𝐉𝐨𝐡𝐚𝐧’𝐬 𝐂𝐡𝐨𝐢𝐜𝐞 (𝟑)
When told to go to Count Jarpen, Iaon nodded his head as if it was a good choice.
“You have made a good choice. Speak to Count Bartok as politely as possible and prepare to leave immediately. Will you be hiring any mercenaries separately?”
Johan realized a practical problem upon hearing Iaon’s words. While the elf knights had servants and slaves in Count Bartok’s fiefdom, Johan only had a single slave and a wolf.
It was not only a matter of dignity but also of real danger. As they approached Count Jarpen’s territory, the number of mercenaries and rogues would increase.
To avoid unnecessary fights, it was better to present a formidable appearance.
“. . .Would it be possible for you to recommend some decent mercenaries at the guild?”
“Yes, that would be wise.”
Iaon nodded with a smile. In such matters, having connections was certainly convenient.
Traveling with more than twenty mercenaries cost Johan four Empire silver coins a day. Though it was a bargain compared to a knight’s cost, it was still a significant expense.
It was fortunate he received a substantial amount of silver coins from this campaign. Otherwise, he would have had to join as a member of a merchant caravan.
Fortunately, the mercenaries introduced by the guild were generally trustworthy, unlike the riffraff picked up from the streets. There was no need for unnecessary rivalry or power struggles.
And. . .
“That Sir Knight is a troll slayer?”
“He doesn’t look like it, does he?”
“What did you expect him to look like?”
“I don’t know. Twice his size, maybe.”
Most importantly, no crazy mercenary dared to challenge Johan’s authority so soon after the campaign. Experienced mercenaries knew better than to risk their lives unnecessarily.
“Milord, wouldn’t it be better to buy more slaves?”
“Hmm. I am considering it.”
Geoffrey’s suggestion made sense. If he had the money, it would be better to travel with slaves or servants rather than mercenaries. They were more reliable.
The problem was. . .
Johan, who unexpectedly came into a large sum of money due to his achievements, was reluctant to buy battle slaves and form a troop indiscriminately.
“By the way, Geoffrey, you seem to be in a good mood?”
“Isn’t it because of the nice weather?”
Geoffrey looked very pleased. The reason was simple.
With no Suetlg, no slaves of Suetlg, and no servants from the guild, Geoffrey was determined to score points and be as indispensable to Johan as a tongue in a mouth!
Even if other slaves joined, to secure his position as a trusted senior and to avoid hard labor, Geoffrey was resolved to give his best effort.
The road to Count Jarpen’s territory was the reverse of the route they had taken to the city. Although it was the same path they had traveled before, the atmosphere felt markedly different on the return journey.
“Sir Knight. Something seems amiss.”
Mercenaries who had gone into a nearby town to procure provisions reported back to Johan with serious expressions.
When Johan had escaped, Count Jarpen’s territory was in the midst of war, but the conflict hadn’t reached as far as Rutzbeck. However, now it seemed that the effects of the battle had spread to the south.
Not only Rutzbeck but other towns as well were in a state of high alert, on edge.
“Is it that bad?”
“Yes. We need to be more cautious going forward.”
The opponent in the war with Count Jarpen was Countess Abner, a powerful Count from a royal court background. Though Count Jarpen was a legitimate Empire Count, he seemed to be outmatched in power.
The conflict between these two feudal lords in the southwest of the Empire had garnered the attention of everyone from other lords of the Erlans Kingdom to the merchant guilds of southern city-states, indicating its prolonged nature!
In this era, wars were more akin to conflicts between fiefdoms rather than between nations. The lords within a country were almost like rulers of small states.
And if such a war drags on. . .
“Milord. Maybe we should consider returning.”
Geoffrey, a former merchant, cautiously suggested this, knowing well the dangers of traversing areas where fiefdom conflicts are prolonged.
In a world without systematic supplies, armies relied on purchasing from camp-following merchants, and when that failed, they resorted to looting.
While mercenaries might take cues from their feudal lords, that was only feasible when circumstances allowed. There were no mercenaries who would hold back when faced with immediate hunger and survival needs.
“Do you think so?”
“Frankly, under these circumstances, Count Jarpen should have sent an escort procession. That’s the custom. Their failure to do so indicates. . .”
“A dire situation, then.”
Under normal circumstances, inviting someone in such chaotic times would require the host to demonstrate their status by sending an escort procession.
However, Count Jarpen did not, or perhaps could not, do so.
‘𝘐 𝘵𝘩𝘰𝘶𝘨𝘩𝘵 𝘪𝘵 𝘸𝘰𝘶𝘭𝘥 𝘣𝘦 𝘨𝘰𝘰𝘥 𝘵𝘰 𝘷𝘪𝘴𝘪𝘵 𝘪𝘯 𝘢 𝘵𝘪𝘮𝘦 𝘰𝘧 𝘯𝘦𝘦𝘥, 𝘣𝘶𝘵 𝘥𝘪𝘥 𝘐 𝘰𝘷𝘦𝘳𝘴𝘵𝘦𝘱?’
There was no point in visiting if the situation was so dire that the other party had nothing to offer. Johan regretted not choosing to visit the more prosperous Count Bartok of the Erlans Kingdom instead.
But the decision had been made, and the letters had been sent. Retreating now would only result in a loss for Johan.
“. . .But we won’t turn back. Having said we’d visit, we must.”
A knight’s honor was crucial in such matters. Retreating after committing to a visit would diminish Johan’s reputation.
Geoffrey nodded in understanding. A slave’s role was limited to giving advice; thereafter, they must follow their master’s commands.
The worries proved to be right. A group of about forty mercenaries blocked the way. Although they had encountered mercenary groups before, those groups had retreated, seemingly daunted by Johan and his party.
But these mercenaries were different.
A desire to risk danger for a big gain gleamed in their faces and eyes.
“Halt! We are mercenaries governing this area under the sacred orders of Countess Abner. In the name of the Countess, we will levy a toll. Surrender your belongings and weapons.”
“Do you have a stamped permit?”
“Ha! As if we carry such things all the time. Look at this flag. This alone suffices as proof.”
The mercenaries pointed to their flag, but Johan’s mercenaries whispered quietly.
━𝐖𝐞 𝐝𝐨𝐧’𝐭 𝐤𝐧𝐨𝐰 𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐦. 𝐓𝐡𝐞𝐲 𝐚𝐫𝐞 𝐧𝐨𝐭 𝐟𝐚𝐦𝐨𝐮𝐬.
━𝐈 𝐰𝐚𝐬 𝐭𝐡𝐢𝐧𝐤𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐬𝐚𝐦𝐞.
It was unclear whether they were directly under Countess Abner or deserters. Even if they were contracted by Countess Abner, there was no reason to tolerate such plundering.
“I am Johan of the Yeats family. The warriors behind me are mercenaries hired in the name of Marcel’s Katana Merchant Guild. Even Countess Abner cannot sanction such levies.”
“Are you defying the Countess’s orders?”
Some mercenaries armed with crossbows raised their weapons threateningly. Johan growled in a low voice.
The enemies wondered what Johan meant. But by the time they realized, a giant wolf was already pouncing from the side.
“Kill those with crossbows first, Karamaf!”
Johan shouted fiercely, brandishing a newly forged spear. The tip of the spear shone sharply.
The first to fall was the one who had insolently spoken to Johan. Before he could move, Johan’s spear pierced through him, easily penetrating his steel-plated armor.
“Such a mad knight. . .”
Before they could finish, Johan had already reached the mercenaries. The imposing knight on horseback, with his arms raised, instilled such terror that some mercenaries wet themselves.
And then the slaughter began.
Like a wolf massacring a flock of sheep, Johan rampaged through the mercenaries with a mace and longsword. Each flash of the sword brought sprays of blood, and every dull thud meant another head shattered.
In the blink of an eye, seven or eight men lay dead.
The mercenaries, panicked by the collapse of their formation, hastily retreated. For Johan, it was as if they were begging to be killed. To stop a knight on horseback, they had to stick close and attack the horse.
“Charge, support Sir Knight!”
The mercenaries, initially stunned by Johan’s fierce attack, hurriedly joined the battle. Arrows flew, and with shouts, clashes ensued.
The battle was easy, almost disorienting, thanks to Johan’s frenzied frontline assault. They only had to attack the retreating mercenaries from behind.
Johan felt a chilling sensation and jerked his head back. A bolt had just whooshed past where his face had been moments ago. One of the mercenaries fleeing behind him must have loaded his crossbow.
The mercenary was immediately punished. Karamaf leaped up and tore the mercenary apart. For Johan, long-range attacks like these were more threatening than the assaults from the knights. Thanks to Karamaf, Johan could focus on the battle with ease.
“Catch those fleeing! Don’t let a single one escape!”
Johan had no intention of letting any of the remaining enemies slip away. They would only become a future problem.
The mercenaries Johan had hired knew this too and quickly pursued. Those who deserted were one thing, but the hired ones had to be killed right there.
“Please, mercy! I just want to go home. . .”
“You have a wife? I’ll take good care of her!”
“Spare me! I just did what the captain told me to. . .”
“Heh. I was just following the captain’s orders too.”
Once the skirmish seemed over, Johan asked.
“Karamaf, did any escape?”
The wolf, a monster named Karamaf, had an amazing sense of smell, able to detect mercenaries who had fled from the area. Johan asked the few remaining mercenaries who were still alive.
“Are you hired by Countess Abner, or are you deserters? Speak the truth, and I swear by the gods I won’t touch you.”
“Why did you desert?”
“B-Because our pay was delayed. . .”
It was ironic that the winning side also had delayed payments, but it wasn’t surprising. The enemy would only give up and pay once completely defeated. As long as they resisted, there was nothing to extract from the attacking side.
“I see. So you had no real connection with the Countess.”
“I-I’m sorry for lying. I just wanted to leave, but the captain. . .”
“It’s fine. I lied too.”
Johan swung his mace, cutting off the remaining mercenaries’ lifelines. They had no reason to be spared.
“Quickly gather up the money! We need to get out of this area.”
The mercenaries, despite the sudden battle, looked cheerful. It was thanks to the rewards. The loot taken from the enemies was a substantial income for the mercenaries.
Moreover, seeing Johan in action inspired trust. Beyond the danger, following a knight like him seemed a sure way to earn a substantial share.
A good employer is one who pays on time and doesn’t delay wages. An even better employer provides opportunities for mercenaries to earn their share.