While the Liberation Army's predominance strengthened day by day, a large scale reorganization was going on in Royal Capital Blanca.
Cutting to the chase, it started with Barbora, who had suffered defeat at the Battle of Bertusburg and lost Cannan.
The personnel reassignments were criticized for throwing the military into disorder, but Farzam firmly stifled the opposition.
Since it proved difficult to placate Barbora, who called for a final, all-in resistance, just throw him away, Farzam decided.
Borbon, who had put up a "good fight" at the previous battle, was inaugurated as the commandant of the First Army as Barbora's successor.
This man who couldn't make decisions on his own was an ideal figurehead. Also, Octavio, who was in the middle of his trial for war crimes, was freed from house confinement and recklessly instated as his assistant.
He was informed of Farzam's intentions and well understood his own purpose: his role was to observe Borbon and make sure he never made an offensive.
The dissenters like Barbora were reorganized into positions with no real power, and the weakening of the military proceeded favorably at Farzam's hands.
The urgent requests for reinforcements from Cyrus and Sayeh were dismissed, the defense of the Royal Capital was strengthened, and no soldiers were sent out, under the pretense of reorganization.
The season was early summer. Exactly a year had passed since the Liberation Army made an uprising at Salvador Fortress.
Altura began the final step to liberate the Royal Capital: the capture of Cyrus and Sayeh.
Diener and Fynn were given 50,000 to capture Cyrus Fortress, and 70,000 lead by Behrouz were mobilized to capture Sayeh.
The Liberation Army broke through Canaan's road without any difficulties, and they advanced while taking over the surrounding cities.
The garrison stationed in castles surrendered without a fight, and in truth they joined the Liberation Army. While showered by cheers from the people, the officers and men of the Liberation Army flooded into the Royal Capital Area.
Without anything that could even be called resistance, the Liberation Army successfully surrounded completely both fortresses.
A request for surrender reached General Yalder defending Sayeh with 10,000 soldiers via a letter tied to an arrow.
—-"I guarantee the lives of the garrison if you surrender. Immediately open the gates and throw down your swords."
Exasperated, Yalder had rejected it. Negotiations for surrender broke down before they had even begun.
From the next day onwards, the Liberation Army of 70,000 began the siege.
Yalder ascended the ramparts and took command on the front lines. Preserving morale was more important than anything else in a siege.
"Don't let the towers approach! Pour oil on those guys sticking to the gates and shoot them with fire arrows!"
"Sayeh is a mighty fortress! Show them that we can defend even if they send 100,000!"
The approaching siege towers were vehemently pelted by projectiles from catapults installed on the castle walls and destroyed, and those attempting to break down the gates with a battering ram were doused with boiling oil.
In the mountainous area of Sayeh, the Liberation Army's catapults were hindered.
"Archers aim-! Target, the enemy battering ram at the main gate! Fire-!"
The Liberation Army soldiers, bearing shields, could withstand attacks from atop the ramparts, but they couldn't deal with the fire.
Poor soldiers fired upon by fire arrows writhed like mad and became corpses in front of the castle gates.
Sidamo in charge of defense in the back was preparing for the enemy's tunnel warfare. The soil on their north side was weak, and it was the most suitable area to dig under the castle walls.
He predicted their route beforehand and constructed water-filled moats there in advance, ready to hinder the enemy's excavation with them. The instant the enemies dug through, the water would rush onto them, and the soldiers wouldn't be able to do anything except drown inside the tunnels.
"The enemy will definitely plot a surprise attack. The concentrated attack on the front gate is to deceive our eyes.Their real target is our rear."
Sidamo himself had also joined in the digging work, constructing moats together with the soldiers.
His moats would bear fruit three days later. As Sidamo had surmised, the Liberation Army dug forth their tunnels, and he succeeded in making them sacrifice a great many of their engineers.
"Yo Sidamo. At this rate, if reinforcements from the Royal Capital arrive, we'll prevail in defending Sayeh. The morale of the solders is also high."
"Sir-. The soldiers are doing well. As of now, the siege force have not gotten close at all."
Like Yalder had said, the morale of the Sayeh defense garrison was high. Before cooping themselves in the castle, Yalder had told only those who had the resolve to stay.
The soldiers remaining were the defeated soldiers of the Third and Fourth Armies, as well as those who had many chances to leave. Despite all that, they chose to fight to the end with Yalder.
Sayeh was a fortress carefully planned to be held by 10,000 men, and around it was a region of steep mountains. This was an advantageous position for the defending side.
"Barbora will probably finish reorganizing the Army Corps soon. While they conduct this attack, they'll have to start being vigilant for an attack from the Royal Capital. Then it'll be our turn to strike."
When Barbora had appointed Yalder as the defense commander, he had declared, "I'll definitely come back and bring reinforcements."
These two who had a bitter relationship let their past grudges be like water under the bridge-they exchanged a firm handshake and vowed to meet again. They could understand each other, ironically, because now they were both generals who had suffered defeat.
"Though our supplies may be limited, we have enough to hold out until the First Army arrives."
The Sayeh Garrison wasn't informed that Barbora had already been dismissed.
Their faith that reinforcements would come, would surely never be answered.
Both fortresses were only there to buy time until Farzam could convince those in power in the Kingdom. It didn't matter to him that they could only endure for a month.
They were sacrificed pieces, but they, who were fighting and risking their lives on the brink, had no way of knowing.
"Haha, I'm blessed with great soldiers so late in the war. It's an honor fighting together with them."
"Your Excellency, there will be more fighting hereon. The rebel army is not entirely unified. If we can buy time here, an opportunity will present itself without fail."
"Umu. From tomorrow onward, we'll go all out! Colonel Schera's probably struggling at Cyrus about now. We can't fall behind ha!"
Even after two weeks, Sayeh showed no signs of falling at all.
The Liberation Army commander Behrouz had failed his plan for a tunnel, and his siege towers had also sustained great damage. The assault on the castle gates had also gone unfavorably, and the casualties were increasing.
Behrouz was a general skilled in field warfare, but he lacked experience in sieges. He had strong leadership, but he could only conduct sieges by the books: fill in the moat, fire arrows from all sides, break through the gate or ramparts with catapult support, and if the ground allowed tunneling, build a tunnel underground and break into the castle.
What should one do if none of them worked? The answer wasn't written in military texts.
Behrouz had launched a fierce attack regardless of day or night, but that all-together backfired, creating a mountain of corpses. A feeling of war-weariness was spreading through the soldiers, and morale was dropping.
"......This is bad. Yalder and the Kingdom's soldiers are quite competent. Our attacks are being pushed back admirably. Our catapults are few, and our siege towers were destroyed; we can only force through the gates perhaps."
The soldiers attempting to forcibly enter the fortress through ladders were doused with boiling water or blazing oil, and they were dropping, dying.
Was it really okay to let this continue? Behrouz anguished.
"Your Excellency.You mustn't be impatient. I understand your enthusiasm to take down the castle quickly for the sake of the people, but the losses of soldiers will only increase at this rate. It is also important to wait and watch."
Behrouz nodded at the Staff Officer's words and ruminated on himself. He had gotten too used to victorious battles, and he had begun to overestimate himself. He had believed that the Kingdom's Army was entirely full of frail soldiers.
The other officers and soldiers were sure to have the same belief, the groundless confidence that the enemy would easily fall with just a slight push.
That they ought to liberate the Royal Capital as soon as possible, this idea had consumed him.
"......How unlike me. What have I learned after living so long. Chief Staff Officer, thank you for your criticism. You're right that temporarily taking a wait-and-see approach is best. We've overcome many hardships to come here, what need is there to be impatient now of all times? We'll prepare an endless amount of catapults and siege towers, and only good things await us if we attack composedly."
"Sir, that is exactly right. I will immediately begin the arrangements. It will take time, but we will be able to confidently take down the fortress. No matter how courageous the enemy General Yalder is, he cannot replenish his soldiers. Starting tomorrow, let us surround and contain them with only arrows fired. That will force the enemy to exhaustion."
"Umu. Give the directive at once. Especially in times like this, we mustn't rush."
It was a bold decision to withdraw the plan for an all-out offensive despite having over seven times the enemy's numbers. He would inevitably be criticized for his incompetency. Any other general would have decided to capture the fortress though force.
That he could accept his staff officer's criticism and decide to change the plan was one of Behrouz's virtues.
—-The Liberation Army force to capture Sayeh ceased fighting two weeks into the siege.
The force sent to besiege Cyrus, the Liberation Army commanded by Diener on the other hand, had not fired even a single arrow during these two weeks.
This man only did one thing: thoroughly surround Cyrus.
Not just the engineers, even scouts were not an exception. All officers and men were invested into constructing this encirclement posthaste. Palisades were erected, trenches were dug, and fences to guard against horses stretched all around.
Braziers brilliantly illuminated the night, showing the enemy no gap for a night raid whatsoever. Patrols were frequently sent out with no slip in their surveillance of the enemy fortress.
They requested surrender only once before the siege, and they didn't plan to accept surrender at all afterwards. The reason being that if they did, their food expenditure would increase, since they would need to imprison the soldiers.
Diener's plan of attack was plain and simple. Complete starvation. They bought as many goods as they could from the area around Cyrus beforehand, and after surrounding the fortress, they would guard against enemy escape.
According to reports from spies, Cyrus lacked provisions. This fortress only just built hadn't been stocked with food. How long they could hold out was up to the commander in charge of defense.
"Sir Diener, the encirclement is flawless. Not even a rat could get out now."
"Ahh, everything is going well. Now we just wait for time to pass."
"Good for us that General Larus is a careful man. The most dangerous time to be attacked was while we were weaving our web."
Larus was a man who fought a prudent and calm battle, but at the same time that was a flaw.
Since he was uneasy about his lack of soldiers, he forbade any combat until reinforcements from the Royal Capital came.
During that time, the Liberation Army had completed their encirclement. Had it been the belligerent Barbora, he wouldn't have idly let them scurry around.
That didn't mean it was right to launch an attack, but the end result was that the fortress was completely blockaded.
"The Kingdom's Army number roughly 7,000, a bit too low to be launching an attack. A cautious person would probably never make a gamble like that."
"And with this, it seems that Death God is also nearing her end."
"Indeed. I'll have her taste a hell-like hunger. One month by my estimates. I'll enjoy seeing her after that heh."
The corners of Diener's lips raised, and he smiled. He had heard the Death God had quite an appetite. It was already too late for her to wield her excellence. This encirclement couldn't be broken through.
Him taking the starvation plan was all in consideration for her. He thought it an appropriate execution method for Death.
"Will you not be accepting surrender?"
"Of course not. I won't approve of surrender after all we've been through. They'll starve, they'll grieve, and they'll suffer; then they'll die, their hearts full of regret. I'm thinking of all our comrades who've been killed by her. Show no mercy to those who come out of the fortress, no matter who they may be. Shoot them to death."
Said Vander, feeling horror innerly. Diener's face had shown a hint of madness. War drives men to insanity.
Vander had only now experienced that firsthand.
"Your Excellency. Regarding the food rations, as per orders, directives to conserve have been given."
Came reporting a Staff Officer. Larus had ordered given meals to be reduced to two a day, and furthermore, their quantities diminished.
Two weeks had passed since Cyrus Fortress was surrounded, and general Larus in charge defense had an expression of impatience.
This fortress was manned by 5,000 soldiers of the First Army and 2,000 of Schera's Cavalry.
It was only just built and stout, but the take-in of supplies had been completely too late. Supplies hadn't been sent in coincidentally with completion because sending supplies to a place like this would be diverting them from the front lines.
But now that Canaan had fallen, that had backfired.
It wasn't that Larus hadn't considered going out for an attack. He had entertained the thought of doing so to hinder the enemy's maneuvering.
But, the enemy's force was a large army of 50,000. Despite Schera's excellence in battle, he couldn't guarantee her safe return. If in the off chance that the "Death God" Schera was killed, morale would probably reach rock bottom.
Hence Larus had restrained from an attack. He didn't think he had erred. Even now, he believed that firmly devoting themselves to defense was the best course of action.
"The First Army has probably finished their reorganization. His Excellency Barbora is a short-tempered man. He may already be on the way."
"Yes, if we can hold out until then, it'll be possible to repulse the enemy, I believe. The soldiers are also saying we will manage as long as Colonel Schera is here."
"Mhm. But, that doesn't rule out the possibility of the enemy switching to an assault. Tell the soldiers not to be negligent in their vigilance.
Larus gazed outside the castle from his upper-story window. The Liberation Army flags stood everywhere, as if engulfing Cyrus.
Schera and her cavalry had nothing to do except keep lookout in this siege.
Since Larus had ordered them not to pointlessly waste their stamina, they could only continue to stay on alert, endlessly.
For Schera, this wasn't a point of concern at all, and her daily routine was endeavouring to take care of the field.
Watching her in amazement, was someone who had broken through by force before the siege, Captain Darus Madros.
"Yo, Colonel Schera. Is fumbling with the field fun?"
"Yeah. It's really fun. They're growing little by little. I can't get enough of watching."
Mumbled Schera while uprooting weeds. Katarina was watering.
"These look like Wealth potatoes. You've got some bad tastes. Some say they're disgusting and inedible."
Darus said in disdain. He couldn't imagine himself deliberately wanting to eat potatoes native to the hated Wealth. He had tried them once, and like he had expected, they were disgusting.
The idiots of Wealth must've gotten their screwed up personalities after eating these disgusting things, Dallas thought to himself.
"They aren't. They're grown here, so they're potatoes of Cyrus. Right, I'll call them Cyrus potatoes."
"That's just splitting hairs."
"Captain, don't you think you're being a bit too cheeky towards the Colonel?"
Irritated, Katarina wrinkled her brows and advised him to contain himself. Rank was absolute in an army. Even if he was a man from the Madros family for example, his disrespect couldn't be overlooked.
"I was born with a dirty mouth. Besides, I came here to help uninvited. I ain't scared of anything now."
"I wonder if you've gone crazy, coming here by yourself to throw your life away."
The words Schera muttered with no ill-intentions struck a nerve. This woman who didn't appear to be intelligent thought him even more a fool.
"......Call it a sense of duty. I've come to repay the debt from Madros. Also, it's not set in stone that we're going to die. Soldiers from the Royal Capital are gonna come, and we'll live to fight another day."
Schera plucked off a bug clinging to a stalk and threw it away.
Her condition had improved, but her meals had diminished to twice a day, and their portions had also decreased. The snacks she kept with her were nearly finished. Katarina's candies were now at a countable number.
Schera's mood was getting gloomier, and the cavalrymen too weren't faring well she felt.
"Oh yeah, hey Colonel. I heard this from the cavalry. They say the remaining feed is in pretty bad straits."
Said Darus as if he just remembered, and Katarina's face stiffened.
"Is that true, Katarina?"
"Y, yes. We've more or less not enough."
"Isn't grass... growing inside this fortress?"
"There's nothing but weeds coming up now," said Darus as he pointed out the sparse vegetation.
"What should we do, I wonder."
Schera pondered. There were weeds growing here and there, but not enough to support all the horses. Going out was prohibited too.
"......Can you, please leave it to me? I can take the best course of action."
"What do you plan to do?"
"Please leave everything to me."
Vaguely said Katarina, not backing down. It was better if Schera didn't know.
Darus lowered his eyes.
"I got it. I'll entrust everything to you, First Lieutenant. Please take care of the horses."
Schera smiled, and patted her hands, removing the dirt.
After assuring themselves that Schera was going back to her office, Darus apologized to Katarina.
"......My bad. Seems I've said too much."
"It's fine. She would've found out sooner or later."
"So, what d'you intend to do? Let them go?"
"Like I'll hand over our warhorses to the enemy. There's also no need to risk opening the gates."
"But there's no feed right? Whatcha gonna do then?"
"......It's better if you don't know."
Katarina ignored Darus, and headed to the cavalrymen waiting on alert. She had to get their cooperation.
What she had to do was simple. They had to cull the numbers until they could hold out for two more weeks with the feed that they had.
Two weeks had already passed since the start of the siege. Reinforcements should be coming after half a month, Katarina estimated.
They should first kill five hundred from among the little less than two thousand warhorses they had. If that proved not enough, their numbers would be further thinned out.
The resulting meat would be used for food. It would be cruel, but necessary. This was war.
Katarina stood still for a moment, and looked up at the sky.
She was a fallen heretic who manipulated corpses. She didn't care if she was ridiculed after all she had done.
But, the only thing she didn't want, was to be hated by Schera. She feared losing Schera's faith.
Schera had come to be strangely attached to horses, which is why it hurt her to mention this plan. She didn't want Schera to know.
The cavalry treated their horses with much care, because horses were one's own partner obviously. Katarina also loved and had given a name to hers.
They would start culling from the already weakened horses. They would go in order of physique, and Katarina's horse wouldn't be excluded.
Katarina took off her glasses, wiped the area around her eyes once, and then began walking again.
—-A month passed since the siege started. Reinforcements still hadn't come.