"Peruse again and again the campaigns of Alexander, Hannibal, Caesar, Gustavus Adolphus, Turenne, Eugene and Frederick. Model yourself upon them. This is the only means of becoming a great captain, and of acquiring the secret of the art of war."

Napoleon Bonaparte I, Emperor of the French.

It was a cold, early morning that the dawn had opened for both the allied camp consisting of some of the most prominent members of the nobility who had chosen to oppose the Vallieres' claim to the Tristanian throne, and the loyalist army led by the legendary Marshal Gramont. The latter had effectively severed the lines of communication between the Alliance and Tristania in one impressive maneuver, one that not even Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of the French and master of Europe had anticipated.

But not all was lost. Napoleon was unperturbed by these odds. If anything, he was now inwardly impressed by Marshal Gramont. Nevertheless he did not give any indication of this.

In the allied camp, inside of a large furnished tent the dukes and the nobles were present at the table. And for the first time in the campaign, Napoleon was allowed the high seat at the table. But make no mistake, Napoleon knew just as well as everyone in the room, he was sitting on a puppet's stage. The nobles weren't daft; they also knew that the commoner-general was not so headstrong that he couldn't have realized the actual position he was in. Regardless, Napoleon immediately went to point.

"I have conjured a deployment that we shall execute immediately. There is no margin for error. We find ourselves threatened on three fronts: Marshal Gramont from the north, whom has cut off our lines of communication with Tristania and is threatening our flank; the army of the Duke of Walloon, arriving from the east in order to combine with Marshal Gramont; and several more royalist contingents in the south, presumably led by Jean de Gramont, one of the marshal's younger sons. We have limited provisions, and we cannot solely rely on further reinforcements. However, we are in a position to defeat them in detail. Your grace, may I?"

Napoleon was standing in front of his seat with his hands behind his back, looking at all the nobles as he paused to survey their reactions.

Count Noyon nodded slowly. "Continue, captain."

Napoleon explained with a level, confident tone. "Firstly his grace, Count Noyon, is to stay behind and position his army on an elevated rise opposite to the marshal's position. This is more a defensive position and there is to be no order of attack - Count Noyon's main objective is to prevent the marshal from attempting to pursue, and to mask our movements. The elevated hills must be held until we return.

"My regiment together with your feudal armies are to march rapidly eastward. We are to engage the Duke of Walloon's forces, dispel it, and force him to fly back to his estate. Duke de Richemont shall pursue the Duke of Walloon, ensuring he does not retake the field. The rest of our combined forces shall then swing downwards to capture standing Gramont garrisons in the south. I ascertain Jean Gramont is an inexperienced commander - where his father would've given us trouble, he shall fail. Once the southern flank has been secured, the Grand Duke de Guldenhorf shall be able to rejoin our main army and finally launch a combined attack upon the marshal. It will be a decisive victory."

The Duke of Richemont was first to speak up. Tentatively he said, "it is a sound plan. Count Noyon, what say you of the captain's suggestions?"

The fact that until now, eager to remind Napoleon of his actual military standing within the Alliance that the duke regarded his strategy as a mere 'suggestion' inwardly irked him. But the Emperor hid his dismay with a small smile.

The count spoke to answer. Count Noyon said, "It is competent to say the least. I am agreeable to holding the ground on which we stand, and I have no qualms in taking a passive position. In this case, the great Marshal Gramont will have no choice but to throw an attack upon my soldiers from an inefficient position. If the rest of you gentlemen find it agreeable as well, this may very well be our fighting chance."

Count Kundera spoke up. He said, "I second ze Count's decision."

The Count of Burgundy spoke to answer. "I must also agree this time with the captain; with the exception of course that I dictate my infantry as I see fit. And now, Marmont?"

Count Marmont spoke up. He said, "very well I shall agree to this course. The plan is final then? There must be no errors made as said."

"Beginning then," Count Kundera said. "I will dole out ze orders for my cavalry to amass. If Walloon is indeed on the move with his army, my scouts will find him."

Napoleon nodded. "Very good, your grace. In this case cavalry will serve us greatest in such a tactical disposition. I must also request the Count Noyon to make full use of his mounted knights' forces in order to screen our eastward march. If Marshal Gramont attempts to reposition, we must be alerted. The light cavalry must scout out the Duke of Walloon's position, and to repel enemy cavalry attempting to do the same." He turned to the rest of the nobility in the tent.

"The main army of the three Counts shall march in three columns along a separate road from the Duke of Richemont's army, to ease pressure on the paths. Duke de Richemont's forces will likely be the first to cross the Duke of Walloon. My regiment, weak as it is and smaller and inferior to your feudal armies," Napoleon said, inwardly grimacing, "shall march as the rear guard to the main. My soldiers are to form the reserve which is to be thrown at the crucial moment of battle. One more designation I must ask, your grace, is to allow me full responsibility of our entire artillery train."

The Duke of Richemont, wary of Napoleon as is, merely stroked his chin. He saw no use of the guns, slow, heavy and cumbersome as they are. Cannons, and artillery in general serve no good purpose but in sieges and against fortifications - none which are relevant in their case right now. He did not share the same values towards artillery as the emperor.

He said arrogantly, "do what you need, captain. I have my knights' cavalry. I would not need the artillery anyhow to crush Walloon."

"Then that is all," Napoleon said before he was interrupted.

"Familiar, you are forgetting something."

It was the young cream-headed aristocrat girl, Beatrice Yvonne von Guldenhorf who spoke up. He had forgotten about her existence up until now.

Napoleon turned his head towards the young Beatrice, casting a bland look. "What may that be, mademoiselle?"

"You did not include me within the plan of our armies' movement. Are you an idiot perhaps, Familiar?" she said sharply.

Her impertinence amused Napoleon. It made him think back of his past when not even Eugene de Beauharnais, his stepson, was this brazen when he first married the widowed Josephine. And to think that this girl was left in charge of an army by Gran Duc de Guldenhorf! But Napoleon digressed, and he shook out of his brief recollection.

Napoleon Bonaparte threw her a curt smile, then turned towards Count Noyon. "The little girl is to be taken under your wing, your grace. If she is the only daughter of the Grand Duke of Guldenhorf, then it is imperative that she remain safely in a position where she could not come under threat."

"Why, you- are you underestimating me, Familiar?!"

"No. I'm taking your health into account." Napoleon said, "if the Grand Duke's young heiress does not retire from the advance, I'll refuse out of conscience."

Every time the commoner-general substituted her name with a weightless utterance of 'girl' she became more furious. Beatrice Yvonne von Guldenhorf roused, but stopped. "That's enough," Count Noyon said firmly. "Beatrice, the captain is right. This is not the time for theatrics. Your father's soldiers will do well to reinforce my positions, crucial as it is against the marshal."

"But- !"

"The discussion has come to an end unless you wish to ask your father to intervene."

Beatrice protested indignantly, but shut up upon the mention of her father. She was in no mood to quarrel, she did not even know herself what she'd actually do on the field preluding battle, though she hated the words of the commoner. Beatrice shot Napoleon a dirty look before impolitely storming out of the tent.

The problematic little twit had been swept out of his way. Napoleon again smiled back at the dukes and counts. "I will make the preparations with my men. May Brimir from the heavens bless us and guide us to victory for the nation." He then promptly got up, as did the noblemen, and strolled out to the camp. The smile remained present on his lips but his eyes were becoming far more vicious by the hour.

"Captain Edouard Stewart!"

The lieutenant appeared at Napoleon's flank, as if having silently glid through the air. "Yes, sire."

"I want a squadron of hussars at the ready."

"Hussars, sire?"

Napoleon Bonaparte and the soldierly captain Jacques Edouard Bernart Stewart were now pacing briskly down the lane where their men were encamped. As the captain smoked a cigarette, Napoleon kept his gaze trained forward as he spoke. "It would seem that I do not have the pleasure of supreme imperial French cavalry," Napoleon sighed in realization. He explained patiently. "Stewart, you'll assemble fifty of your men on fast, thin horses - handpicked, they shall be the first chasseurs of our army."

"It will be done sire."

"Oh, and lose the armor for all of them."

"Sire?" Captain Stewart was visibly perplexed.

Napoleon said, "I want the chasseurs, the light cavalry to be as fast and mobile as possible. They are not to be thrown into the thick of the fighting. Have each of the horsemen armed with sabres sharpened and oiled to a razor's edge. The royal-issued green tunics will work fine, the important thing is to be able to distinguish your chasseurs from the rest."

"Of course."

"How many cavalry do we have?"

"Less than 350, sire. The nobles have acquisitioned most of the men early on, and we did not march with many horses to begin with."

"I shall make do," Napoleon muttered. "Then arrange three squadrons of cuirassiers: arm them with helmets, metal cuirasses and what else you can scrape together. Give them the heavy, straight swords. The rest are to be divided into two squadrons of dragoons. They must disembark to fight and fill in a possible gap if needed. It is imperative that the whole cavalry wing be cohesive and under one command; I will then inform you of your deployment."

"I hear you sire, it will be done." Captain Stewart responded.

"Well then, presto!"

Captain Stewart saluted the Emperor and marched off speedily. Napoleon kept on walking down through the camp.

The wind mage Cartier Martin this time walked up alongside the emperor.

Napoleon spoke without glancing aside at his lieutenant. "Martin, get a horse and organize the 800 soldiers we have under our banners. Divide them into two battalions and pick out a respective officer that you would trust."

"Respectfully, I think Owen Foucard would be better recalled to lead the guards."

"The men Edouard Stewart has been drilling nonstop for the past few weeks will do well under that sergeant Turpin. I have no intention of deploying the guards unless absolutely necessary - it may have even been wiser to leave them back at Tristania, to consolidate support and my communications. But now we find Marshal Gramont behind us." Napoleon said, "Martin, find Guiche de Gramont. I haven't seen him report since this morning. Put him on a horse with the dragoons and post him in reserve. This may very well be a test of discipline for him, but I surmise he is not quite fully prepared for this undertaking. A good mage should not be sent to the fray."

"Yes. That and I'll tell Turpin to line up the guards then, general."

Napoleon snatched the wind mage's arm. He said, "Martin, the baggage and munitions train must get here on time. The guardsmen need that gunpowder for their flintlocks. Foucard will be arriving with the train. I will see to it that the musketry we have is supplemented by whatever more firearms we can acquire from the city and countryside. Most importantly, I demand that the artillery be supplied with enough powder to sustain combat for three hours at the least."

"How important are the cannons really to our fight, sire?" Martin asked.

"Far more than you'll realize, lieutenant." Napoleon now gestured with his hands in a vivacious manner. "All the nobles would've taken much of the good cavalry elements with them. The guns are too heavy, they are inefficient, and we have to assume that nobody will support us. Attach twelve to sixteen draft horses to each of the lightest 12-pounder pieces we have in a five-gun battery, and I'll organize the rest."

"Horse artillery sire? I haven't heard of such a thing."

"There will be a first for everything. The infantry now, pronto!"

Martin hurried off.

Napoleon made a note on a journal he had purchased in Tristania since La Rochelle, in addition to a mental register of his troops' compositions: at his disposal were a total of sixty usable guns, courtesy of the other nobles, of which no more than 10 met his specific requirements (including the horse battery); two battalions of over 800 pike soldiers in total, joined by additional recruits, and a detachment arranged by Owen Foucard arriving with the baggage train, and a total of over 400 cavalry supplemented by additional horses they had obtained from the nearby town and villages. His personal Guard battalion under the newly appointed sergeant Turpin was intact, and with its strength doubled to 100 men. These Guards were the only formal element trained in Napoleonic line musketry. It was the best he could muster for now.

But because the dukes and the counts commanded the majority of the cavalry, Napoleon was unfortunately forced to play slowly. This he understood easily. He did not have the powerful advantage of having the wing under his thumb as he did during his Prussian campaign, bringing him through Jena, Halle and through the gates of Berlin by the rolling power of advanced cavalry. Did he have mages in his ranks? Yes, though much less than the feudal columns. The artillery? He could very well control the battle with it. It is certain, Napoleon thought schemingly, that without artillery support there will be no easy headway. He had seen the horrors of melee fighting, and it made even Somosierra look like a Briton tea party every time. Now he was in a world that largely preceded firepower. If the dukes and counts thought this was to be an easy campaign for them, they were dead wrong.

But Napoleon digressed; where was Louise? Right then, it had occurred to Napoleon that his young partner had vanished from his sight when less than an hour ago they had exchanged morning greetings. He had entered the tent that morning to discuss matters with the other nobles, but left Louise outside. She awoke much earlier than usual, though it was a welcome change, Napoleon noted. Still the young girl was sullen, he saw it in her eyes, and had not been there after Napoleon left the meeting and so he instead proceeded to survey the troops. Now, Napoleon set out to look for her.

Atop a red, light-footed cavalry steed it did not take long for Napoleon to find Louise who had briefly eloped to the foot of the hills west. Across the bank was a thicket and between, a shallow brook. She had dismounted from her horse and was crouched beside the stream. As Napoleon drew closer Louise made no reaction to his approach. She seemed to be staring at the water though there were no possible reflections in the turbulent, icy flow.

Louise Francoise le Blanc de la Valliere was weeping. There on the grass with her knees to her chest and her pale hands to her face, she made soft, choked sounds of sorrow. Napoleon slowly climbed off of his horse and pulled his greatcoat close. It was a chilly morning, which concerned him that Louise may catch a cold.

Napoleon was patient. He remained motionless and watched the treeline across the bank as Louise grieved. She was allowed to grieve, Napoleon would never deny her nor judge her for that. It was the death of her father, Duke Sandorion de la Valliere, which had broken her heart. Although more than a week had passed since that fact, it had sunk ever so deeper in her like embers to an open wound. And the longer a wound was allowed to fester, the more devastating and consuming it is to the heart and mind.

Napoleon broke the silence. "You have not cried when it was the first you've learned of it, Louise," he said. "Not in the next following days at least. I have not caught you doing so."

Louise slowly tilted her head up from the cradle of her arms. Her eyes were red and tearful. She said in a pitiful voice, "yes, I have. I've cried, and too much at that. Just because I do not come bawling to you Napoleon doesn't mean I don't cry."

"I understand."

"I don't know w-why it is only now again that this is coming to me."

"There is absolutely nothing wrong with it. To grieve the loss of a loved one is simply our nature."

"It's been too long a time since I visited my father. I never even got to say goodbye to him!" Louise sobbed again. "Have I ever even told him how much I really loved him… all that time I was with you, Napoleon, on our journeys that took us to La Rochelle, all the way to Londinium, and now here… my father did not cross my mind then, and now he is dead. Never have I even gone out of my way to seek him. It is my fault through and through, and I regret that."

"But that's not true." Napoleon crossed his arms. He said, "it was also me who took you away from him. Away from your family. This journey of ours has torn us away from our worlds."

A lull overtook between them, and only the sloshing sound of the brook was beside the stark silence to be heard. Louise said, "It's moments like these when I feel like it would have been better had I accepted surrender to Marshal Gramont."

This successfully earned a glance from Napoleon, but she shook her head. It was only yesterday that they had gone to meet the marshal after all. Louise stood up. "But I wouldn't back out now, Napoleon. Not after all of this is done."

"Do you resent Lady Karin, Louise?"

"I don't know how to feel about her. I do love my sisters still."

"Then that is enough. Nothing will change that. Not this war, not anything that happens next." Napoleon said, "but there's only one thing that can happen next. We will win this war and march upon Tristania and finally bring peace to the country."

Louise walked towards Napoleon, passing him as she prepared to get back on her horse.

"There is really nothing that occupies your mind like war," she said softly without looking at him.

Napoleon watched her with dark, poignant eyes. He curled his lips as he stepped beside her. He laid a hand on Louise's mount in front of them and began to stroke the animal's grey head very lightly.

"I had a horse once, Louise." Napoleon said, "He was a great Arabian, the same color as this one here though a hand shorter. A wonderful breed of a beast imported from Egypt, where I continued to pursue my crushing ambitions in a foreign land. The next year, having acquired him, I called him Marengo - after a very decisive battle I'd won in Piedmont, Italy. That victory was one of the seeds of my empire. He stayed with me for a very long time. For a very long near fifteen years till the fall of my empire, I kept Marengo. It was dear Marengo who brought me to abdication at Fontainebleau. It would not at all be completely incorrect to say that it was not the entirety of Europe that brought me down but a mere animal. Otherwise, I never would've been at that palace that day."

"This is the most you have told me about yourself since I can't remember the last," Louise said finally with a look of curiosity. Her eyes were still a bit red but the tears on her rosy cheeks had evaporated. "You never talk about yourself much."

"There is time for stories, and time for restless action. Hardly ever the two coincide."

"It can be both too," she said. At this, Napoleon nodded.

Napoleon said, "I am sorry for your loss, Louise."

The young Valliere looked up to him for a moment then turned away with a sniffle. Napoleon saw the budding resentment in her eyes. He asked the inevitably bitter question to indirectly find out he was not mistaken on one thing; Louise may have fainted upon hearing of Duke Sandorion's murder, but by now she was privy to the detail that it was Siesta, the cheery maid from her academy, whom they had joined to visit her village, whose artifact book collections Napoleon reveled in, was the one who took a knife to her father's throat.

Whether Louise Francoise le Blanc de la Valliere believed he was connected to or even behind her father's death did not matter so much to Napoleon. Because if it had mattered to her, Louise would've left. Worse still she would be plotting somehow to confront Napoleon but there was no indication of this from the young Valliere. Napoleon took care to remember that Louise, however airheaded she may have been once, was still the daughter of lady Karin Desiree de la Valliere. All cubs always grow into tigers eventually.

Louise asked, "Why did you go to this… 'Egypt', Napoleon?"

The way she had constructed and uttered the question made it ask for far more underlying answers. Napoleon did not miss a beat and answered.

"I needed a reason to keep pursuing, for at that time I was a general still and the vision of my destiny was translucent. Complacency is the mother of death. And where a future emperor cannot create a vision much less can he create an empire."

"Was that all? Ambition, empires… your leading reasons for making war?"

"No, Louise. But that was one among a slew of other things. France, she found herself enemies on all fronts bent on extinguishing her newfound liberties. I could not allow that. And again there is this dream that continues to live inside the hearts of every great ruler there is and will be. You'll be surprised at the far and unexpected places where resolution can bring you." Napoleon said, "It's brought me to you after all - your resolution, that is. It's time that we head back to camp."

Louise nodded. She needed no help getting up on her horse now. Napoleon gazed upon her observantly. She was maturing fast under his tutelage, and the past week there had been a great noticeable change about Louise's demeanor which did not go unrecognized by the French emperor.

She would be a formidable ally and an even more formidable enemy, which is why God help me that it does not come to that, Napoleon thought.

He soon got up on his own mount and steered to the direction of the allied camp. Napoleon spoke confidently.

"Louise Françoise, today I shall bring you with me as we inspect the army. Matilda has taught you how to fight. I did say that I will teach you to become a good ruler. But today, I will teach you how to make war."

They trotted back up the hill and in a few minutes were riding along a paved lane, flanked by canvas tepees which the soldiers under the captain Stewart were using as a rudimentary tent. Some of the men still lay sprawled on the ground, awake but not quite roused. There were the still-smoldering campfires and prop sticks from where tin pots hung filled with hot water for coffee and tea. Each time Napoleon Bonaparte and Louise Francoise le Blanc de la Vallière passed by the rows, the newly appointed officers of the line barked at the men; and the men, seemingly now coursing with lighting, stood to salute the emperor and even the young noble. The respect and eminence Napoleon had garnered from his soldiers extended to Louise who was by now a familiar face as the general's close friend.

Napoleon brought her to where the artillery was parked and both dismounted to take a closer inspection. The heavy guns remained planted on the grass, screwed in the direction of the army of Marshal Gramont which was a little over thirteen miles away. The morning mist was beginning to lift now, but even then the opposing army was impossible to be seen through a spyglass, being situated behind the forested hills that led back to Tristania.

Napoleon always appreciated artillery but this was an example where he grew to dislike the Tristanian guns currently available to him. Not to repeat the fact that the cannons were far heavier and cumbersome than those of his old Europe, they were made of cast iron which meant that the barrels were very poor in the face of Napoleon's unforgiving standards - and being of cast iron, it meant that the bores were not perfectly centered, they were not drilled from a solid cylinder at all, and the distribution of tension, among a list of other technical factors not even the great French emperor was completely knowledgeable in, the artillery in his current possession left much to be desired. The accuracy would be horrendous, the firepower wasted, and there were even faults that his sharp eye had caught as he inspected them: many of the carriages were left unmaintained and the axles dry of grease. It meant a severe handicap to mobility which he would have to remedy if he was to even deploy the guns to any use when the battle began. In this regard, Louise was quite right that the cannons were useless when they can hardly even be moved in battle.

"You have always made a fuss about these useless cannons, Napoleon! Why is that?" Louise exclaimed.

Napoleon turned away from his monologue and faced her. "They are not at all useless, Louise. Let me educate you upon this. In case I haven't told you, I never was fond of the infantry - when I was a student the same age as you, the infantry was the last thing I wanted to be listed in. Even becoming a sailor seemed a more amicable choice for me. That is not to downplay their importance, but the true killing power of an army lay in these guns. Mes cheres filles, these guns have won me nearly every battle."

Louise furrowed her eyebrows and drew closer. She said, "what will you do now?"

Napoleon motioned for her to stand beside him as they walked. "The other nobles, the duke of Richemont for one, has taken plenty of the men-at-arms with him leaving us with little. In this case we do not have the privilege of tactical flexibility, Louise. That's why I need you to understand what is so important about artillery." He stopped in front of a black, dirty cannon with spoked wheels so thick it would hardly budge with eighteen drafts before it. Napoleon paused for a moment, and slowly pressed a hand on the muzzle of the cannon.

As he grasped the cannon, akin to a black dog of war and death, there was a growing sensation that coursed up his hand occupying his veins with distinct energy. He immediately recalled the same feeling when he drew his sword, when the Gandalfr runes began to glow. This time, the runes on his hand did not quite highlight themselves though it was as if the blackened cannon was a conduit to a force Napoleon was too familiar with. Power. Vigor. And an unparalleled mental fortitude he had in his younger years.

"Louise, pick up that ramrod there, beside the limbers - the one that looks like a mop, yes. Heavy, isn't it?" Napoleon said, looking at her, "these are the duties of the officers who serve the guns. They are not to be taken lightly at all. You'll see how the men operate the loading and firing of these guns, but more importantly Louise is that you ought to be learned in how to make use of such weapons in the field. The dukes may have the cavalry and columns of pikemen, mages have their magic tricks, but these pieces are the next best thing we can capitalize on. You are only fifteen- "

"Sixteen," Louise corrected sulkily.

"All the same, and I was at your age when I graduated as an officer of the artillery; it is high time for you to learn an art in war. This is a way for you to fight without having to risk the hellish fighting that we will be witnessing."

"You'd make me load these things?" Louise said incredulously, dropping the wooden ramrod.

"No. It's necessary that you know how to do so, but I will teach you what to do before we start the campaign. I'll have one of the officers accompany you because when this campaign begins in a few hours I'll need someone I can trust to be posted with the artillery of our army. And you're a Void mage, which makes you all the more important to me."

Louise could not help but be taken aback by the rapid developments her partner was divulging to her. Did he really mean that in the next hour or so, she would be the one in command of the soon-roaring battery of guns while overlooking a scene of war?

Instead she followed with a different question. "You said that you were a student once, and when you were sixteen did you really become a soldier already, Napoleon?" she asked.

Napoleon smiled. "An lieutenant officer, Louise," he said gently. "How you are a student - still is of Tristain's Mage Academy, I was once a student at the Ecole Militaire in the city of Paris. Make of that what you will, it is the similar manner of how mages are educated that's similarly also how I was educated. I finished the two-year curriculum in one, and graduated as a commissioned officer. A finest honor any young man can attain."

This time Napoleon turned to discover Louise with a look of amazement to him, and with more than a hint of envy. Perhaps I had said too much, Napoleon decided. Perhaps this revelation further reinforced the fact that Louise was a Zero, while even Napoleon Bonaparte, the familiar she used to detest - still does in some ways - at her age was a hundred leagues above her. Granted he may be born of minor nobility at that time but it ashamed Louise when she inevitably compared herself.

Napoleon asked Louise why she had not come with him at the meeting with the other nobles an hour ago. As he expected, Louise answered, "I don't think I'm needed there, not now at least. And I'd hate to hear Beatrice's phony voice to begin my day."

"If you hate that von Guldenhorf girl so much then you must reasonably believe she is indeed better than you."

"She isn't," Louise answered begrudgingly. Napoleon did not pose it as a question but Louise took it ardently.

"Louise, I understand your plight perfectly because in some ways I have been there before," Napoleon said, glancing aside to her with a fond look. The way she responded with resolute determination piqued Napoleon; it was how he would've also answered. "Before I was sent off to Paris, it was at an academy in Brienne where I began education in the military arts. I was the same age as you then, and come winter I remember waging my first battle in the form of a raucous snowball fight. My peers used to pick on me then, and they ridiculed me for my accent. They were the sons of wealthy aristocrats, and I was of the bourgeoisie. I was a Corsican boy and they were French."

"Many of those students are long gone now, swept away by the bloody revolution. I grieve none of them," Napoleon said. "It was a grueling climb to become the first consul, and eventually to be crowned Emperor. But I did not let anyone constrain my ambitions. Not my peers, not the brass, not the even Pope. You could learn from that, Louise. Never let the musings of little people carry such weight, especially for such a powerful void mage as you. If you hate someone, that means what nonsense they say of you is true."

"Count Noyon, how did it come to this?"

Beatrice Yvonne von Guldenhorf broke out to the old gray-haired man sourly. It had occurred to her once they had reached their bivouac on the hills that the lowly, common Familiar-turned-general of the Alliance had given her an order, and she had obeyed. She erupted in anger. She lashed out to the Count, "Who is that commoner Bonaparte to be ordering nobles around? Does he think fancy of himself? He's a pompous idiot!"

Count Noyon responded gently. "Lady von Guldenhorf, as merited your prejudice towards the captain are, he is the key for the Alliance triumphing over the Valliere hegemony."

"If we win," Beatrice said, "that rascal will want to take advantage. The Familiar will want all the glory if and when we defeat his lordship Marshal Gramont."

"That may be so."

Beatrice asked, "What do you think, Count Noyon?"

"Guldenhorf will want you to stay here where you can have a clear view of the upcoming battle against the marshal."

"And let the rest of them ride south? Count, I am deliberately being left out of the fighting when I wished to take part and learn to serve as the heir to my family's estate, and the Crown."

"There is no Crown, Beatrice." Count Noyon said, "not until we defeat lady Valliere and force her to give up her coup to the throne. If we do not drive off the marshal, Gramont will win the war for Lady Karin and the Vallieres will rule this country, that much is obvious."

Beatrice harrumphed a reply, and steered her horse aside. She mumbled incessantly.

"You will do well to first partake in this particular deployment," the count said, trotting his horse beside her. "Battles are ugly, Beatrice. Your father has told you that. I will tell you that, and anyway on the field we cannot allow you to be injured."

"Truthfully I do not expect to fight that army," Beatrice said, pointing at the silhouettes of banners across the sloping high plain over thirteen miles away. "And if Marshal Gramont does attack…"

"You are right where your father would want you to be."

"I do hope so. Count, Shall I send a message to my father about the change in plans?"

"That will be good."

Beatrice nodded. "I'll write what that intolerable Bonaparte was talking."

Count Noyon said, "then I must ask you lady von Guldenhorf to prepare to move your father's- your soldiers onto the ridge. Do not worry, I will send one of my advisors with you to assist. If you need help in directing the army, I'll be there to guide you, my child. But now we must watch against the marshal's army."

"Shan't we wait for tomorrow so that the Zero and her familiar can go back and tell Marshal Gramont that we're not surrendering quite yet?" Beatrice finally asked.

Count Noyon took a moment to assess this. He said, "No. Marshal Gramont is intelligent enough to know that we'd likely never show up if we decided not to surrender. We would want to waste no time and possibly kill him there and then. Besides, it's only a few hours before high noon and the marshal will notice the dust kicked up by the leaving columns."

It had been almost three hours since they left the Allied camp on the hilly plains and set in an eastward direction. By twelve o' clock the weather had transformed from the frosty morning air into the grueling humidity of the march under a cloudless sky and a relentlessly hot sun.

The allied feudal armies of the Duc de Richemont, Comte Kunderas, Comte Marmont and the Comte de Burgundy followed Napoleon Bonaparte's plan to first destroy the loyalist forces in every other direction but north, and to presently refuse battle with Marshal Gramont. Regardless of their prejudice to the commoner-turned-general, they followed this plan to the letter. The duke of Richemont marched on a separate road a short way up north, while the relatively smaller armies apiece of the three Counts marched on a central road, having passed through a small town previously. Napoleon and Louise and their little regiment were with this main body.

By now Napoleon had suspected that the marshal surely had noticed outbound movement from their hills and possibly even issued orders to pursue. The marshal would've posted a smaller detachment to guard the road to Tristania before taking to the march. If true, then Count Noyon would be forced to not stand like a chateau and block Marshal Gramont from pursuing, Napoleon inwardly analyzed. Otherwise, and the count certainly wasn't too old to fail to grasp this, if the army did not move then the marshal would simply make another flanking maneuver around the hills. Worse still, inflict a defeat in detail and turn the table on Napoleon, which is what Napoleon was exactly executing now. If this were to happen, Napoleon had the Count of Burgundy and Count Marmont further in the rear available to march rapidly to rejoin Count Noyon. For now, everything seemed to be going exactly as planned. Otherwise Napoleon may find the marshal not so clever as he first seemed, and in the following days after destroying the Duke of Walloon and Jean Gramont's parties in detail he would land a decisive, crushing defeat upon the great Marshal Gramont.

Those were not just the battles that he needed to win. This was academie textbook, Napoleon scoffed. A rendition of his Six Days' Campaign when he decimated the field marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Blucher and his Army of Silesia in 1814. To think he was facing odds of three-to-one, with forty thousand men he had driven away from their march to Paris the seventy-thousand strong coalition Army of Silesia. While it ultimately did not save his empire, he did not forget those days when he was desperately looking for a glorious death. It was one of his fiercest, glowing days and also the darkest.

Napoleon shook his head free of his ever-present, imperious arrogance.

No. The other battle he needed to win was taking over the entire allied army, in one masterful stroke if possible. And to do so would require a different kind of tactical viciousness.

The sound of Louise Françoise le Blanc de la Valliere letting out a frustrated moan beside him drew Napoleon's glance. Compared to the common foot soldiers, carrying their pikes and swords and shields hung from their heavy rucksacks, they had the privilege of being on mounts. Even so, hours of marching with very little breaks in between tired her greatly. She was now red-faced, her bottom numb from the saddle and she was sweating through her uniform. Her training with Matilda and Napoleon's daily, mile-long jogs at least prevented her from fainting.

Why Napoleon decided to not ride inside the carriages like all the other dukes and nobles, she only guessed a soldierly kind of clumsiness. For if it was true that he was the great Emperor of Europe before he came to this world, why on earth would Napoleon the Emperor wish to ride like common cavalrymen on the march?

As if Napoleon had read her thoughts, he spoke up shortly. "A good commander must ride at the forefront of his army's march. He must be there with the vanguard, the first to make contact with the enemy. In that manner he may get the latest developments and information, and be there at the field present to issue rapid orders at a moment's notice."

Louise hardly listened. She was bent over the saddle. She spoke in a gruff voice, "but… Napoleon… does it have to be EVERY time?" she complained. "At least make an exception when it's just a march towards a village!"

Napoleon chuckled. Nothing seemed to put him in high spirits better than being in constant movement. But he said, "Louise, if you are tired, you may join the nobles in one of their carriages."

"I've gone too far on this," she sighed. "I may as well keep on."

"Excellent." Napoleon turned his head at her. "Oh, and Louise, I know you were writing a letter this morning."

She stopped for a moment. "I penned a letter to Marshal Gramont. I had a messenger send it to his camp."

"That's all right. Now we don't have to make him expect us the next day to give our answer. And anyway, the marshal would've already had the answer once he saw the dust from our march."

"Napoleon, the village isn't too far now is it?"

"Very close now. In fact, the column seems to be stopping." Napoleon took notice and perked his head up. The carriages of the Counts rode on a short distance further, passing them both before also stopping. There was a lot of commotion when a string of cavalry soldiers galloped towards the head of the column. They were messengers, Napoleon saw, and he quickly moved to the front to learn of the news they brought.

"What is it, soldier? Speak up."

"General, it's the Duke of Walloon. His soldiers had gotten to Vaupoisson at the same time as the Duke of Richemont," the young, shaken trooper told them. "They've latched onto the village and the Duke of Walloon is moving to engage our knights across the stream on our far left."

"That iz impossible!" Count Kundera exclaimed furiously. "How could ze Duke of Walloon have known we were coming for him? We hadn't met any of his scouts every step of ze way!"

"You have now," Napoleon interjected. "It must've been Marshal Gramont who sent a fast messenger or simply coincidence. All the same, this is when we'll defeat the Duke of Walloon. Your grace, we must concentrate our forces on Vaupoisson at once. At any moment now Marshal Gramont may just as well be right behind us, hot in pursuit. But he is not. We crush Walloon, we will win the day."

The Count of Burgundy spoke up. "I shall bring my knights now," he declared. He touched his feathered tricorne hat as his black warhorse bridled and trotted off. Not long after, a trumpet was being blown like an alarm. Count Marmont soon followed without a word and also issued orders to mobilize the men-at-arms.

Before Count Kunderas in turn went to gallop and lead his men, he turned sharply onto Napoleon. "Go to the Duke of Richemont, captain. It is time for you to make yourself useful."

Napoleon merely pulled that same icy smile at the count. "At once, your grace."

Louise saw when Napoleon whirled around his horse and bounded back. She asked loudly, "What is it?"

"It's the Duke of Walloon," Napoleon replied as they rode down the column. "We're here now, Louise. The Duke of Richemont is at Vaupoisson attempting to contest control of the village. I must go there now. Louise, here's your role in today's order of battle: go back to our column and ask for lieutenant Cartier Martin, and sergeant Turpin of my Imperial Guards. Tell them to move the dragoons and the battalion in reserve on the left facing the village. The artillery train Louise. I've shown you how it needs its ammunition and the baggage to supply it. Foucard will be arriving shortly with the ammunition and you shall direct him to Vaupoisson. I do not expect this to be a completely pitched engagement, but if it does, it will draw out long enough for you to bring my guns forward and bombard a hole in that infernal village."

"Wait, wait, Napoleon! Slowly, please!"

"Find Martin and Turpin, and bring our artillery before the village."

"Okay," Louise nodded with a frown. The sudden stress coupled with her being exhausted still was a poor combination but she held strong. Napoleon nodded at her before she wheeled her gray steed around and galloped forward.

Just then captain Jacques Edouard Bernard Stewart bounded up to Napoleon Bonaparte. He was still dressed in the blue uniform Napoleon had prescribed to his guard battalion, and riding a horse he was a silhouette of a future brigadier general of the grenadiers a cheval de la Garde Imperiale.

"General, I've heard the commotion. Is it time for battle already?"

Napoleon ordered, "summon your squadron of chasseurs, captain. Straight to Vaupoisson we shall go, and if Walloon hasn't yet fortified that village we shall drive him out of it."

In the next minute, the entire column began to shift like a massive serpent of blood and iron. It changed directions whereas it was once parallel to the road, it was now an arrow towards the southeast for the little village of Vaupoisson.

When Napoleon Bonaparte and captain Edouard Stewart had reached the clearing before the village, the 10,000 strong infantry of the duke were still in four stout columns, standing a little bit too far from the field of battle. Vaupoisson was packed with feudal pikemen. The chapel of Brimir in the centre of the village, its spires flew the white banner displaying a fiery red lion, coat of arms of the Duchy of Walloon. The centerpiece was the narrow, stone bridge over a stream which led into the village of Vaupoisson, its streets visibly churning with soldiers sent there by the Duke of Walloon. There were no villagers in sight, having evacuated as soon as the royalists entered the town - only armed men. There were already plenty of dead bodies around that bridge for earlier on Duke Richemont's rushing forces were thrown out of the village. Further to the other side was where the rest of Walloon's army Napoleon deduced was standing, also in the same fashion as Richemont's positioning. On the far left, at a ford down the stream as the messenger earlier described, a battle between two large numbers of cavalry, mounted men-at-arms, was beginning to materialize.

Captain Stewart stood at Napoleon's flank, and behind them the fifty-man squadron of chasseurs the captain had chosen specifically for qualities of valor and loyalty. The squadron stood motionless and unflinching as a battery. There were handfuls of archers from both sides exchanging shots, mostly all of them missing. Every so often a fireball or a burst of smoke would appear on the grass to throw the groups of archers askew and even scatter them. There were no moves made to seize the bridge, nor did the Duke of Walloon move to destroy it or obstruct the passage. The squadron awaited the emperor as he surveyed the opening battlefield.

The Duke of Richemont had made his first mistake by abandoning the positioning of his infantry to his subordinates, young and inexperienced barons no more a genius than the duke. Not a single effort to reposition was evident, and instead of posting the columns in lines across the field, they were concentrated still on the right in static blocks. They were completely useless in this state. But on the far left, where the stream was shallow enough to walk over, the Duke of Richemont was presumably commanding in battle the masses of heavy men-at-arms cavalry. On the opposite bank were the Duke of Walloon's own men-at-arms, trying the enemy menacingly.

The Duke of Walloon may have a little over 8,000 men committed in the village, guarding the banks, and another eight thousand in reserve behind the village. The royalists in the village would soon be outnumbered by a factor of two to one once the three Counts arrived on the scene. And so the order of battle was simple enough; to ford the stream and overwhelm Walloon with an enveloping maneuver using the Alliance's numerical advantage. There were no more than two thousand men at arms of the Duke of Walloon engaged on the left wing presently. As soon as the counts' own knights arrived, a properly delivered charge would make headway through the ford.

Napoleon finished his assessment. This has all only taken him a few minutes before he had formulated his plan.


"Yes Bonaparte sire."

"Send an order for the duke's columns to begin moving - better yet, take save the whole squadron with you so that there may be no qualms about who's in charge. Tell those barons - see those young coglioni? Have them deploy the pike infantry in a line stretching along the stream towards the left wing."

"Yes sire."

Captain Stewart darted off almost instantly and Napoleon yanked the reins of his horse to gallop towards the opposite direction accompanied only by a handful of chevaliers he motioned for. The squadron of chasseurs roused after Edouard Stewart on their way to deliver the emperor's dispositions to the troop columns.

The Duke of Richemont and his heavily-armed cavalrymen were still trotting about in a mass after their second charge was repelled. The duke was yelling to his troops, and in turn the men answered with raucous cheers. Vulgar as it was, the men were still full with morale and resolved to launch another charge at the duke's signal. Napoleon arrived on the scene with his companion chasseurs, not at all impressed by this.

"Your grace," Napoleon declared loudly, in too rough a manner to be considered respectful at all, "Why have you thrown the cavalry already when there is no infantry to support your attack?"

The Duke of Richemont snapped his head to find the commoner-general ride up to him. He responded scornfully. "Do not question me now, captain. I know how to make war by myself. And where are your men?" he glared at the twelve chasseurs around Napoleon. "Is that all you've brought here in the open?"

Napoleon ignored the mocking question. He instead looked aside, counting the dead bodies of horse and man alike that littered the bank like flowers in a meadow. There were some poor soldiers who were still alive, yet mauled and left bleeding on the gravel. He said firmly, "I have sent orders for your columns to take a linear position on the fields. Once Count Kundera arrives with his own men-at-arms, we are to make a charge across this ford. But for now, pull back your cavalry and wait for further notice."

It was that final statement from Napoleon that certified the duke to run askew. The Duke of Richemont bloomed red in the face and cursed him, before babbling so rapidly that Napoleon made no effort to even understand him. Either the hot sun, the heat of the battle, or the duke's inherent impetuosity contributed to him storming off and in the next moment reviving another charge across the ford.

But it was as Napoleon Bonaparte had expected.

Napoleon could only shake his head as he watched the duke, royal purple tunic flaring over his heavy chainmail, lead his men to their unnecessary deaths. The men-at-arms were being wasted and even the Duke of Walloon, presumably on the other side watching, was not wise enough to realize this foolishness and move to overpower the isolated Duke of Richemont. But if it meant one step towards winning his own battle, Napoleon thought inwardly, he'd gladly watch.

Even if he had been successful in convincing the duke to pull back, it was almost another half hour before the three Counts and their own knights' cavalry and infantry appeared from the lane. By then Napoleon was sure Duke Richemont couldn't have been prevented from taking foolish initiative. Napoleon was overly appalled at this slowness. If he had been in charge, he would have long sacked and executed these incompetent excuses of military commanders. At least he had heard from Louise and sergeant Turpin who had already taken their positions behind the Duke of Richemont's cavalry mass, but the rest of the Alliance? Massa de cretini! Napoleon seethed. A minute was the distance between an empire and the abyss. In half an hour he could be crowned emperor of this new universe.

By the time the allied numbers on the field before Vaupoisson had swollen to over 23,000 men, alarming developments on the left wing had presented themselves to Napoleon. Duc de Richemont's persistent cycle of cavalry charges and retreats have by now exhausted his men, and they have gone for the fourth time now across and back the ford. In contrast, the Duke of Walloon's own men-at-arms looked solid and in orderly formation by now on the other side. Two more royalist battalion columns could be spied marching down from behind Vaupoisson like amalgamated swarms of ants to reinforce Walloon's right. If the shallow side of the stream were to become heavier with enemy troops, the cost of a breakthrough would rise even higher, Napoleon concluded. The Duke of Richemont's insubordination was now a severe thorn to his side.

The battle downstream from Vaupoisson indeed rapidly escalated. Not only did the Duke of Walloon - who was by now identified as the unarmoured nobleman wearing a brilliant white coat - brought two reserve battalions to support his men-at-arms, there were a surprising number of fire and wind mages concentrating in that part, far more than across the line combined. This combination of fire and wind made a barrage so loud and terrifying that the horses would bolt at the sound of whistling jets of wind and the visibility made poor by the smoke created by the mages' fireball spells. Napoleon was perfectly used to these kinds of environments, but the presence of magic did not fail to perplex him. The longer the battle drew out, the messier it became. But despite this, Napoleon was just relieved by the fact that the griffin-mounted knights and the dragon riders were left untouched, held in reserve behind the columns. The aristocratic riders of the fable beasts may be under the duke's command but they were firm to keep themselves from being wasted. Napoleon assessed a far more potent use of such a new element for him. And if there was any indication that the Duke of Walloon had his own flying knights, it would be that he was also judicious enough to hold them in reserve.

After a hesitant and ultimately cancelled fifth charge, the Duke of Richemont returned to his side of the bank to find himself joined by Count Kundera, the Count of Burgundy and Count Marmont. At this moment there was no hiding the ill temperament of the duke.

The Duke of Richemont roared, "It has been nearly an hour before any good help has shown himself! Count Marmont, is your mistress in the carriage or are you intentionally a sluggard so as to wait for me to be killed?"

Count Marmont opened his mouth, shocked, then was black with anger. "Speak for yourself, Richemont! You have completely ruined your men and for what? Four times have you charged Walloon and have yet to take a single prisoner back on here. General Bonaparte has advised you to pull back and did you? If- "

"Enough iz enough!" Count Kundera cut in harshly. The dark-haired, mustached senior wedged himself and his horse between the quarreling nobles.

Count Kundera now scoffed and said, "What has been done may only be rectified. If ze Duke of Walloon's army has yet to send much of his men downstream on our left, then we may still charge through now with superior numbers."

The Count of Burgundy who had been silent prior now spoke up. "We have the numbers, my men are on fresh horses, and together we can outflank Walloon across that stream."

"Well," Count Marmont now turned to the one person they all had left to consult. "General Bonaparte, what say you of this disposition?"

Napoleon stared back at them all. He did not make an immediate answer.


"With all due respect, your grace. It seems to me that you all have your own brilliant ideas for winning this battle already. If that is the case, I wish to humbly post myself with the artillery so as to bombard Vaupoisson."

Count Marmont snorted incredulously. "Do not be sarcastic with me, monsieur Bonaparte. You're the head of the Alliance. You command the next steps to securing our victory."

Clearly, these nobles were all simply regurgitating what he had already said. Napoleon clenched his jaw at this act of tooling him but he made no indication of contempt on his face. Napoleon's eyes though were icy.

"Count Marmont, his grace the Duke of Richemont with his repeated charges has already alerted Walloon of the peril before his right wing. His men-at-arms are now well reinforced on the bank, and to send your heavy cavalry to amass for a fifth charge would instantly alarm Walloon and prompt him to block that ford with his pike battalions. Even if you break through he will simply draw another line at a right angle and no matter what we do, our troops won't cross the stream in time to prevent the duke from retreating in good order eastwards until nightfall. Come tomorrow, even Lady Valliere's own feudal armies may arrive to join Walloon."

"So what do you propose, general Bonaparte?" The Duke of Richemont questioned haughtily.

Napoleon now smiled shortly. He gave a very long pause before he spoke monotonously.

"Count Kundera, Count Marmont and the Count of Burgundy are to amass their cavalry on the right wing now. The infantry line is now effectively a screen for our redeployments. And while the duke had his charges going, I took the privilege of sending my chasseurs to scout a possible ford upstream. There is one large enough for all of the heavy cavalry to cross quickly unopposed. Through the thickets, the Duke of Walloon would not anticipate a much larger cavalry force to appear on his left flank.

"At this hour, the Duke of Walloon has more or less committed the majority of his forces inside the village or at a moment's notice to march down and solidify his right wing. His order of battle has been given, and now for this manoeuvre to succeed it is imperative that the Duke of Richemont press on his attack across the stream and keep Walloon occupied. Once the heavy cavalry is across upstream, It's only a matter of snaring the Duke of Walloon's army in Vaupoisson."

Napoleon Bonaparte wheeled away before any of the nobles could object. In fact, none of them did. The sudden animosities between the Duke of Richemont and Count Marmont meant the two were more willing now to follow the commoner-general instead of yielding to the other noble's ideas. And the other counts and barons? They were sheep who'd follow anyone with more influence or benefit to them.

This was one very welcome development, Napoleon mused. The loyalists weren't the only ones who would have the taste of being divided and conquered.

Napoleon decided to do one more thing which he ascertained would further his fate as the de-facto commander of the army. If the Duke of Richemont as Napoleon had been closely observing for the past hour in his charges repeatedly motivated his men with blind and superficial praises and promises of glory, he would take it a step higher and not simply motivate the men-at-arms, but capture their hearts.

It has always been this quality, the almost magnetic ability of the French emperor to inspire men and electrify the human soul that rendered his Grand Armee invincible. From Arcole to Borodino, to Dresden and to Montereau. To the final days of his great empire, none of which he could have accomplished alone without a thousand men ready to die for him.

When Napoleon Bonaparte and his chasseurs squadron led by captain Jacques Edouard Bernard Stuart strolled in front of the disorganized masses of men-at-arms, they had quickly garnered their attention.

Captain Stuart was first to raise his voice, but first he drew his straight sword and raised it into the air.

"The head of the Alliance and commanding general of the armies in the field, Napoleon Bonaparte has arrived to lead this decisive attack. Form into a column now, you rogues! I will not repeat myself!"

The noise and ribaldry from the knights and men-at-arms died down a bit, but there were still some malcontents who were yet to be coaxed. This time, Napoleon spoke up.

"Is this the army that the Duchy of Richemont had so boasted of, who had been lavished with the finest horses and armours? And across from us, is that not the army of the Duke of Walloon whom we have said before could not attack a milkmaid's home if his life depended upon it?"

Suppressed laughter could not be helped but heard from the men. But Napoleon gave a savage grin, and tore out his sword now. His red cavalry horse reared mightily as he brandished his sabre in the same manner as the great Belisarius of millenia past. A torrent of strength flowed up his arm that grasped the sword. At that instance a column began to materialize as the men were struck with lighting and obeyed. At the head of this formation Napoleon understood the risks needed to court Mistress Fortune. And when the Duke of Richemont arrived with a covetous glare towards Napoleon, he did not say a word but also raised his own sword.

"Move aside, general. These are my men still to command," he snarled. The duke raising his sword completely set the men on fire as they roused like an arrow against a drawn bowstring, raring to attack.

Napoleon paid the duke no heed. He glanced back at the men and pointed his sabre across the ford.

"Fifth time's the charm, monsieurs. If there is not a man among you who would charge the Duke of Walloon's army across that stream, then allow me to show you how better a commoner may die!"

And so the fifth attack commenced.

When the three Counts had themselves reached the opposite bank upstream and were watching the rest of their cavalry cross into the thicket, they had seen the rising fury on the other side of Vaupoisson, correctly assessing that it was the Duke of Richemont's fifth charge. But what was unexpected was that they completely broke through.

Napoleon had not counted at all on breaking the Duke of Walloon's right wing across the ford, but instead simply drawing them to commit to a battle more of intimidation than complete savagery. But with nearly eighteen hundred knights and men-at-arms from the Duke of Richemont and with Napoleon's chasseurs leading the charge, they suddenly found themselves across the bank and driving a broken first line of light foot archers, then feudal pikemen. Then they broke a second line. Then came a lot of hacking and yelling. The third line was nearly pummeled to pieces and sent scurrying back to Vaupoisson's gates. The charging allied men-at-arms had split into a two-pronged fork with Napoleon colliding with a cavalry detachment from Duke of Walloon, and the Duke of Richemont penetrating the village gates and disappearing into the carnage.

Napoleon was nearly beheaded by a galloping knight armed with a halberd if it were not for those Gandalfr runes that seemingly multiplied his reflexes. But it was also thanks to captain Stewart's sharp eye that he deflected the weapon with a flick of his heavy sword as the knight crashed into another man-at-arms. Whose side, it was near impossible to tell in the chaos.



"We are in a very dangerous position," Napoleon bellowed. "Get one of our officers here immediately! Send for the columns and bring our infantry across the stream. And where is Turpin? Foucard? Where is Louise?" Napoleon coughed, as he rode back to the rear to safety under a cluster of trees and surrounded by his chasseurs.

"Where is the artillery?" Napoleon raised to a murderous tone. "A charge finally is about to drive Walloon out of the village, why are the columns unmoving? Must I not only be a puppet but a slave who does everything by himself? Merde!"

Captain Stewart had already ordered three riders flying across the ford, which had now swollen as dusk began to slowly set in. He responded calmly, "The columns will be here soon, sire. We shall hold on, we will."

If no infantry appeared behind them soon, the headway attained by the Duke of Richemont's charge would have been for naught as Walloon would have pushed them back out in a short matter of time. Napoleon gritted his teeth at the worsening position of their men-at-arms, which was now devoid of momentum and bogged down in intense hand-to-hand fighting. The horses were being killed with their riders, sometimes the latter first, plenty the former. The columns were hundreds of yards away still on the wrong side and there had been nonexistent attempts to storm the bridge into the broken village of Vaupoisson.

Suddenly, an ear-splitting cannonade opened behind them. Napoleon whipped his head in the direction of the noise. Were those his artillery? The first thought that came to mind was Louise, and if she had followed his order (request by how he uttered it, as they were partners and no longer a master-servant duo) then it must mean there were around 39 guns more or less being brought up on that grassy elevation in front of the stream. By the looks of it, all of them were aimed at the centre of the village.

If it had been Louise that had assessed and directed the fire upon the village, Napoleon naturally would have something to add later on. Far more likely it may have been lieutenant Antoni, who he had earlier attached to his partner so as to assist her participation. But at that moment he was only impressed, and even more proud of his partner's arrival. That was until he realized that the Duke of Richemont himself and his men-at-arms were probably still in that village when the bombardment started!

Napoleon saw Martin galloping down towards them now at the head of a squadron, and not far surely was the guard battalion presently supervised by Owen Foucard. Napoleon may not be willing to commit his reserves in battle but the slowness of the Count's columns would've been the death of him, and so even his lieutenants acted with initiative.

Napoleon said, "the duke is still in that village, Stuart!"

"So he is!" Captain Stuart gave a twisted grimace. He shouted, "I'll see that he comes out of that rat-trap alive, no matter how well it would be otherwise."

"I will make sure of it myself,and I will ride," Napoleon said. "There is to be no argument about it. The whole squadron, captain. With us we can cover for the duke and I may see whether Walloon has already routed as expected."

But oh, Louise! Napoleon thought with a sense of crushed incredulity. Has she not had the sense to not fire upon an area where he may have very well been, and where their own troops were breaking into? Louise insists upon not wasting any ammunition - she takes only shots at dukes and knights regardless of their side. But the newly arranged battery was beginning to bring forth fruits. Whereas it would have been a cutthroat affair to dislodge Walloon's remaining troops holding fast in Vaupoisson at swordpoint, the unexpected appearance of guns in the face of the enemies was enough to warrant them to flee lest face destruction under withering fire.

This stunning artillery barrage further encouraged their allied columns to pick up the pace and begin moving forward. Under the murderous fire of the cannons, the Duke of Walloon's foot infantry holding the village of Vaupoisson, comprised mainly of pikemen and shield-bearers in leather tunics, wavered. The heavy iron roundshots careened towards their ranks at a frightening speed, whistling the tune of death. The roundshots bounced when it touched the flat gravel on the opposite bank and upon reaching the columns, punched bloody holes through them and into the village lanes. The mud-brick houses were being destroyed terrifically. While the artillery crews Napoleon had personally organized were yet inexperienced and slow, the dominating presence of the battery was more than enough to triumph. The allied guns were cutting through the enemy ranks like lethal javelins, tearing foot, limb and ligament from the bodies of infantry who could do nothing more to respond than stand their ground.

A horn was heard being sounded and it seemed like the Duke of Walloon had finally decided to retreat.

Even Napoleon was hesitant to go into the village, which was now beginning to catch fire from the reckless battery across the stream. The chapel had lost three out of its four spires and there were no Walloon coats of arms to be seen in the air. He was greeted by a gory sight at the mouth of the gates. The squadron of chasseurs were wheeling into the village when they practically collided with the Duke's retinue of men-at-arms rushing in the opposite direction. The road was strewn with dead horses. What had the cavalry run into? Napoleon for a moment thought it had been the pikes, or even a defending canister shot that had scored these casualties but it also came to mind that the narrow street was perfect for a trap set by those fireball-casting mages he had observed earlier on the field.

A knight who had lost his helmet passed over to Napoleon and his retinue, screaming. His metal plate armor was unusually black, almost the same hue as his warhorse. It occurred that the man-at-arms had suffered a kind of burn that scorched his body black, but he was not yet dead.

"The duke! The duke has fallen!"

Captain Stewart bared his teeth. "Then we must ride back and rescue him!" He responded ferociously.

"The Duke of Walloon has fled," another knight arrived, his face grimy with sweat. "There was a square-class fire mage who had been ordered to blow the bridge before our columns could cross it, but the Duke of Richemont had at once broken into the streets and prevented him. There had been nearly thirty men instantly killed by a surge of fire, and we found ourselves surrounded momentarily by Walloon's own knights. Sire… mon general, Count Kundera's knights were nowhere to be seen on the right flank."

"That's absolutely false. They've crossed, have they not? If so, they couldn't have deliberately stalled the- "

"It doesn't matter now."

The men turned to Napoleon, whose face was drawn into a frown but gave no sign of discomposure.

Napoleon said, "seize the bridge. Push into the village with the columns. Find out why the charge on the opposite wing has delayed. The Duke of Walloon's own columns are withdrawing in decent order, and we must pursue."

"Then I shall rally our men back and save the Duke of Richemont!" answered the scorch-black knight.

Napoleon whirled around. "Inferno! If you do not pull back your men, they will be cut down by Walloon's counterattack."

Captain Stewart cut in harshly to the man. "We will rescue the duke and bring him back to the enemy lines. The men-at-arms cavalry must not take any more casualties, lest we become unable to throw the pursuit."

"Then I shall go with you, general." The other knight offered Napoleon.

"No. Go and order your men to pull back to the thickets near the brook, and wait for further instructions. Inform Count Kunderas that our left wing has been repulsed."

The knight hesitated, but nodded and tightened his helm around his head. He dug his spurs into the ribs of his horse and galloped. A moment later, a trumpet was being blown again. Then already the first soldiers of Napoleon's own guard battalion were seen crossing the ford and onto the clearing near the village. The knight left together with his companion, and soon much of the cavalry that had seeped into the village was withdrawing in tatters. Owen Foucard riding an ink-black destrier joined Napoleon and captain Stewart at the mouth of Vaupoisson. They immediately went into the fray, the chasseurs staying back with orders to observe a retreating reserve detachment of the Duke of Walloon.

The bombardment was not stopping. It was coming to the point of excess, and Foucard glanced with an angry look as the roof of a hut that they had passed was suddenly torn open. A roundshot had flown just above their heads in order to rake the rooftop. The two adjutants to the emperor pleaded that he leave the village, but Napoleon rode on, flanked by Stewart and lieutenant Owen Foucard. The smoke from the burning wooden houses was unbearable. They came onto the plaza where the dead bodies of enemy pikemen lay strewn across the intersection, mixed with their own allied knights and men-at-arms. Right there in the middle, through the opaque haze they saw the Duke of Richemont. He was slumped against a burning wagon, his purple uniform dirtied, and a gruesome gash sliced across his belly having torn through the heavy chainmail and staining the duke's tunic a maroon color.

Napoleon only uttered a simple statement, akin to a magistrate passing a sentence.

"The duke is dead."

Owen Foucard was for once visibly perturbed. "Bonaparte, sire, we must take him back to camp."

"Impossible, he is fatally wounded. Men who have been cut open to the stomach more or less die."

"The healing mages?"

Napoleon scowled and said to Foucard, "take the sword and have mercy on the duke. We'll recover his body and bury him after we rout Walloon."

Owen Foucard did not hesitate. He was a mercenary, a born sellsword with little scruples, but since joining Napoleon Bonaparte's Guards, he had welled up with complete obedience to the Emperor. Was there reason to question Napoleon? Foucard had little love for the aristocracy, who threw mercenary after mercenary into the jaws of death. This was the occasion that a duke tasted blood. And so Foucard held his chin high in front of Napoleon, brandished his sabre and trotted over the wounded man. Captain Stewart remained silent as he observed this.

Owen Foucard steered his horse over and watched the Duke of Richemont raise his arms, his eyes white as lighting and the foaming mouth failing to produce words, before Foucard raised his massive arm in turn and brought the sabre down upon the duke's neck, killing him.

Napoleon had watched all of this unflinchingly. He rode off, followed by captain Stewart and Foucard. The death of the duke was his first victory in this campaign.


Lord Marshal Gramont.

I wish not to waste any more of your time, sir. I will go right to the point: my partner Napoleon Bonaparte and I have decided to reject your terms to surrender.

I hope you will not resent me for this decision. I hope even more so that you will not blame my friend, Napoleon for my decision.

I made this choice by myself. I do not know if it will be a long time before I return to my family's estate again together with my sisters.

So please tell my mother that I still love her, and wish to see her again.


He took his eyes away from the letter and folded it.

Marshal Gramont slipped the letter in his shirt pocket. Before the messenger from the Alliance camp had even arrived, he had watched as the Alliance's new movement behind their hills kicked up the faint clouds of dust, easily moving eastward to his left.

He was surprised, but not of the movement which was almost certainly ordered by the enigmatic general Napoleon Bonaparte.

Robert de Gramont, the eldest son of the aging marshal, stood beside his father's seat with a concerned frown. "Sir, should I order our men to march against the Alliance detachment on the hills?" he asked.

"General Bonaparte would have expected that," Marshal Gramont said softly. "What do you say, my son?"

"I think he has chosen to fight the Duke of Walloon first instead of Jean's garrisons down south."

"That's true. Now, why does he do so? Why does the general snare the bigger fish?"

Robert de Gramont remained silent.

The old marshal looked up to his son beside him and gave a wrinkled smile.

Marshal Gramont said, "It's because your brother Jean never could've stopped him. If Bonaparte wanted to destroy Jean's brigade, he would have. The same could not be said of the latter. He chooses to fight the Duke of Walloon because by doing so, he places himself between us and Lady Karin de la Valliere's Royal Army. He can match us, Robert. He will."

The thin smile vanished from Marshal Gramont's lips as his gaze fell upon a short table where a chessboard was still waiting. The moves had been made.

Napoleon had made his move; a move that the marshal would later come to know as an Italian opening.




A.N. Reviews are highly appreciated. After 8 long years since Nietzchian's epic story had died off, I decided if no one was going to revive it, I'll have to do it myself. There's no promise when I'll release the next few chapters. This has been sitting in store for quite a few months. There are special letter mistakes still to be corrected. If the reception is good, then I may pick up on it more. If this isn't a closest rendition of the events that follow the last chapter (Part IV: The Devil, chapter 8) I don't know what is. But it does make a good reading for myself, and I hope the readers of The Emperor of Zero would too.