Chapter 240: Centuries of Strategic Planning (Three)
Translator:?EndlessFantasy Translation??Editor:?EndlessFantasy Translation
Lampard breathed a long sigh. The Archduke of Black Sand Region silently said,
“And over a hundred years ago, the first lowly merchant who lent money to King Mindis, his descendants are from one of the Thirteen Distinguished Families of Constellation. The affluent ‘Sunflower’, the Seucader Family who hold the position of the Count of Long Green Island.”
Silence fell once again, but the air seemed much colder than before. Even the flames from the brazier had grown much weaker.
A long while later and with great effort, Archduke Olsius began to speak.
“The Constellatiates are also adept at toadying under the table. As with the Ancient Empire of the past, it doesn’t explain anything.” The archduke with the bowl cut shook his head heavily, seemingly trying hard to convince himself. “We’re still the victors of the war twelve years ago.”
The other archdukes glanced at him. Trentida looked hesitant whereas Lecco was silent.
“Toadying under the table?” Lampard’s eyes cooled as he pondered this sentence. He then snorted. “I dare bet that even if you go back to thousands of years ago, back to the Ancient Empire’s strongest period, you still would not see the current situation of Constellation among them.
“Also, the victors of twelve years ago? Really?” Lampard straightened at his waist, gaze sharp. He coldly said, “Twelve years ago, the civil strife in Constellation was in full swing. They had no time to attend to themselves and the troops were out of food. They were powerless to even defend themselves.
“This equates to us using the strength of the whole country to invade a Constellation that was already dying with one foot in the grave.”
The veins on Lampard’s hands bulged, and he almost scratched open the sheath of his sword. The expressions of the archdukes turned unpleasant.
Lampard looked dazed, as if he had returned to the battlefield those years before. “Back then, we had no doubts. Famed for our ability to attack and for being accustomed to war, the invincible Eckstedtian army of the Western Peninsula would clear out their futile resistance in a short few months… Just like hundreds of years before.
“The iron hoofs of our cavalry would break through every one of their battle formations, trebuchets would smash open every city gate, the heavy infantry would tear up every southerner who attempted to resist. We would effortlessly take down Northern Territory, take down Land of Cliffs and invade Eternal Star City.
“We would have to be at least like the ‘Great Spirit Archduke’, Kahn Trentida. We would have to drive our troops down to Eternal Star City, rob every single village, rake in all the riches, erect the Black-based Red Dragon Flag before Eternal Star City, then exit!”
Lampard suddenly raised his head, as if he had just come to his senses. “In conclusion?”
There was incomparable grief on the archduke’s face. His next words were practically chewed word by word through his clenched teeth.
“We wasted a good few months under the fortress. Disastrous casualties aside, even our pitiful supply line was destroyed by that ruthless Constellation dictator. We only took down the fortress by force after a traitor betrayed Horace Jadestar, and we paid the price in the death of an archduke.”
Olsius bowed his head as if he just recalled something.
Lampard inhaled deeply. He seemed to be suppressing his emotions with great effort. “In spring, we were southbound for the Northern Territory. Fortunately, in the face of these nearby Northland neighbors, Eckstedt’s absolute advantage in our military force was the guarantee that our soldiers are invincible. Apart from the slight increase in casualties, the whole journey was smooth and unhindered from Cold Castle to Ice River City.”
Lampard opened his mouth absentmindedly. “Then, there was the Starlight Brigade.”
Lecco snorted lightly with a complicated look.
“Even though the war in general was advancing, things began to get worse as we left the Northern Territory and approached the south.
“The battlefront grew longer, supplies grew more detrimental and the troops scattered further and further away. Those teenage soldiers held us back until our situation turned incredibly grim and we had trouble advancing or retreating, causing the prideful boasts of conquering Eternal Star City in a year to turn into a joke.
“Soon, we had no choice but to dispel the plans for the multi-lined war and the total invasion. Conversely, we focused our troops and pounced on the Central Territory and Eternal Star City, and tried to suppress the enemy in one go.” Lampard took in a deep breath and said solemnly, “We did not succeed. So we had no choice but to turn to the Land of Cliffs Region and try to open up an alternate battlefield.”
Lampard clasped his hands, the veins on the back of his hands became a little more prominent.
“At the same time, our casualties continued to increase. The pressure on logistics was growing and the Starlight Brigade grew more difficult to handle each time we met.”
In that moment, Archduke Lecco’s hoarse voice added, “Besides that, they were still enlisting locally. They fought while replenishing and replenished while fighting.”
Lampard nodded, his gaze somber. The Archduke of Black Sand Region sighed.
“Worse still was that just a few months after that, our supplies ran short.”
Trentida frowned. “We always planned to supply on the spot, didn’t we?”
Lampard snorted angrily and coldly said,
“We got them, but Constellation was already in ruins, we could match the speed in which we used up our supplies to our speed when we restocked on the spot. Sowing and grazing in spring was all delayed, the country whined for days and the vassals were heavily conflicted. Furthermore, there was our terrible transportation—an expedition of ten thousand people was absolutely even more terrifying that the arrival of calamities for Eckstedt’s logistics.”
Archduke Olsius clenched his fists tightly.
“When successive transportation to Broken Dragon Fortress became a problem for the logistics; when the soldiers were unable to scrounge up enough food; when even the most valiant army cannot hold a complete formation; when our unrivaled troops had nowhere to employ its forces, we had a whole month of inconspicuous results…” Lampard’s complexion was very sullen.
“Indeed, Constellation was the first to raise peace talks, apparently asking for help from all over the place. They got help from the interference of foreign countries, begged for peace, admitted defeat, and appealed for us to let them go.”
Trentida of Reformation Tower narrowed his eyes. “King Nuven mentioned that the alliance among all countries had brought doubts into his heart. He was worried that after the annexation of Constellation, we, the meaningless and unsteady, would become the butt of public criticism.”
“The diplomatic mediation of all countries?” Lampard pounded on his sheath in a ferocious strike. “Those pest-like forces, what do they amount to compared to our Eckstedt?
“Camus? We taught them a lesson many times over at the Golden Passage! Hanbol? Our thrice-defeated opponents in the Peninsular Wars! Mane et Nox Dynasty? Their great army needs a good few months to cross the ocean!
“As for the Sacred Tree Kingdom, Steel City, and even the Cunning Fox of Constellation who came to negotiate? Hmph!” Lampard clenched his jaw.
“With the temper of that king—my uncle—do you think he would ever concede because of diplomatic measures outside the battlefield!”
Trentida no longer spoke.
Lampard let out a breath and painfully said, “Admit it, the reason why we agreed to the peace talks was because in that war, we had already laid out all the cards in our hands, and exhausted all strength. Even if we had energy left to spare, there was no certainty at all if we were going to continue the fight. We were just a little better compared to the opposing, seriously damaged Constellation that was on the verge of collapse.
Archduke Roknee closed his eyes as he listened to all this.
“King Nuven was a smart man.” Lampard shook his head weakly. “He had fought in more wars than anyone else, so he knew the most sensible time to stop. To retreat by that opportunity was at least not as ugly as causing turmoil until the end.”
Olsius lifted his head, then stared at the Cloud Dragon Spear design above his head in a daze.
“Hence, there was the ‘Fortress Treaty’,” said Archduke Lecco who took over Lampard’s words with a grieved expression on his face. “That was the humiliation we have been cursing for twelve years.”
Lampard nodded heavily. He trembled and lowered his head. In the darkness where the flames could not illuminate, he uttered with difficulty, “But only a few people knew… the real humiliation… Was our strong and proud Eckstedt…”
Trentida turned his head aside and stopped looking at them.
“Constellation, in the face of its royal family running into a disaster, whose new king did not have a strong hold over his throne, who used up every last drop of her blood, sweat, and tears dealing with domestic and international troubles, and who trembled in fear…”
Olsius’ expression darkened, he was motionless.
“In the face of the unprecedentedly, unbearably weak Constellation that couldn’t even come up with a complete army, and could only rely on a bunch of teenage soldiers to fight…”
Archduke Roknee stared at Lampard in disbelief, then at Lecco.
With a fierce expression, Lampard was heard saying, “We, the seven archdukes—with a hundred-thousand troops and the force of the whole country—led the invincible Eckstedian warriors into Shepherd’s River that separated the Northern and Central Territories… And we couldn’t even fight through it.”
Nobody spoke for a long time. There was only the flickering of firelight. After a long while, Lampard sighed.
“I believe that you had more or less felt it during the war back then. It’s just that your pride, honor and arrogance made you afraid, unable to and even reluctant to admit this fact.”
‘No. There are people who felt it earlier than all of you. It’s just that…’
Lampard cast a glance at the head of the rectangular table and clenched his fists.
“What about the other party?” he seemed to say subconsciously. Lampard frowned. “Constellation, after experiencing a tragedy like the Bloody Year, their population surely suffered heavy damages that were difficult to recover from, but…”
Archduke Roknee raised his head and his eyes flashed.
“But five years ago, Kessel the Fifth led the ill and discontented kingdom into finishing the Desert War.” The Archduke of the City of Faraway Prayers had his arms wrapped tightly around himself, and they were trembling slightly. “The intel we sent back from the desert was that he lacked troops, his military strength was lousy, even his main army was almost destroyed in the desert. We all jeered at his overestimation of his ability.”
Lampard shook his head instead, his tone seemed beaten. “He was reminding us.” The Archduke of Black Sand Region turned towards Roknee.
“Kulgon Roknee, when you faced the Great Desert,” he said plainly, “could you have managed to lead an army into the center of the Great Desert? With its nasty conditions, could you have maintained supplies, safeguard the logistics, go through successive battles with the orcs and Barren Bone People, and still return safely afterwards??”
Roknee became quiet, but everyone knew the answer.
“Aside from you, that was the Great Desert that even the strongest Ancient Empire got a headache over for more than a millennium, that even tens of thousands of armies felt helpless towards…” Lampard’s words sounded painful and lethargic.
“But Constellation, they did it,” the archduke softly said, appearing quite indignant. “Whether victorious or defeated, they just… did it. They went in and brought out the skulls of thousands of orcs and Barren Bone People.
“Remember one of King Kessel’s titles?” Lampard asked with a desolate expression. “The conqueror of ‘Dragon Skeleton Throne and Desert God’s Altar’. Don’t you understand?”
The four archdukes silently exchanged glances.
“Wake up, everyone,” Lampard whispered, as if he was murmuring beside their ears. “Whether you admit it or not, Constellation is not the same anymore.”
Under everyone’s complex and subtle gazes, Lampard’s complexion darkened. He leaned back in his chair, as if he had no strength to get up.
“During the age of Mindis the Third, almost no one understood his actions. They even blatantly opposed him, even now.
“The nobles looked down on this king’s own wealth-depleting actions and self-deprecating behavior. The citizens treated him like a natural-born, kindhearted, merciful king, and they fought and shoved against each other to take advantage of him.”
Archdukes Roknee and Olsius exchanged a glance, emotions complicated.
“Amid the nobles’ ridicule behind his back and the tearful gratitude of the people, Mindis the Third passed away inconspicuously.
“The benevolent ‘Virtuous King’ who was adept at compromise and mediation?” Lampard raised his head and met the glances of the four archdukes. His expression was serious and his tone cold. “This title was half ridicule and half-truth.
“Apart from several artists who fondly remembered his grace and made paintings for him, nobody else cared about the benevolent ‘Virtuous King’ who was praised by the citizens, yet secretly despised by the nobles, as well as the little things that happened during his rule.”
Lampard narrowed his eyes and gripped his saber tightly. “However, what about a hundred years later now?”
Nobody said a word, the atmosphere was very oppressive and a few seconds passed.
“This was the Virtuous King, Mindis the Third.” Lampard gathered up his emotions and said flatly, “The more I know about him, the more shocked and disturbed I become.”
Archduke Lecco stared blankly at the brazier in the distance, his gaze remained unmoving for a long time. Roknee wrapped his arms tightly around himself, almost gnashing his teeth to dust.
Trentida tightly furrowed his brows, in contrary to his ordinary craftiness, he was incessantly worried.
As for Olsius, he just stared firmly at Lampard, as if he wanted to find more information from his face.
“Over a hundred years later, even after the man has died, his government officials built Constellation into a steel war chariot with complete components and excellent quality. We only somewhat noticed this twelve years ago.”
Lampard clenched his eyes shut. His shoulders seemed to involuntarily quake a little.
“To me, Mindis Jadestar the Third was a formidable chess player rarely seen in this world,” he said with great difficulty and pain. “A hundred over years ago, he—as if inadvertently—moved a chess piece and opened up the match. And yet, the royal power, vassals, the people, country and history were all included in his unassuming game of chess.
“He used a chess game that would span for a long time and that even his own grandchildren were unable to see, allowing Constellation that had once fallen below us to be born again and while we were unaware of it, they left behind the Eckstedt we are so immensely proud of.
“It’s hard to compare even with the ‘Great Emperor’, Camelot Karlose the First who conquered the world more than a thousand years ago.”
Lampard let out a heavy sigh, his eyes dreary. “Compared to the game Mindis laid out for Constellation, the delicate movement of the chess pieces he had interlocked with every step, Tormond’s great undertaking of returning to the country seemed crude and ugly, even Raikaru’s victory also seems unbearably shallow in this way.
“As for the unlimited power and destruction of the calamities, they’re absolutely despicable and ridiculous, like slightly stronger infants brandishing iron hammers.
“What Mindis the Third cared about was not an overnight, temporary outcome of success or failure.” Lampard’s face was desolate and his mood was actually somewhat desperate. “Neither was it the gains or survival of clans or territories.
“He used the country as a chess piece, the world as a chessboard, the millions of people as his stakes, and the foundation of every era as the result of war.”
The braziers crackled. The archdukes were silent and said nothing. Finally, Lampard closed his eyes and sighed softly.
“He played one move during his era, and that game lasted for one hundred years.”
The hall sunk into a deathly silence. A good while later, Lampard ‘revived’ from the almost still atmosphere. He breathed again and began to speak,
“So, over a hundred years after the death of the ‘Virtuous King’…” Lampard left his seat—or rather, Archduke Cameron’s seat. “I, the Archduke of Black Sand Region, Chapman Shawlon Holt Lampard…” He walked, one step at a time, towards the four archdukes. “Kin slayer and king slayer…”
Lampard’s face fell—he said these words for the first time with a slightly wavering look. The archdukes’ expressions changed subtly.
Lampard clenched his jaw. His gaze swept across each Eckstedtian archduke who had massive military forces and positions of power in their grasps. “As a Northlander, an Eckstedtian, I stand here pleading you, pleading all Eckstedtian archdukes, pleading the territorial leaders who are holding the future of the Kingdom of the Great Dragon in their hands…”
His voice was as sincere as before, hoarse and incomparably worn.
“Stop your meaningless internal strife and suspicions, put down your interlocked family grudges and conflicts, don’t sink into the trap of the Joint Ruling Pledge that seems to maintain unification yet encouraged schisms. Do not be like King Nuven, to have sunk into the muddled foolishness of bloodlines and family, unable to extricate himself.
“Let us stand together once more. To face that terrifying chess player from a hundred years ago, and to face this terrifying Constellation a hundred years later.”
The few archdukes replied with solemnity. In that moment, even the clever and eloquent Trentida felt incessantly burdened.
“Because between us and Constellation, and between the Citizens of the Empire and the Northlanders in this endless battle; even the grandest family clans seem petty, the strongest army incomparably frail, the most valiant monarch weak and powerless, and the widest territorial land hollow and impoverished.”
Lampard slowly let out a breath.
Under the heavy emotions in the eyes of the archdukes, the Archduke of Black Sand Region narrowed his eyes. “And, I suspect, it’s been over six hundred years now, what we’re facing… I’m afraid this is the deciding battle…” Lampard clenched his fists tightly, his voice was desolate.
“We’re at the final round of the game.”