Under the Oak Tree - Chapter 335 - 96
335 Chapter 96
Are you all right, my lady?”
The voice came from behind. It was Ulyseon, standing next to the tent as he gazed down at Maxi forlornly. He had likely followed her out of concern.
Maxi pulled herself together and staggered to her feet “I-I am all right. All the tension… made me a little queasy”
You look unwell. Please allow me to escort you to your tent”
Ulyseon helped her up, and Maxi leaned against him as she rose. She was simply too drained to maintain a strong front.
“Is everyone else all right?” she asked.
“Around seven knights were wounded, but none of their injuries are life-threatening,” Ulyseon said gravely, looking up at the hill.
The battle had raged throughout the night. The knightly orders now stood guard above the hill while soldiers loaded the wounded onto stretchers. Clerics buried and purified the dead, and others towed carts loaded with the limp carcasses of their steeds.
Though it was customary to honor a warhorse with a burial upon its death, the army had to resort to eating whatever they could find to conserve provisions. The horses were either skinned and dismembered or roasted whole over fires. Even while hundreds died each day, their screams ringing through the air, the living still had to fill their stomachs when the time came.
Maxi watched the soldiers roam up and down the hill before coming to her senses and making her way through the camp. Adjacent to the rows of tents was the start of the camp wall construction, a stack of roughly cut stones four kevettes(Approximately 120 centimeters.) high. The rear unit worked on it between skirmishes. Walking past the unevenly stacked structure, she reached the tall tent assigned to the mages.
She did not bother changing out of her bloodied clothes before laying next to the brazier and huddling beneath two dirty blankets. Despite the anxiety and fear that tore at her heart, her exhaustion dragged her into a deep slumber.
Garrow remained unconscious the next day. Hebaron, who had come to the infirmary to check on him, called Maxi out of the tent.
‘Do you think the lad will be all right, my lady?’ he asked cautiously.
Unable to answer right away, Maxi bit her lip. 𝐍𝞸𝒱𝖊𝓵𝑛𝑬xt.𝐜𝑶𝚖
A heavy silence passed.
“I would like your honest opinion: said Hebaron. “Garrow is my direct subordinate, so I must know his condition!
‘W-We have healed his wound… but magic cannot repair damage done to the brain! Maxi hesitated briefly before adding, “We won’t know until he wakes up… if there are any long-term effects!
She could not bring herself to say that he might never open his eyes. Hebaron stood wordlessly beneath the eaves for a long time, watching the snow fall across the hill. It had started snowing at dawn, forcing a brief cessation to the fighting. The coalition army was now taking a much-needed rest.
Maxi was grateful for the respite. The soldiers were thoroughly worn out from laying siege during the day and protecting the camp at night, and the mages were running low on mana. This reprieve had been desperately needed.
After studying Hebaron’s grave expression, Maxi blurted, “Sh-Should we not abandon this campaign?’
Hebaron tore his eyes away from the monster city to look at her. Startled by her own statement, Maxi hunched her shoulders, but IF the words continued to flow out of her like water from a burst dam. 3
“I-It might be better for us to return… before we lose any more lives. W-We still have no word from Riftan. That must mean… something has gone wrong! We must… give up this campaign and send a search party to find him, Ruth, and Sir Elliot before it’s too late! We would be better off returning to Anatol with them—’
“Even if we give up now and return, we will have to face the monsters again in a few years; Hebaron said.
Despite Maxi’s defeatist remarks, the knight showed no sign of anger. He regarded her with tranquil eyes before adding calmly, Now that we’ve discovered their fortress, the monsters are bound to take action. They will strike back the moment we order a retreat. Another war cannot be avoided!
Maxi bit down on her lip. Hebaron was right. Vast sums had been collected to fund this war, enough to supply more than twenty thousand soldiers with several months’ worth of food, firewood, coal, magic stones and devices, siege weapons, various armaments, and fodder for their mounts. If this campaign were to fail, it would be especially devastating to the famine-stricken northern regions.
Nevertheless, pushing on did not guarantee success. They could ultimately end up retreating after suffering even heavier casualties. As if sensing her fear, Hebaron kept talking.
The monsters are uneasy as well. The fact that they have yet to use the wyverns is proof!
Maxi looked up at him, baffled. “I don’t understand!”
Do you recall Princess Agnes explaining how much food a wyvern gets through? A nest that size would need an ungodly amount of livestock. It’s why the monsters forced the creatures into hibernation’ Hebaron stroked his bristly beard that covered his cheeks and continued, They require even more food once they awaken, which the monster army cannot currently provide. That explains why there’s been no wyvem in battle. They’re likely saving them for when the war is in full swing!
“Th-The monsters might never engage in direct battle! They could be thinking they have the advantage of time.”
“If that were the case, they wouldn’t have bothered with the night raids. They are trying to wipe out our numbers as quickly as possible. If one thing is certain, the enemy wants to avoid a long war as much as we do.”
Hebaron’s keen eyes moved away from the battlefield to look at her. His voice was full of conviction as he said, They are likely short on food as well. They will try to drag this on, then strike at the critical moment”
Maxi anxiously gazed at the silent hill. She doubted whether events would unfold as he said. Even if they did, it did not guarantee success.
The mere thought of battling tens of thousands of monsters at close range caused her heart to shrivel with fear. Above all other emotions, though, was her worry for Riftan.
Excusing herself, Maxi turned to go back into the Infirmary. She felt she would lose all self-control if she continued this conversation. Striving not to let her thoughts linger on Riftan, she walked over to Garrow.
A mage named Nora was by his bedside, trickling an herbal tonic into his mouth. Maxi crouched to inspect the knight’s pallid face and run her fingers over the surgical marks on his temple. Though the wound had healed, small lumps ran above his right eye. Worry pricked at her that she had not set all the bones right. After examining his still-swollen eye, Maxi asked Nora to reduce the swelling with ice and moved on to the other patients.
The heavy snowfall finally ceased at noon the next day, and the coalition army wasted no time in resuming the attack. Maxi and Armin summoned a forty-kevette(Approximately 12 meters.) earth wall behind the central battalion, creating a vantage point for another round of relentless catapulting. Though the enemy retaliated with fireballs, they never reached the coalition’s weapons.
The same could not be said for the soldiers who rushed at the city gate. Maxi averted her eyes as they were blown down the hill in heaps of tumbling rock and flame. Though the mages desperately tried to shield the troops, there was little a handful of them could do for thousands. By the end of the day, more than two hundred had lost their lives.
Rage and despair roiled in Maxi’s chest. It was unbearable, watching so many lives being snuffed out as if they were worth nothing. She tried to keep from looking down and instead concentrated on ferrying more rocks up to the catapults.
The attacks ceased at sundown, and the soldiers who had rested during the day came forth to form a defensive line. Maxi lowered the wall and moved the catapults to the rear.
She wolfed down her meal as soon as she returned to camp. In the initial days of the siege, she had stru led to eat even a slice of bread. Now, in just a matter of days, she found herself gorging her rations despite the stench of blood that permeated the air.
It was a testament to the incredible resilience of the human body, one that she was experiencing firsthand. Her body still craved sleep and nourishment even in the chaos of war. Before this, she never would have thought it possible to fall asleep with the deafening noise of smashing rocks.
In the second week of the fruitless siege, Adolf, the commander of the Arexian army, allowed his anxiety to get the better of him.
“We cannot drag it on like this,” he blurted during a strategy meeting.
Everyone gathered inside the central barracks scowled.
“We currently have no alternative,” Agnes retorted. “Hasty action will only result in more casualties. Our best strategy is to keep up the siege until the monsters are out of options without losing any of our men.”
“We will run out of options first,” the man said with a loud snort.
“Morale is falling!
“Then what do you suggest?” Kuahel said tersely.
It was Richard Breston who answered. He raised his wine cup, his lips twisting into a vicious smile. “Is it not obvious? We must order a full-scale attack. We didn’t drag all those siege weapons here for show.”
Kuahel’s tone turned icy as he said, “I lave you already forgotten the catastrophe of the first day?”