There wasn’t a single citizen of New Port City that didn’t know of Cordnell’s reputation. While they refrained from even looking at Isaac out of fear, Cordnell would stand his ground and fight back whenever things broke down.
It wasn’t surprising that Cordnell had such a reputation, considering that his screams echoed from the rooftop all too frequently. And it was this reputation that kept the city’s citizens silently in line.
The first wave of disqualifications occured before the training started, weeding out those who volunteered with skant optimism. Lanburton and Rizzly further pruned the ranks with brutal training that took no consideration for the loss of life. Still, 300 persistent souls managed to survive until the end.
“Who provides equipment for mercenaries in the first place? They should be glad they were even given any in the first place, even if it’s second hand.”
Cordnell grumbled. The main difference between a mercenary and a professional soldier was that a mercenary had to provide all of their own equipment themselves, while professionals were provided with equipment by the army.
There wasn’t a single case like Isaac’s. Who fed, sheltered, trained and even provided equipment for mercenaries without signing a contract with them? Isaac did, all because he wanted to start a mercenary business.
The volunteers took no risk of being tied down to the guild for the rest of their lives; they were free to leave for a better place after completing the training. That was part of why there were more volunteers than expected.
That was why Cordnell, who acquired enough equipment for a hundred men thinking it was enough, desperately scavenged for more equipment for the unexpected number of those who qualified. This delayed all of his other work, which was piling up into a mountain awaiting his return.
“True. I guess it doesn’t matter so long as they look the part.”
Isaac nodded nonchalantly. He looked down on the mercenaries in front of the City Hall’s plaza. The mercenaries formed a line as sharp as a sword’s edge; you couldn’t even hear them breathe. Isaac nodded with satisfaction.
“Hm. They don’t look half bad.”
“I’m not sure you’ll be happy with the result. There just wasn’t enough time.”
Lanburton looked down at the mercenaries unhappily. Lanburton’s stare alone made the mercenaries tense up – a testament to his harsh training.
“It doesn’t matter. We just need to look nice at the moment. You can train them as much as you want when they return.”
“Yes sir. I was quite disappointed with the short training period we had, since there were a number of fine candidates that made the training worth it.”
“Fine candidates? In this place?”
Isaac asked with great surprise, and Lanburton pointed at the mercenary band as he replied.
“Yes. Training may have been cut short, but these men pa.s.sed the Combat Agent Training Course with above-average evaluations.”
“Men? Not just one or two?”
Isaac’s eyes followed Lanburton’s finger and looked at them with keen focus and even greater surprise.
“They were capable and demonstrated great leadership, so I made them the band’s officers. Most important is that they are very interesting.”
If Lanburton the elf said they were interesting, they must be extremely special. Lanburton grinned.
“They’re swearing loyalty to you, Sir Isaac.”
Isaac’s eyes gleamed.
“Swearing their loyalty to me… Now that really is interesting. But what’re their reasons?”
“That man at the head of the line – the temporary leader of the band – says he was about to starve to death with his sister in the streets when you were appointed. The others were in similar situations. They were, how to say, given a hand of salvation from Sir Isaac when they were just waiting to die. They say it’s an honour to repay their debts through this means.”
Isaac burst out in laughter.
“Salvation my a.s.s, those naive fools.”
From a man who’d just outgrown teens to a man at the doorstep for retirement, all of these men from all ages looked at Isaac with a burning pa.s.sion.
Isaac’s eyes met those of the man who was the band’s leader, positioned at the head of the line.
Coming face to face with this strange pa.s.sion, Isaac breathed out some smoke and asked Lanburton.
“What’s the name of the temporary leader?”
“He calls himself Flander.”
Isaac muttered and met eye-to-eye with Flander again. There was a clear sense of fealty in those eyes, and Isaac tried his utmost to stop the sly grin from surfacing on his face.
‘They’ve finally come out.’
“There are so many special people in the world.”
“That’s what makes this world interesting.”
Lanburton added, and Isaac nodded.
“Deploy them. And when this job is over, throw them down into the mud so badly that those nutcases will never utter the bulls.h.i.t that they swear loyalty to me.”
“Sorry? Isn’t it good to have loyal subordinates?”
Lanbortun tilted his head as Isaac walked away from the balcony of the roof. He buried himself into the sofa and answered.
“I prefer subordinates who hate me over those that are loyal. It’s very amusing to see their faces writhe in pain as they are forced to follow my orders, even as they dream of slitting my throat.”
Cordnell grumbled and jeered at Isaac.
“Sounds like you’re talking about me.”
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“Of course not, I like capable individuals. Superiors want to leave their work to trustworthy subordinates, you know.”
“No information given. There’s no need to stop baseless rumours, but they must bet with their instincts alone on who will win this war – the Count or the Marquis. Now this is true gambling.”
“… That’s good and all but will the Count and Marquis stand for this?”
“Tell them we’ll donate the winner an amount equivalent to the total bets on them winning. From the sound of things, they both seem like they are in a bit of a stretch, so I doubt they’ll go against it. Now, they’ll try even harder to win. Which would make the war all the more interesting.”
The continent was wrapped up in a strange frenzy of excitement. This was war on a ma.s.sive scale, not like the other instances of Provincial Warfare. A war with both the land and t.i.tles of the partic.i.p.ating families on the line. A war that only occured between families that are deeply embroiled in hatred. Winner taking all, the loser losing all. A zero sum game.
This ma.s.sive war involved just the main families but even the branch families and their va.s.sal families too. Somebody once said war is an opportunity. Just as the saying went, those who sought fame, riches, t.i.tles and honour for their families flocked to Count Wolfgang and Marquis Lichten to prove themselves.
It was only Central who was exhausted by this. This war of a ma.s.sive scale was the perfect environment for turncoats to spread their wings. They couldn’t let their surveillance slip up for even a moment, so all core agents were deployed to search for any signs of turncoats, be they from the Directorates of Strategy, Surveillance or a.n.a.lysis.
“Wars are so much more fun to watch when they tussle around. Wars in our place just have explosions. It doesn’t have such a fierce atmosphere like this.”
Isaac muttered excitedly as he sat on a chair atop a hill, observing the war with a telescope. He munched on some cookies as two thousand of Count Wolfgang faced off against Marquis’ three thousand.
This scale would be considered an all-out battle for an average provincial war, but a war of this scale wouldn’t end in a single day or two. Both sides having summoned all military families under them, Count Wolfgang had 45 thousand, while Marquis Lichten had 60 thousand men. It was a total of 100 thousand combatants; a war on this scale would only be seen maybe once in a hundred years.
So it was typical for both sides to skirmish with one another to test the other side and whittle down their numbers until the tug of war escalated into a ma.s.sive all-out battle. And considering that siege battles would also take place since the family’s lives were at stake, no one could predict when this war would end.
This battle’s stalemate shattered when Marquis Lichten’s right wing fell apart. The frontline quickly crumbled and were pushed back rapidly, ending up in full retreat.
“I swear, it’s so easy to make money when you’re running the gambling ring.”
Those obsessed with gambling flocked to this special occasion of provincial war gambling. They were monitoring the war in real time from the screen installed at the City Hall Plaza. And the betting would begin when the battle started.
So those who wanted to gamble focused on the screen as they sorted out their meals and even slept at the city plaza. Count Wolfgang and Marquis Lichten, at first infuriated by Isaac’s intention to make money using them, soon realised the benefit of this and deployed promoters to New Port City.
The promoters put in their all to attract bettors, boasting of their respective sides’ forces and prowess. The real information was hidden anyway, so they could boast all they wanted and a.s.sure the gamblers that their side would win.
Meanwhile, Isaac received exact information through Central, so he could easily figure out which side was likely to win.
“I can see why the Marquis is scared s.h.i.tless. They are no match at all.”
Isaac figured out that Count Wolfgang was bound to win in this war the moment he looked at the military a.n.a.lysis sent from Central.
Who would win between a sheep that commands a hundred lions and a lion who commands a hundred sheep? The importance of leadership was paramount in the military, more than any other organisations.
When you considered that, the Marquis’s forces were no use. These brats without a single experience found their position through their birth and boasted of their t.i.tles; only two or three of them were Campus graduates.
And these graduates weren’t from the main family, but as branch and va.s.sal families so they only served as low ranking officers or advisers. Which was why they would lose to Count Wolfgang’s forces, whose leadership was organized by experience with perfect candidates filling every job.
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