"I am young, I am twenty years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair, death, fear, and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow.  I see how peoples are set against one another, and in silence, unknowingly, foolishly, obediently, innocently slay one another.

But now, for the first time, I see you are a man like me.  I thought of your pommels, of your spear, of your sword; now I see your wife and your face and our fellowship.  Forgive me, comrade. We always see it too late. Why do they never tell us that you are poor devils like us, that your mothers are just as anxious as ours, and that we have the same fear of death, and the same dying and the same agony - - Forgive me, comrade; how could you be my enemy?"

~ excerpt from Memoirs of the Soldier, a collection of soldiers' memoirs by Crown Prince Norton Staggen, Year 2227.

After deciding to take on a passive stance, Auguslo gathered his generals and reorganized his forces. The main camp would be moved back 25 kilometers to Wesstwood's border. They still had to erect outposts and defenses at the new location to protect against any surprise attacks.

The camp itself would be split. Kenmays's two heavy-armored divisions, Tigersoar, and Pegasus would be in the left camp, standing between Handra and Farkel's Kribia. Whitelion, Third Frontier, and the reserve legion, they would be in the right camp, their backs facing Paetro. The two camps on the two sides of Wesstwood were two blades. Handra did not know what to make of this arrangement.

Had Auguslo stayed where he was, Reddragon would have been tasked with defending Welony Pass, and Forund's forces, stationed at the end of Cloudsnap, and Farkel's forces, stationed to the east of Matnamady, would have launched ambushes. Now, however, the enemy's forces had withdrawn by 25 kilometers; the defenders had no idea how their enemy planned to attack. Each of their three staging grounds could now be assaulted with equal chance.

Handra sent lots of scouts down the mountains to find out why the enemy had withdrawn. Unfortunately, the enemy had set up their new camp on flat terrain, the perfect place to use cavalry. Almost none of the scouts returned, they were all captured or killed. Barely six managed to limp back and make their reports.

A withdrawal was not the same as a complete extrication, the kingdom's forces still had a strong presence in the area.  It was a tactic often used to keep up the pressure even when a side had taken a passive stance. Auguslo had struck this balance well. Despite moving the camp back, he had Tigersoar and two of Fisablen's legions move out and surprise the enemy with their presence every now and again. The enemy was not allowed to relax and become complacent.

Auguslo relegated field command to Lorist and Fisablen, granting each command over their camp, after sorting everything out. They were to keep the enemy pressured and try to force them to make mistakes that could be exploited.  He then returned to Paetro with Shazin and his forces. He planned to make Summer Palace his headquarters for the time being. He would manage the entire kingdom from there, as well as the eight newly acquired provinces. They had to be developed rapidly to support the frontline forces.

Looking at the distant multi-colored military banners, Kenmays, who had come to send Auguslo off, spoke.

"Hennard's just too stupid. He didn't just not get any benefits from His Majesty, he's even being used like a gofer. I bet His Majesty will start dealing with Forund after he goes back to Paetro and Hennard will be the blade he uses," said he to Lorist.

In return for their cooperation with the new strategy, Fisablen had requested enough military gear to outfit a legion, and 50 thousand migrants from Handra; Kenmays got a two year tax exemption within the kingdom for the salt merchant committee; Felim got 30 thousand youth laborers; and Lorist got three years' tax exemption for his dominion and the areas he governed. Each had gotten something out of it one way or another. Shazin, however, had been too straightforward. He had asked before the campaign to be enfeoffed mineral-rich land, when this round of negotiation had come around, he had not made any further requests.

"Fools have their own kind of luck, you know," Lorist said, "Actually, Hennard being used as a blade to cull the nobles is His Majesty's reward. Now that our forces are stationed here, the costs of shipping resources from so far away had gone up. Though Forund hasn't really been torn apart and ravaged by the war and the winter harvests are decent, it isn't enough to supply them for long.

"The next harvest is still four months away. No matter how resourceful the king is, he can't get food out of nowhere unless he relies on growing it here. Shipping food from elsewhere will be very expensive. The best option available to him is to clear out Forund's minor nobles. The king can easily get a year's supplies this way. Hennard's going to be used to do this.  Do you really think he'll allow himself to come out of this empty-handed? His Majesty would shut one eye even if Hennard snuck away two or three hundred thousand gold Fordes."

Felim humphed a little unhappily.

"That bastard is really lucking out. I hope he isn't poached."


Kenmays came in to back Shazin up right away. He was in a sense related to him, after all, his cousin was House Shazin's matron.

"Don't worry. Though Hennard isn't that sharp, he knows well that we four houses are a united unit. His Majesty is only using him. There's almost no chance he'll be recruited. Also, didn't your two houses eliminate the Farkellan nobles last year and piss His Majesty off? His Majesty is targeting the nobles now because of you."

Felim was completely speechless. He had kind of stepped out of line when it came to sweeping the nobles.

"You don't know the predicament we were in," Lorist countered, "His Majesty only gave us 15 days' food. Would it have been possible to transport so many refugees all the way to Windbury? If we didn't raid the nobles, where would we have gotten food and clothing? It would have had to be done anyway, we just saved him the trouble of doing it himself. He didn't just fail to thank us, he even got mad. How ridiculous."

Kenmays and Felim laughed uncontrollably. Even the king had no way of dealing with Lorist. Auguslo was a great schemer, but he suffered every time Lorist was involved. The other three houses also profited at Auguslo's expense quite a bit.

Lorist was rather dissatisfied. On what grounds did Auguslo disband the minor noble's army, refuse to let him return to The Northlands, and, instead, put him in charge of the frontlines even after he had elected to take on a passive stance? What was there to deal with anyway? It wasn't like they were like to fight any major engagements soon. If he only thing required was to put pressure on Handra's defenses, Loze was more than enough. There was no need for him to be present personally.

He had dug himself an even deeper pit it seemed. The prospect of having to stay there for the next two years turned his insides the wrong way. But, seeing that Fisablen was also kept there, he felt a little better. Such was human nature. Suffering together was far better than suffering alone, especially when one could indulge in schadenfreude.

After some careful thought, Lorist came to the conclusion that Auguslo's arrangements regarding him and Fisablen were rather interesting. If the two were allowed to return to their own dominions, Lorist might think of messing with Fisablen some more. It couldn't be helped as they were the only remaining target in the region. Given how close they had become to the king, and how he didn't want a threat like that to exist near his dominion, he wouldn't hesitate to apply pressure whenever he could.

Though Auguslo was rather hostile to the four houses; given how far he was, and the appearances he had to keep up as king, there was no way he would shed all pleasantries and fight them directly. That's why Lorist was so careful whenever it came to messing with the king. As long as he didn't grab hold of anything he could use against Lorist, there was nothing he could do. Other than that, he also had to be wary of House Norton's might. Even if he wanted to turn against them, he had to think twice about whether he could afford to be their enemy.

Now that Auguslo had forcefully made the two dukes stay at the frontlines and given them command over the troops, his intentions for the two were obvious. He wanted them to cool down and stop gunning for each other the moment they returned to their dominions. Given how the kingdom was in the final stages of the war with the duchies, Auguslo didn't want Lorist causing any more waves between House Norton and House Fisablen lest it affected the frontlines.

If you're that trigger-happy, vent it all on Handra. Don't dare mess around under my watch.

It seemed the king understood well that even though House Fisablen had signed an armistice with the four houses, the matter of them submitting to Auguslo and receiving lots of help from him frustrated the houses greatly. No matter who it was that led House Norton, they definitely wouldn't allow him and House Fisablen to form a joint front against them. There was no way Lorist would let an opportunity to screw things over for the Fisablens pass him by. As for the armistice, he just had to avoid open armed-conflict until he could properly justify it. Excuses to start wars were easy to find if one bothered to look.

If only Lorist was left behind, he would definitely not feel safe enough to stay put. He might even leave with his forces without a word. If only Fisablen was left behind, he wouldn't sit there calmly either. Maybe word of House Fisablen being uprooted would soon spread. Only by having both stay could they be assured. At the very least, they could hold each other back there. Maybe that had been the king's plan all along. As he was residing in Summer Palace, he could also make sure no huge conflict erupted between the two.

A few days after Auguslo departed with his entourage, Kenmays and Felim bid Lorist farewell. They generously handed command of their forces over before departing lightly. Kenmays was heading to the eight occupied provinces to build a network for the salt merchant committee while Felim was returning to Southern to take care of its development. Auguslo had only told Lorist and Fisablen to stay on the frontlines, so they were free to come and go as they pleased. They also felt assured that Lorist wouldn't use their men as cannon fodder, so they were comfortable leaving them in his care.

As Kenmays himself had said, 'We four houses are one. I feel assured with you in charge of the forces.'

After they left, Lorist became bored. Though Felim said he would rush back in two months, Lorist was still exasperated. So, he turned his attention to dealing with Handra's three defense lines.

So their catapults occupy the higher ground and can shoot further, huh? Those lever-style catapults aren't nearly a match for our catapults otherwise.

He got a few worksmiths to build several tens of gigantic lever-style catapults and placed them right in front of the three lines. They periodically launched their stones at the defenses and caused a lot of chaos. Lorist's actions were far too eye-catching, even Auguslo was shocked. He quickly rushed to the frontlines to see what was going on. Lorist didn't mind. While his crude gigantic catapults could fire far, they weren't accurate at all. They were also quite troublesome to operate; each toss required ten soldiers to pull on the lever. They also needed heavy counterweights. They were terribly inefficient.

Despite this, Auguslo and Fisablen were incredibly impressed. The design was simple, a huge wooden rack and a strong log made up the level and counterweight. On the opposite end of the log from the rack was a leather scoop that could hold a rock up to the size of a human head. Cutting the rope that pulled the lever down and lifted the counterweight[1] would cause it to swing, sending the rock half a kilometer away into the enemy's defenses.

It was an unexpected surprise for Auguslo. He asked whether Lorist could have more of them made to destroy the defenses so they could give another go at breaking through.

Lorist shook his head.

"This isn't very useful.  It's way too inaccurate, it has a spread of 200 meters at just 500 meters. You can't hope to hit anything smaller than a town with it.  It's only useful for annoying the enemy," replied he.

Auguslo left angrily. He did make sure to sketch the catapults before he left, though, not that Lorist particularly minded. He actually looked forward to seeing the king use them in battle. What a joke that would be. When his bronze cannons were fielded, the catapults would be completely useless, nothing but targets.

Though he didn't hope for anything and only used the catapults to harass the enemy, the three duchies' garrisons soon couldn't take it anymore. The catapults were completely unpredictable; no one knew where the next rock would fall. The men had to keep a watchful eye on the sky all the time, lest they not even know what had squashed them.

As such, the three garrisons came together and arrived at a solution. They launched a surprise attack in the night. They managed to break through the perimeter and set the catapults on fire. Angered, Lorist ordered for the worksmiths to build even more and even funded them out of his own pocket. He fielded double the previous number of catapults.  Within a few days, the weather forecast once again became sunny with a chance of rockfall.

This time around, the catapults fired not the human-head-sized rocks from before, but rock shards. Large fist-sized pack of rocks rained over a large area. Though they weren't fatal, they were more than enough to badly wound their victims.

The men were soon at wit's end again and descended the slope for another attack.  This time Lorist was prepared. He put Tigersoar's carroballista division in covered positions and ambushed the enemy as they approached. They were all but wiped out.

Lorist was inspired by the fuel the attackers had brought along. He shipped large amounts of fuel and put it into jars to be flung at the enemy with the catapults before sending waves of flaming rocks after. The defenses were soon engulfed in flames. The garrison there was pretty capable though and quickly put out the fire with sand and mud.



[1] Editor's note:  NO NO NO NO NO!!! Rope is expensive and labor intensive to make. Why would you ruin a perfectly good piece of rope just to fling a rock, every time you want to fling a rock?!?!?!

On a calmer note, watch THIS video by the great and entertaining Lindybeige that explains why this is such a ludicrous idea.