"I never understood why people blame the soldiers and the generals for war.  Is it not the nobles that start it all? Should it not be the kings and dukes that are hated for their arrogance, selfishness and ambition?

Most soldiers fight only to protect their homes, they join armies only to feed their wives and children.  Nobles have no such problems. They stuff themselves with meat and wine and empty themselves with poor wenches.  The soldier wishes only to return home safely to his loving wife, with enough coin to tide them over until the next harvest.  The noble, however, lusts for power and fame. If only we could get the nobles to fight their wars themselves. When a commoner has an argument, he solves it with his own fists, when a noble has a disagreement, he sends others to die on his behalf.

Sod noble 'dignity', to hell with aristocratic 'honor'.  I will respect it the day the nobles are willing to shed their own blood for it.  Until then, I stand by my words: the basest of all life is not the peasant, nor even the slave, it is the noble."

~ excerpt from "On Honour" by Nico Telesti

15th day of the 9th month, Year 1786. Lorist, just returned from Platinum Beach, called a war council.

"...His Majesty will split the army in two. Our alliance will be in one of them together. We'll attack Anderwoff and Bodolger from Majik. His Majesty will meet up with Dukes Fisablen, Forund, Handra, and Shabaj and the minor nobles and head for the two southeastern provinces.

"He intends to clean up the northeastern area first and eliminate Zitram before striking Kanbona in a three-pronged assault. Lormo's provinces, Malivia and Yamanya, will be won through negotiation. The war will be over once we hold those provinces, and the empire will be whole once again."

Lorist tapped on the large map with his wooden pointer.

"The king is convinced this war will be no more than a year. More accurately, he cannot let it last more than a year. This is where we come in. For this to work, the attack has to happen when the enemy least expects it, and when it can least respond: winter. We are the only ones on the continent who can fight effectively this time of year. The rest are too soft!"

Everyone sneered.

"The king at least has this much wit. He knows Blizzardblitz, the poor imitation of our forces he trained cannot match us. We could have told him this even before he tried though…"

Another round of sneers.

"It's likely we'll have to fight most of this war on our own. I doubt he'll take Kanbona before we're done. We might well have to press into Kanbona and then sweep back north to help him out in Zitram."

"It's nice that he knows we're so much better than him," Charade jeered, "But he's given us the bone and chosen the meat. Don't you think a single province is a little meager for everything we're expected to do?"

Charade wasn't wrong. House Norton had to take two provinces, one of them Bodolger, the current dominion of Wessia, the guild well-known for being the Union's principle weapon supplier. Their army would definitely be well-kitted and fully armored. They had also only deployed a small portion of their army to join the Union's war in the south-east, most of their army still sat in barracks in the cities and on the border. House Norton's forces had the mobility to attack in the dead of winter, but their mobility was largely useless against an enemy that only had to hold the towns in which they sat and didn't have to move out into the frozen winter wilderness.

The officers and commanders chattered amongst themselves in hushed tones. No one liked the deal. Lorist tapped on the table and the voices quieted. If they were allowed to continue, they might even veto his decision to join the war. Loyalty to their king didn't factor into this concern. As far as they were concerned their only sovereign was Lorist.

"Stop complaining. There is nothing more the king is willing to give in return. The man only agreed thanks to Fisablen's machinations. And what is done is done, anyway. Alright, listen up. Here are your assignments. I want everyone to do their best. We cannot have delays in our development projects because of the war, and we cannot be seen to be doing a half-arsed job of our part in the campaign either."

Lorist swept his gaze over his subordinates and vassals.

"Firmrock and Tigersoar will deploy together. You will take Anderwoff as quickly as possible. Spare no one who resists, I want only obedient subjects and corpses left for Fisablen when you move on. Once Anderwoff is taken, Tigersoar will clean it up and hand it over to Fisablen.

"Firmrock will roll straight ahead into Bodolger and take Frederika. Once the forces in Frederika are wiped out Wessia will only have dispersed garrisons and small patrol forces left. They stand no chance at retaking the city so you'll wait for Tigersoar inside. The scattered remains of their forces pose no threat to us so we can take care of them after you regroup."

"I must object, Your Grace," Josk interjected, "Why aren't we deploying Jaeger?"

"We already have control of Wild Husbandry, but the province is a complete mess. Jaeger is to clean it up. Wipe out the gangs and the barbarians roaming and raiding the countryside. I clean province ready for development to great me when I return from the front-lines. However, don't just kill every barbarian you see. If they're willing to submit and become my subjects, then leave them be. Ideally they'll become no different from our current stock of sedentary subjects. Teach them husbandry, build small towns and settlements for them.

"Kedan, I'm making your the province's administrator. Make this happen…" Lorist ordered as he glanced at the aging man.

"I am not holding Jaeger back because I doubt its abilities in a fight, there is just too much to do, and the weather isn't fitting for Jaeger. It's a light cavalry legion. Horses do not do well on snow, and Tigersoar and Firmrock are much better on foot. Neither of them, on the other hand, can fight the barbarians anywhere near as well as Jaeger can on Wild Husbandry's plains and rolling hills."

"But fighting the barbarians is no fun at all," Josk complained, crestfallen, "I want to fight on a proper front-line again for once."

"Fine, if you can clean everything up in Wild Husbandry before year's end I'll let your join us on the front with a few of your guard."

The man had spent several years training Jaeger by now, so it was only fair he be given a taste of proper action again.

"Thank you, Your Grace," Josk said as he pulled Els along by his collar, "Come on. Let's go finish this quickly."

"Sit down… Sheesh. You have more than enough time, a few hours spent in a meeting won't make you miss the deadline," snapped Charade, "Your Grace, how many men is Fisablen sending out?"

"The duke is deploying as many as last time; one frontier legion and one barbarian reserve legion. He's holding two garrison legions and the second frontier legion back. They won't be full-strength, though. Fisablen told me he plans to pull men from the three to make a 30 thousand strong garrison legion which he'll station in Anderwoff once it's handed over."

"Will this not affect our supply line?" Charade enquired.

Lorist shook his head.

"No. Fisablen has agreed to only move the legion over after the rainy season. They shouldn't arrive before the 6th month next year. They'll be escorting House Fisablen's branch families over.

"He plans to create one marquisate, three counties, seven viscounties, and more than 40 baronies in the province, all of which will be given to members of the branch families. The new legion will also be split between them. They'll pose no threat to us. This is also why Fisablen wants us to clean the province up before they arrive."

"I understand. I can't help but get the disturbing feeling the duke is actually sincere in his desire to keep a good relationship with us. Well, for the duration of this campaign, at least. But are we really going to help the old fox for nothing in return?"

"Of course there will be benefits. Anderwoff has 600 thousand inhabitants. I promised the duke we won't ravage the place. We'll only take the noble's wealth and one sixth of its population."

"Don't the four houses in the alliance tread the same path? Do we have to split this between the four of us?"

"They get nothing. We are all three fighting this war together, true, but they have nothing to do with this conquest or this deal. They will only join in after the rainy season. Since we will take the provinces alone, we get all the benefits. They're only responsible for showing up and using their numbers to pressure the Union during the negotiations. The same actually goes for all the other nobles involved. We and the king are the only ones expected to do any actual fighting."

"I'm still convinced we got the short end of the stick. No wonder the king kept pestering you to join the war. We're fighting almost the entire campaign. We might as well just march in and take everything for ourselves for all the work we do. That blasted king no doubt wants to be able to push all the blame on us if this fails."

"We don't have to pick this bone with him. The enemy can't gather up a force capable of fighting us as equals. Actually, the bulk of our benefits will be here."

Lorist tapped on Bodolger with his pointer. "Frederika is Wessia's headquarters. Everything they own will be ours if we take it. Wealth is only a small part of the benefits we will gain. Talent is the biggest thing I'm aiming for.

"The province's population has exploded to 800 thousand people since they took over. They've moved in thousands of artisans and other skilled labor. Almost the entire guild now lives in and around the city.

"We tried to start trade with the Union about eight years ago, but Wessia crushed our plans. They deal primarily in weaponry and other military equipment, so of course they wouldn't let us encroach on their market. They are both our public and private enemy.

"Why not wipe this pest off the map while we have the chance? Even just the chance to rid ourselves of this nuisance is enough of a reward to deploy. A snake's head should be cut off when you fight it. With the guild having concentrated itself around this one city, we can not just cut off its head in one strike, but toss it into the fire-pit entirely. Even if the Union wins the war in the end, Wessia will be done for. The big-seven will be the big-six when this is over, no matter how it ends."

"How has the king told us to deal with Bodolger and Wessia?"

"The king was too preoccupied with getting Fisablen to agree to the deal to think about that. I suspect he doesn't think we can take Frederika quickly. It does have a 48 thousand strong military presence after all. This is nothing like when he took the city. It was only guarded by about one fifth the forces then.

"Besides, he's already promised the province to Shabaj. Whether the province is in ruins when we let it go or not doesn't affect him at all. Maybe he also thinks we won't dare offend the Union too much and so will restrain our urges. Unfortunately for him, and luckily for us, he knows nothing of our grudge with Wessia."

After a few laughs, a stern expression returned to his face.

"Firmrock will stay in Frederika and oversee our extraction of Wessia's people. The province also has about 800 thousand inhabitants. Strip it down to 300 thousand. I entrust this to you, Potterfang, Malek. Understood?"

The two generals stood up and saluted.

"Understood, Your Grace."

He returned to pointing his stick at the map.

"Today is the 15th of the 9th. We still have three months before we launch our attack. The road is long though. We have to cross Winston, Southern, Rimad, Messen, Jigzai, Freewood, Perolina, Wesstwood, and Deramak to get to Majik. If not for our ability at traveling on snow and ice, it would have been impossible to be ready in time.

"Camorra, you are in charge of our move to the front-lines. Shadekampf will be your aide. Set up a reliable supply line from here to there in these three months. I want at least one supply depot in each province. You don't have to worry about interference, I've already cleared this with the king. You have full authority to set up camps as and where you see fit. Freiyar I'm putting you in charge of security.

"I picked two divisions from the forces in Delamock and two from those in Winston. Form them into a temporary guard legion and keep the supply line safe. Put around a brigade at each depot. The rest will patrol the route and escort our convoys back and forth.

"I've also freed two divisions from the south of The Northlands. They'll fill in for Tigersoar and Firmrock and hold Anderwoff until Fisablen can take over.

"Also, Terman, your knights will move to Vanades just in case. Wait there for further orders. I may need you on the front-lines if things don't go as planned. Charade, as per the usual, you will be in charge of the household while we're off on campaign. Supervisor Spiel, help him with the migrants. Everyone understand their responsibilities?"

All the household officials and knights stood up and saluted.

"We understand, Your Grace!"