Here's the first release of the week! My brain's not working quite so properly cause I've been missing lots of sleep, but enjoy nevertheless!

"Good morning, Sir," greeted the patrolling soldiers.

Eidelwoke nodded before he ascended the stairs to the roof.

They were in Pedro. Centuries ago, a count named Pedro built the first castle here to defend against the grassland barbarian raids in hopes he could stop them from entering Winston. It had been destroyed and rebuilt numerous times of the subsequent centuries. The moss-covered stone platforms still had lots of blade marks. Some were even rust-colored as a result of blood draining into their clefts, signs of the cruel sieges the castle'd weathered.

Pedro only saw peace after the Krissen Empire was formed and the barbarian territory now Wild Husbandry was conquered. Afterward, it became the connection between Winston and Wild Husbandry. As Windbury became the largest livestock trading area, the path through Pedro became more and more important for Wild Husbandry's herders, who had to travel to Windbury. They would often rest there in the middle of their journey. The merchants soon saw an opportunity to trade there. Over many years Pedro gradually grew into the city it was today.

The conflict between the three princes, which eventually led to the seven years civil war, didn't disturb Pedro's peace. However, the livestock market at Windbury's ruin did land Pedro a killing blow. Herders no longer traveled to Windbury with their livestock, so the merchants' trading posts eventually closed down. When the second prince founded Iblia, the heavy taxes he levied caused the population to dwindle even further. It was further exacerbated by the second prince's expedition against the Melein duchy, who moved the last garrison force away from Pedro, abandoning it for good.

It didn't take long for the city to become a haven for deserters and bandits. It became a lawless paradise. Duke Fisablen deployed his forces to eradicate the bandits that frequently caused trouble for the herders in Wild Husbandry and took it under his personal control. In contrast to the ignorant and incompetent second prince, the duke regarded the city with great importance. He considered it a strategic location that could put pressure on the prince and control Windbury. He ordered his eldest disciple, Viscount Kristoph, to guard it with two divisions of the frontier legions' soldiers.

When House Kenmays built the iron suspension bridge in the east Northlands, connecting their dominion to Wild Husbandry, two trade routes formed to Eastwild and Winston respectively. The various goods produced by House Norton was marketed in droves to the two through the salt merchant committee, which was operated by Duke Kenmays, who was a count back then. The products were really popular. As a result, merchant convoys began to see Pedro as a fitting place to rest and the city recovered a bit of its former merriness.

However, when House Norton wanted to pay the second prince back for sending Blademaster Zarinan to assassinate their leader, they mobilized their soldiers to conquer Windbury and captured the second prince. Viscount Kristoph, stationed at Pedro to guard the city, led its two divisions to stop their forces and ended up a captive following his defeat. While Duke Fisablen resolved the tense situation between the two houses with the arms deal and ransomed the viscount and his two divisions, he nevertheless became aware and wary of the four houses.

Even so, Duke Fisablen never imagined the four's attack would be so sudden and savage. The sole division from Fourth Frontier stationed in the city only lasted a night under Tigersoar's fierce assault. Fourth Frontier was badly beaten by the Nortons' Jaeger soon after and forced to retreat to Soxius' east bank. At the same time, Pedro was being rebuilt into a citadel with even stronger defenses.

As the leader of the 23rd local defense brigade, Eidelwoke was currently rather disturbed. He had taken in around ten thousand of Jaeger's remaining forces three days ago and they brought him a piece of bad news: Jaeger had suffered a great defeat. All the soldiers said the barbarians were all over the place. They had fought for a full night and still lost. In the end, they were separated from the main force and had no choice but to retreat, The last order they received was to break out of the encirclement.

The worst part was that the 23rd local defense brigade wasn't assigned any messenger eagles; there was no way to send word out. After all, messenger eagles were incredibly hard to train and were only given to the main combat units and the Oceanic Legion. For the local defense legion, communication was only established between the divisions and they had to rely on mounted messengers.

While it had been approximately six months since Pedro was conquered, it was currently defended by only the three thousand soldiers of the 23rd local defense brigade. There were another ten thousand laborers working on construction. Only half of it had been completed in six months. The only thing Eidelwoke was happy about was that the completed half was facing Wild Husbandry. In other words, when the grassland barbarians launched their attack, the 23rd Local would have complete battlements to rely on.

After receiving reports from the soldiers about Jaeger's defeat, Eidelwoke immediately sent someone to Windbury with a call for reinforcements. He had a strong feeling that House FIsablen and the grassland barbarians would soon attack Pedro. Thinking back to the soldier's looks of despair, he didn't think he could hold the city with only three thousand men. He had to get more reinforcements!

Unfortunately, the messenger that returned the next day with more bad news. The legion commander, Baron Freiyar, wasn't present in Windbury. Only Baron Camorra and the city governor nominated by Lorist, Viscount Eidis, was there. When they received word from Eidelwoke, Baron Camorra was of the opinion that Pedro had to be held no matter what. However, only 21st Local was defending Windbury and Baron Freiyar wasn't around to mobilize the soldiers.

Despite that, Baron Camorra and Viscount Eidis gave Eidelwoke two pieces of hope. Camorra promised that the five security brigades sent to escort a convoy would be sent to reinforce Pedro the moment they returned. Viscount Eidis couldn't transfer 21st Local, however. He could only assign them to defend Windbury. However, he would rally the old nobles' private armies to reinforce Pedro. It required time, however. He estimated they'd only arrive in six days.

Camorra also gave Eidelwoke an idea. He suggested the ten thousand laborers be organized into a militia. Given the urgent situation, the fact that a local defense brigade leader like Eidelwoke didn't have any power to recruit soldiers was irrelevant. As long as he could hold Pedro, Camorra was willing to bear all the consequences. If the city couldn't be held, House Norton's plan could not be realized. It was one of the most crucial parts of the plan.

Eidelwoke took Camorra's suggestion without hesitation and forcefully conscripted the ten thousand laborers into a militia. He stood now in front of this makeshift group.

"Duke Fisablen didn't just bring his own army, he also brought countless grassland barbarians," he began, "He allowed the barbarians to raid as they pleased and keep what they take.

"Would you rather end up barbarians' slaves or resist them together and protect your families in Winston?

"Living as their slaves is far worse than death. The slaves rescued over the centuries have taught us that much. If you die a heroic death as a Norton soldier, you won't have to worry about your families' lives. Every dead soldier's family will be paid a handsome pension that will allow them to spend their days in bliss.

"And if you don't end up dead on the battlefield, you'll be greatly rewarded when we win. Whether you choose to retire or continue to serve as a soldier afterwards is up to you. House Norton doesn't mistreat those who serve it. Even if you retire, the house will give you priority for positions at the factories and workshops in the dominion. You'll also be prioritized when it comes to the distribution of houses and farmland. Think carefully; think well. Even though you're about to go onto the battlefield and face death, this is an opportunity for you all. You just need to place your bet."

In the end, all the laborers accepted conscription. Given that it was a time of war and chaos, Eidelwoke's words weren't wrong. This was a chance for them to take hold of their fate and change it. As a Norton soldier, the lives of their families would be guaranteed. It was far better than being enslaved and used as cannon fodder. If they were victorious and managed to survive somehow, a blissful future awaited them.

With another ten thousand men in hand, Eidelwoke breathed a sigh of relief. The only thing he wondered about was where House Fisablen's men were. It had already been three days, yet the enemy was nowhere to be seen. Their tardiness allowed Eidelwoke the precious time he needed to have the ten thousand laborers dig more than ten deep ditches in front of the city to defend against the swift barbarian cavalry.

It would be great if Tigersoar's logistics and support division were here... The city would be more secure at the very least and someone my superior would be responsible for everything, thought Eidelwoke as he leaned on the roof's railings.

It was too bad Tigersoar had been transferred to the frontlines in Southern three months earlier. While it was very successful during the second battle of Southern, they also suffered heavy casualties and required the support and care of the logistics and support division. At that time, it had still been sweeping through Wild Husbandry with great success. While Pedro was a strategic location, it had always been rather peaceful, sizeable conflicts rarely broke out. It was out of anyone's expectations that Jaeger would suffer such a huge hit, making the city the enemy's next target.

"Time really flies, huh. It's already been ten years," mumbled Eidelwoke.

Looking at the ditch-covered ground, he was at a complete loss at how to defend the city.

This was the first large battle he would face. It was also the first actual siege since his appointment as 23rd Local's leader. It wasn't a training session or a drill, but an actual siege. He could still remember when he first saw Lorist ten years ago clearly. He had been just a small carpenter in the household bastide back then.  His greatest responsibility was to gather sawdust for his mother, the kitchen head. The sawdust would be mixed into flour to bake bad-tasting black bread for the servants. He had asked his mother why they mixed sawdust into the flour.

"It's household tradition," his mother had said.

Those were the most difficult times the house ever faced. The first young master perished on the battlefield, the third young master died, and the old master passed after heading into battle with sickness. Even though the old master was his biological father, he didn't feel much grief following his passing. Instead, it was his mother who grieved the most. Not long after, House Kenmays caused trouble for them and encircled the bastide with their troops for three whole months, only to withdraw after running out of food.

At the time, everyone had been panic-stricken. Without the house's leader, everything fell to the old and sickly chief butler, Gleis. Pesha had wanted to raise the first young master's illegitimate son to household leader, but many objected. Molocinque and Wellickson's mothers came out and said their sons were more closely related to the old master given that they were his illegitimate children and claimed they had the right to inherit the position.

Naturally, his mother didn't want to lose out and also claimed he was a rightful heir. But he knew better than anyone he was but a consequence of the old master's advances when he was drunk. His mother was young and his personal maidservant, one of the eight at least. Which hadn't lain with the old master? His mother was only made head of the kitchen because she became pregnant. His mother loved the man dearly and didn't marry anyone else, unlike Molocinque and Wellickson's mothers, who married other servants.

Lorist had come then. While he had been exiled by the house, nobody contested his right to inherit the position and the peerage. He still recalled the first day after the succession ceremony when Lorist taught the bad-tempered Pesha a huge lesson and asked him why he was sawing wood everyday. When he told him it was tradition, Lorist simply said it was a tradition not worth keeping. Already out of a job, he asked Lorist what he should do. Lorist suggested he join the household forces and serve the house. He must not let the Norton blood in his veins down, he had said.

In the short ten years since, the house had soared to the skies. Thinking back to the difficulties they faced when they initially tried to develop, he was incredibly thankful that Lorist ended up the leader. A clueless, illegitimate child like him even ended up a two-star-silver-ranked knight. He now even bore the proud Norton name and was a member of the family. Nowadays, Molocinque and Wellickson served as division commanders of the garrison in Hanayabarta. He himself had a position as the leader of 23rd Local.

Maybe this is where it all ends for me.

He looked at the Raging Bear flapping in the skies above the city. His face eventually settled into a resolute expression.

I am a Norton! I will not let my family's honor down! I will not sully our name! As long as I breathe, Pedro will not fall!

A waft of black smoke rose from a peak near the city. The scouts were sounding the alarm.

"Blow the horn; ring the alarm! Everyone to attention! The enemy is here!" yelled Eidelwoke at the top of his voice.