As William’s army moved around the keep, the enemy army came into view. It was hard to make out individuals, but the tents were quite visible. William judged that the encampment was about two miles away from the keep. William sighed internally upon seeing it. He had received word of the size of the army, but didn’t want to believe it. Even in the previous wars he had been in, the armies hadn’t been as big. He realized the first war in this world had barely even been a skirmish. Even against the Demon King, the final battle hadn’t had armies half this size.
On the other hand, the Demon King himself hadn’t known it would be his final battle in that war. He wasn’t expecting it, and even if he was he wouldn’t particularly care. If he died, it didn’t matter, because he would live again. William could see how it would be easy to adopt that mentality after dozens of times… though he didn’t quite feel it himself just yet.
William considered that it was much different to see troops encamped than on the battlefield. Although on the battlefield they were much more fierce looking, they took up much less space. As it was, if the numbers were correct, William thought they could fit in a few football fields. William himself had four great gross troops, and the enemy had about a dozen times that. On Earth it would have been around five and sixty thousand troops. It was a mind bogglingly large number… but fit in surprisingly small spaces, if people were standing shoulder to shoulder.
William found it weird to be on this side of the battlefield. Always before he had been on the human side- the side with larger numbers. Now he could see it from the other perspective, and it was intimidating even with the knowledge that gevai were much stronger individually. On the other hand, his troops weren’t the only ones here. Otherwise the human army wouldn’t be staying outside the keep but occupying it.
While the arrival of William’s army and their entrance into the keep might have seemed like a good opportunity for the humans to attack, their numbers were only adequate to go against William’s troops, and not to assault the fort itself. While the gates would be open, by the time they mobilized most of William’s troops would be in the keep… and closing the gates was a simple matter. At most, they could attempt to trade the lives of some soldiers for many more of their own shot by archers from the walls.
The keep itself was a huge fortification with walls two dozen feet high and half a dozen feet thick. The walls extended for two gross feet on each side. Though it filled his vision, William still felt it was a rather small place to store all of his troops… let alone those that were already there. Then again, keeps didn’t much consider the personal space of the troops. The horses would have more space to themselves, but fortunately there were only a few gross of those, even counting those for the supply wagons. Not that William would want to keep either troops or horses in such cramped conditions for long.
Jordan would take care of the troops arrangements while William went to talk to the commander of the fort. The commander was not a lord, but merely a designated representative. William wondered if the lord couldn’t fight, or was a coward. William wouldn’t fault him too much for either, but didn’t think he would keep his position for too long in either case. William supposed he could have also thought that commanding his troops personally was beneath him or unimportant, in which case William would fault him. Perhaps the troops might be better commanded by someone else, but having the lord present would be a help to their morale.
The commander himself was a somewhat wide gevai with reddish skin. There were traces of him overindulging in meals… but William saw enough muscle as well that he supposed it didn’t matter. The extra weight could even be beneficial as long as it wasn’t too much… or the result of sloth. “Lord Rutten!” The commander saluted. Though he was in command of the keep, he was still lower ranking than a lord. He didn’t have to salute, but it was the polite gesture. “Thank goodness you arrived in good time. The situation here has been shaky ever since the enemy reinforcements arrived. Before they were perhaps an army the size of one part in six. Now their numbers are something we cannot handle on our own.”
William nodded, “The humans are indeed numerous.”
“We have managed to hold the keep, but that was all we could do. I hope you didn’t run into any traps they placed.”
“No. We were… fortunate enough to avoid them.”
“Good. Now that you are here, I have some plans for how we can proceed…”
Later, William discussed with Jordan in one of the small officer’s rooms they had been shoved into. Normally, this room would have been William’s alone, but everyone needed to sleep double or triple. A decent cot had been somewhat unceremoniously shoved into the room, and there was barely enough room to move around… but at least the desk could be reached from either bed, even if the chair had no room to slide out. “So, what do you think?”
“I think…” Jordan looked around, “that perhaps I should not say what I think.”
“Nobody’s listening. Go ahead.”
“Ah… then… I think that the commander is incompetent. If five out of six of those soldiers out there were not there before, the commander here surely could have defeated them with his contingent. It is well known that the standard gevai troop can defeat eight to a dozen troops, and thus they had the advantage. As for holding the fort… can it really be called that if you allow the enemy to set up traps within bowshot? Granted, it is not an easy shot, but there is no evidence that anything at all was done to stop them. There was also no messenger waiting up the road for us with a warning. Surely a single troop could be spared, and would not be noticed leaving. Now it appears we will have to do the bulk of the work…”
William nodded. “It seems he took his orders to hold the keep to be too literal… as if the keep itself were important, and not the control of the nearby area. I wonder if it would be reasonable to kill him and take command…”
“I would advise against it. Killing him, anyway. He was polite after all. If we don’t learn of circumstances he failed to mention we can petition for his removal later, but for now it would be easiest just to take command. He might balk at that, but he might also be relieved to not have to take responsibility. Perhaps you can give me a few days…”
William nodded again, “There’s no rush, besides the fact that this place is horribly unpleasant. I wish the only thing it smelled like was mud.”