Chapter 107 – War Preparations
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The once-calm war room was now ablaze with frantic activity.

Scholars and tacticians alike scrambled from place to place as they attempted to organize plans, confirm troop counts, and assign provisions among many other things. At the center of this maelstrom was the large rectangular table where the strategic maps laid. While they had once been devoid of any clutter aside from documents, various figures representing troop placements now littered their surface.

“Damn it! Did Helfried alert them already!?” Medrauta grit her teeth, mentally reprimanding herself furiously. She never should’ve allowed the carriage to be seen.

Baron Dietrich shook his head, noticing Medrauta’s expression. “It’s not your fault, Dame Medrauta. Besides, there’s no confirmation that Bastiche was alerted by Helfried. In any case, we were planning to strike in two weeks, but that was merely a fanciful wish. We are already grateful for Bastiche’s hesitation until now. I doubt any other duke—acting or otherwise—would have knowingly tolerated a belligerent fief within their borders for as long as he has.”

Marilyn nodded in assent to the duke’s words. “That’s right. The original plan was to attack as soon as possible anyway. We only made changes due to Dame Krista’s arrival and her confirmation of academy reinforcements. In truth, we’ve been ready to launch our attack. The two weeks were simply there to ensure that everything would be perfect, but I’m sure you already know that no battle plan ever goes perfectly.”

“...Won’t we need to make tabards for the mercenaries?” Medrauta asked. “The ones to accompany Viviane’s plan.”

“You needn’t worry, Dame Medrauta.” Baron Dietrich said as he nodded his thanks to a scholarly-looking man who handed him a stack of papers. Although Medrauta thought it strange that the documents were sealed with a blank stamp instead of one that bore a coat of arms, it was hardly the time to comment on something so minor. “The craftsmen should be able to finish by tomorrow morning. We’ll attack in two days. Even considering the time it’ll take to march, we should reach the capital before he can call off the lockdown and begin funneling supplies to withstand our siege.”

Viviane nodded, eyeing the scholars and strategists in the room and gaining a newfound appreciation for their work. As the daughter of Duke Castellia, Viviane was no stranger to war rooms nor the presence of military officers. However, her experience with them had been somewhat dampered by her parents’ competence.

While growing up, she always thought it was strange how the tacticians she’d seen with her parents merely stood silently while doing nothing but nod or offer the odd word or two occasionally. Because of that, Viviane had been under the impression that the job of “tactician” was simply created for members of petty nobility who could not find employment elsewhere.

Once she began attending the academy, that notion began fading slightly, but Viviane still couldn’t fully comprehend just how important tacticians were, especially seeing as the noble curriculum didn’t offer any courses on strategy until the fourth and final year. Compared to the knights who were tasked with both fighting on the front lines and commanding troops, she couldn’t help but think that nobles or commoners who became tacticians were simply freeloaders.

However, the men and women working hurriedly around her were quickly shattering that misconception of hers. Though the room looked disorganized with documents being shuffled around and people moving to and fro, the scholars worked efficiently and the tacticians were incredibly insightful as they aided Marilyn and the baron in planning the attack.

...Looks like it’s just mother and father who are the anomalies. Again. Viviane pursed her lips, casting her gaze around the busy room. She stood next to Medrauta, the two of them staring at the battle maps laid out on the table before them. Though her knight was just as silent as she was, Viviane couldn’t help but think that she should be doing something to help out.

“You think we could do anything to help ‘em out?” Medrauta asked as she discreetly nudged Viviane. Her instincts as a knight demanded that she do something, especially with so much going on around them.

“Well...” Viviane trailed off as she attempted to think of something they could do to contribute to the war preparation efforts. Though she’d managed to propose a solution that fixed a major issue of Marilyn’s plan just a few minutes ago, her mind was currently blank. She was well-read and she’d sat in many of her parents’ meetings with military aides before, but she was quickly learning that there was a large difference between theory and application.

Viviane looked to Medrauta, hoping for the knight to make a suggestion that would give her imagination a boost. Unfortunately, Medrauta was coming to the exact same realization: while the knight did surprisingly well in her tactics classes and was a consummate commander during mock battles at the academy, she was rapidly understanding the practical disparity between a controlled exercise and an actual battlefield.

For starters, the academy’s practice grounds were entirely flat and there was no need to be concerned with terrain or obstacles that weren’t already set up by the instructors beforehand. Not only that, but all troops simply commenced battle in their desired positions whereas the soldiers here would need to march onto the battlefield before they could even begin thinking of engaging the enemy and the need to manage a chain of supplies was nonexistent. Even amongst all that, there was one glaring difference that was most significant: commanders were given perfect information on the battlefield and troop composition during those mock battles.

Of course, there were more advanced and practical tactics courses, but those were usually taught during the third and fourth years of the knights’ curriculum. As a result, Medrauta couldn’t help but feel more than a little out of place in the busy war room as she realized how little she actually knew. The knights in the Imperial Order had said that she would’ve received an immediate promotion to the rank of captain once she graduated, but now she severely doubted that.

While Medrauta certainly possessed the combat skills to serve as a captain, the rank did not merely reflect a knight’s swordsmanship, but also their ability to command and inspire their troops. She wasn’t sure how much the advanced tactics courses would help her with that, but looking at the bustling strategists and scholars around her made Medrauta feel like the intricacies of battle would forever escape her grasp.

“...Yeah.” Medrauta managed, sharing a sheepish grin with her lady as she realized Viviane was just as lost.

“Dame Medrauta. Lady Castellia. It’s quite crowded here, isn’t it? Our troops sure are lucky they don’t have to work in such a stuffy and packed room, eh?” Dame Marilyn said meaningfully with an eyebrow raised. It was obvious that she was attempting to imply something.

But what...? Oh! I know! Medrauta and Viviane both came to a conclusion at the same time, their eyes lighting up. They exhaled, breathing out small sighs of relief as they finally sated their urge to be useful. Although Viviane had been antsy due to feeling the obligation to help as the highest ranking noble in the room, Medrauta’s desire stemmed from a deep sense of duty ingrained in her ever since she was a squire.

Even while she served under Padraig, she had always been an exemplary student who other squires looked toward as an example once she shattered their preconceptions of her due to being an orphan. Her treatment at the academy wasn’t any different either, for she had been a subject of admiration amongst her peers and was the first knight to be picked by Eirlys as an academy guard after Amelia’s betrayal.

It was no wonder that both she and Viviane were feeling wholly inadequate inside the war room filled with experienced adults. Marilyn’s insight as a senior knight had identified that rather quickly, allowing her to give them a subtle nudge in the right direction.

As someone who had been tasked to raise fine soldiers for the duchy, Marilyn understood that it was important to reinforce an individual’s confidence and strength while they were still growing into their roles. A prolonged stay in the war room would simply be detrimental even if she’d asked the pair to help with some of the clerical work.

“I heard from Dame Krista that Trianna is drilling the troops. I’ve been told that I’m quite good with a sword, so perhaps I should check on her.” Medrauta grinned. Honestly, she had no idea why she hadn’t managed to think of such a simple task despite having taken on the initiative to lead mock classes after the attack at the academy in order to retain the students’ morale. But then again, I suppose it was Brigitte who suggested the idea first...

“I’m also a consummate archer. I’d be glad to see how your archers are faring, Dame Marilyn. If it’s not too much trouble, would you mind if my knight and I toured your soldiers’ training grounds?” Viviane slipped her hand into her knight’s, feeling her confidence resurge from Medrauta’s touch.

Marilyn smiled, glad to see that the pair had taken the hint. “That would be wonderful, Dame Medrauta. Lady Castellia. We’re sorely lacking in competent instructors and sergeants, so your aid will be much appreciated.”

Medrauta nodded. “We’ve only got two days, but we’ll turn these soldiers into the best in the duchy! Ain’t that right, Vivi?”

“Yeah!”

With Marilyn’s aid, Medrauta and Viviane had finally found their direction in the hectic preparations for war. Though this was still vastly unfamiliar to the both of them despite their education, the hesitation and indecision that previously muddied their eyes had disappeared now.

Though the future was uncertain with civil war lurking just around the corner, Medrauta and Viviane would face it with hands entwined.

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