, not only will we be able to cut off Duke Fisablen's influence, we can also make Winston a safe place where we can fall back to.

"According to Furybear's reports and the news Viscount Eidis brought, we know that Duke Fisablen is already anticipating our arrival. So far, the duke has already killed off the nobles in the capital and started working on the older noble houses of Winston. Frontier Legion has already neutralized 23 regions."

Lorist pointed at Viscount Eidis. It was his turn to speak.

Eidis was rather moved that he and his allies were allowed to participate in such a confidential strategy meeting. It was a sign of the great trust they'd been given. At the same time, the four houses got to know that House Norton had already set their sights on Iblia for quite some time, so they were relieved they had switched sides soon enough.

"My most respectful greetings to you all. According to my knowledge, Duke Fisablen gave the order to all old noble houses of Winston approximately two months ago, demanding we pledge allegiance to him and relocate. He blames the fall of Iblia on the internal struggles between the noble houses and used it as an excuse to demote us. Many dissatisfied nobles banded together in defiance of his orders. They didn't expect that the duke was already prepared this and quickly snuffed them out by deploying Frontier Legion, however. He already ended 23 noble houses in two short months.

"Houses like ours that aren't able to resist can only abide by his order to relocate before the 5th month. In other words, right after the winter harvests, we'll have to leave our dominions for our new ones in Southern with less than a thousand people, while our original domains will be put under the management of the duke's ambassadors. It forced the four of us to seek out House Norton for help.

"I've received one of the duke's ambassadors before and my hospitality caused him to reveal that Duke Fisablen was already prepared to give up on Winston the moment he heard that the four houses of The Northlands exterminated Madras. He will stage the battles in Winston to delay us. Ideally, he will seal off the routes from Winston to Wild Husbandry, which are the two metal suspension bridges between the provinces. He's even prepared to destroy them if he has to. This way, they only have to station a small number of troops at Sanderson Hills to delay our advance. The duke will also rely on the vast lands of Winston to make use of Frontier Legion's mobility and grind away at our forces.

"The ambassador even said that Duke Fisablen was going to move all the youths in Winston to Eastwild and Goldcreek to make up for his dominion's lack of manpower. The rest will be focused on Windbury and some other fortified towns to serve as supply points for the Frontier Legion. That was why he suggested we best obey the duke's order and relocate to Southern. The duke will begin exterminating bandits in Southern after his preparations in Winston are complete so he can start trade with the four central duchies."

After finishing his briefing, Eidis nodded to the others and sat back down.

"I'm sure you guys heard it loud and clear, right? Duke Fisablen is not someone who messes around. When we plot, he also plots. Winston used to be the province with the largest population in the empire. It used to house an estimated 1.5 million people. Since then, the province has experienced years of civil war, the second prince's rampage, and our own interference. We took in approximately 340 thousand people."

Those in the know laughed when Lorist mentioned the taking in of refugees, which was a little underhanded, to say the least.

Lorist laughed as he continued.

"There are an estimated 400 thousand people still in Winston, around 70 thousand of whom are in Windbury. The rest are mostly the subjects of the province's nobles. The nobles that actually develop their dominions and put in the effort to stimulate the growth of local production, like Viscount Eidis, Viscount Zinderson, Baron Klaus, and Baron Wade, are few and far in between. Their territories have a combined population of nearly 40 thousand, thanks to the success and prosperity of trade at Viscount Eidis's town, Dawok. They also managed to gather large numbers of refugees to kickstart farming efforts.

"Right now, Duke Fisablen is targeting nobles like them. The nobles that move to Southern will receive military support to combat the bandits and resources from the duke. The new dominions there will eventually effectively contribute to the extermination of the bandits and limit their influence and growth. Naturally, it would be quite troublesome for the duke if the nobles there end up being killed off by the bandits instead. There's no doubt it'll intensify the noble's dissatisfaction.

"We will not allow Duke Fisablen to move all the youths of Winston to his dominion. Baron Potterfang, Baron Malek..."

The two newly entitled nobles stood up upon being named by Lorist.

"You two will lead Firmrock to Dawok in Viscount Eidis's dominion in three days. Viscount Eidis, Viscount Zinderson, Baron Wade and Baron Klaus will aid you in this matter. Since it's currently winter with most of the routes sealed off, Duke Fisablen and Frontier Legion will not expect us to make our move now. Your mission is to move the subjects of these four nobles to The Northlands. Thereafter, you will disguise yourselves as their subjects to resist Duke Fisablen after the harvest during the rainy season.

"Viscount Eidis and the others should also be able to prepare a general force of six thousand. Coupled with the youths from their dominion, it should be possible to form a force of 20 thousand. To resist these 'traitorous insurgents', Duke Fisablen will have to mobilize Frontier Legion. The moment they leave the capital, we will exterminate them at Dawok and take the city with ease."

"Understood, Your Grace," said Potterfang and Malek in unison as they sat back down.

"The crucial point of this arrangement is that we don't attract the attention and suspicion of the legion's scouts. We will need the help of Viscount Eidis and the others."

"Your Grace, please be assured they will not suspect a thing," said Eidis.

Lorist nodded.

"If the rainy season didn't start in the 3rd month, I would've liked for our forces to encircle and conquer Windbury right away and trap Frontier Legion and the duke within the city. It's too bad our forces would find it incredibly difficult to stage a siege in the rainy weather, not to mention the fact that we can't bring our catapults along. It would be incredibly disadvantageous to have our troops stationed outside the city in the rainy season. A plague can spread pretty quickly under those conditions.

"That's the logic behind my intention to lure Frontier Legion out. We will trick them into a field-battle. Count Felim, make sure Pegasus is ready to deploy with Tigersoar after the rainy season. Make your way to somewhere near Dawok undetected and wait for the opportune moment, understood?"

Felim stood up.

"Understood, Your Grace."

"After the extermination of Frontier Legion, lead the troops to Southern with Firmrock right away. We must cut off the route connecting House Fisablen and the duchies as soon as possible. If the duchies' forces join up with House FIsablen, Count Shazin's household legion and Tigersoar will be the first to join in as reinforcements. We must make sure a strategic location like Southern remains under our control. This is the most important key to exterminating or forcing House Fisablen to submit to us," declared Lorist resolutely.