The Red Rain band and Gerald’s men had stopped a distance from Luwin’s men. The bandits were also standing still, their weapons on the ground, though they had enough room to pick them up again and fight.
Luwin’s lieutenant yelling that his chief’s head was a gift for Gerald meant that they wanted to negotiate.
Gerald didn’t mind. There were only a few enemies remaining, but he would still prefer not to lose any more of his men needlessly. He stepped forward and began walking to the middle of the empty ground between the attackers and the defenders, followed by Robard.
Two Warriors of the elite corps quickly moved to Gerald’s side at Robard’s command. They raised their shields and covered him. Obviously, his head knight didn’t trust the bandits.
While Gerald moved forward, Luwin’s lieutenant also moved to meet him, but the latter came alone.
“Your lordship,” the lieutenant said as he drew closer then stopped a few yards away from Gerald. “You can call me Rupert. I hope you will pick the more reasonable choice here.” He tossed Luwin’s head to Gerald’s feet.
Robard picked the head up and observed its features, then he nodded. “It’s him, my lord.”
“Very well,” Gerald said. “What is it that you want, Rupert?”
“Mercy,” Rupert said. “Nothing more.”
“If you just wanted to live, you could have escaped by yourself,” Gerald said.
“I’m no fool, your lordship,” Rupert chuckled. “You came here with the intention of killing every last one of us. I know that the fortress is watched from every direction. I saw your cavalry.”
“Is that why you betrayed your chief?” Gerald smirked.
Rupert’s eyes sharpened at the mention of betrayal. “Luwin lost all reason. He wanted us to fight to our deaths, even though there was no hope of victory.”
“I expected nothing less from him. He would have lost his head had he surrendered, after all. But he ended up losing his head sooner than he’d expected,” Gerald said as he observed Rupert. The latter was wearing an iron breast plate over thin leather armor that extended to his wrists. He had brown hair that reached his shoulders and a thin scar on his neck.
“I didn’t want him to drag me to death with him,” Rupert said. “I followed him because he had ambition and reason, and today he lost both.”
“Yes. Ambition,” Gerald said. “I want to hear about that.”
Rupert smiled. “Your lordship, I will answer all of your questions once you give us your word that we will live.”
Gerald was quite surprised that Rupert truly wished for mercy and nothing else. He would have expected the man to ask to be set free. Although Gerald would have refused, it was still a demand within his expectations. After all, the bandits would mostly be forced to work in the mines or do labor, while Rupert would be imprisoned, likely for life. Perhaps the Sky Warrior had hopes of being able to escape, or of Gerald recruiting him at some point.
“On the honor of House Tellus,” Gerald said, his voice echoing between the fortress’s walls. “You have my word that none of you will be harmed.” He was the victor. There was nothing to lose by sparing what remained of the bandits, considering that they would all become his prisoners.
After his words were heard, the bandits’ faces showed signs of relief. Many of them even grinned in delight.
“Thank you, your lordship,” Rupert said.
“Yes, yes,” Gerald said, waving his hand. “Now tell me what I want to know.”
“Of course,” Rupert said. “Luwin hid a lot from us. But he told us enough to keep us by his side. All I know is that he was the bastard of some noble. His father didn’t acknowledge him.”
“Which noble?” Gerald asked instantly. He hadn’t expected Luwin to have been a bastard. Though it wasn’t surprising that a bastard would choose the path of mercenaries. Some bastards who were acknowledged, like Duke Malfi’s youngest son, would live and grow in their father’s territory; while others like Luwin who weren’t acknowledged would have to find their own path.
“I don’t know who his father was, your lordship,” Rupert shook his head. “He never told us. His plans weren’t ever clear, which always made me suspicious. From what he has said, he wanted to make the southern third of your basin his. He was planning to legitimately make it his barony.”
“And you believed him?” Gerald scoffed.
“He had noble blood in him, your lordship,” Rupert shrugged. “It was promising, what he offered us. If he’d succeeded, we would have gained a lot. That’s why we followed him. He might have not had support from his noble family, but Luwin had ambition, the sort of ambition nobles have. We believed in that. We believed in him.”
‘Yet you killed him.’
“You know nothing else?” Gerald asked, impatient. Rupert’s words only gave him more questions instead of an explanation. It was obvious that Robben Luwin acted on his own. Even if he had a father who was a lord somewhere, the latter was likely oblivious of Luwin’s plans. His ambition was quite odd. Was he planning to simply lay claim to Gerald’s lands using force? That wasn’t possible. Even if he had noble blood in him, nobody would acknowledge a bastard who’d gained his land through banditry.
A Lord could take another’s land if he won it in fair battle. Even though the Royal Capital wouldn’t approve of it, they would still not deny the victor his ancient right. That was why most Kings tried to prevent conflicts from happening in the first place, or they would try to stop them in their beginnings. But according to what Gerald had heard so far, the Royal Capital was losing its grip on such conflicts.
Luwin, however, was not an acknowledged noble, nor did he have any claim for Gerald’s lands. Perhaps he’d thought that the weakness of House Tellus was an opportunity for him to gain something.
Rupert shook his head. “That is all I know, your lordship.”
Gerald sighed. “Then let’s end this. Tell your men to truly surrender.”
Rupert nodded then turned around and waved his hand.
The bandits began advancing slowly without their weapons.
Robard also turned around and signaled for some men to advance and capture the defeated bandits.
From noon to dusk, Gerald’s men scoured the camp for any gold that was hidden. Every valuable was found and every coin counted.
Gerald was in one of the houses, lying on his back and thinking, while his men collected the wealth of Luwin’s crew.
He had lost 450 men during the battle. 400 of them were infantry, 5 were Warriors from the elite corps, and the rest were archers. And he had as many as that wounded. His losses would have been even worse had he fought without the Red Rain band. Edgar had lost 500 of his mercenaries in the battle. Each one of Edgar’s men was at least as capable as Gerald’s best veterans. Gerald wasn’t certain how the battle would have ended if he hadn’t had the help of the mercenaries.
There was a knock on the door that interrupted his thoughts, then Robard came in.
“We’ve cleaned the camp of all coin, my lord,” Robard said. “Seven thousand gold coins were found.”
“Huh,” Gerald sat up. “That’s too little. Are you certain that’s all?”
“Yes, my lord,” Robard said. “There are almost no valuables here. I think Luwin might have been selling his goods through the southern pass.”
“That is likely,” Gerald nodded. “But that can’t be all of Luwin’s wealth. He had the south in his hands. Every merchant that went into the basin passed by the south. He must have more. Perhaps he’s buried a portion of his gold. Bring me Rupert. We ca—”
A hurried knock on the door interrupted him.
“Come in,” Gerald said with a raised brow, wondering who would come now.
It was Edgar that entered. “Your lordship,” he bowed slightly.
“Edgar,” Gerald said. “Is something the matter?”
“Your lordship,” Edgar sighed. “You’ve been looking for gold since noon, and it’s already dark. I believe there is no more coin to be found. And I think there is no need for your men to stay here any longer.”
“Are you telling me to leave?” Gerald’s face changed.
“I am indeed, your lordship,” Edgar said, unperturbed. “You’ve promised me this fortress. That means that it belongs to me and my band. You have no right to stay here longer than your welcome.”
Robard stepped forward, gripping the hilt of his sword. “Watch your words, Edgar.”
Edgar chuckled. “Oh, might the Viscount be thinking of breaking his word?”
“I am not,” Gerald said. “But we haven’t found all of Luwin’s wealth yet. There might be more hidden somewhere.”
“That is unlikely, your lordship,” Edgar smiled. “We’ve looked everywhere.”
“Except under our feet,” Gerald said, his expression already ugly. Edgar was obviously aware that there was more gold somewhere, and he wanted it for himself.
“I don’t intend to dig, or allow anyone to dig, in my fortress,” Edgar said. “I hope you will honor your words and allow me to decide what to do with the land you’ve given me, your lordship.”
Gerald was silent for a moment. Edgar was being audacious. But the mercenary had nothing to lose. He wasn’t on the best terms with Gerald to begin with. So making their relation a bit worse for the gold would do him no harm.
‘Patience, Gerald. Patience,’ Gerald told himself, pushing down his fury. His treasury would only gain half of what was found so far. That meant he would return to Ard with only 3500 gold coins after such a costly battle.
“Alright,” he told Edgar. “We’ll be leaving now.” Then he turned to Robard. “Prepare the men for the return to Ard.”
“Wait, your lordship,” Edgar’s smile widened. “If you’re in need of more coin, I might have a good offer for you.”
Gerald narrowed his eyes. “What do you mean?” he said. Perhaps the mercenary captain was planning to use this chance to toss him an insult in disguise. Gerald would remind him of his place if that happened though.
“Your prisoners,” Edgar said, a hint of greed in his eyes. “If you let me have some of them to recruit into the band—”
Gerald guffawed. “You want me to set the bandits free for you?” he said, still laughing with apparent ridicule.
“They wouldn’t really be free,” Edgar said. “They would have to be part of my band for the rest of their lives. And I don’t want all of them. I only want the former mercenaries. You can have my share of the gold if you accept.”
Gerald snorted and shook his head. Over 500 of Luwin’s men had surrendered, and about 25 of them were Warriors.
Edgar had lost more than half of his band, and most of the survivors were wounded. He wanted to refill his ranks. The offer was appealing, as Gerald needed the gold. But he had other plans. “No. Keep your gold. Those who rob in my territory will never taste freedom after falling into my hands. We’re leaving.”