8 Chapter 7: Princess Ekaterina“s Journey Part III
Ursula was feeling intense schadenfreude from Mueller's plea. Was it bad? Doesn't that make her a sadist? Well, in some countries, there were public events where gladiators fought to the death for others' entertainment! Compared to those people, she was better. Yes, she must be. Ursula was trying to quell her guilt from torturing Mueller's mind.
"Are you ready to faithfully answer my every question?" She asked as she directed another threatening smile toward poor Mueller. "Just so we are clear, I can tell when a man's lying and your head will roll as soon as you say anything deceitful."
"Y-yes ma'am," the bandit nodded.
"Alright then, question 1," she said firmly, "who are you people and who hired you?"
"I'm Mueller an' we're tha Gleaming Bucket, ma'am, the finest bandits here in tha Lohenstein forest!" He yelled with a hint of pride. "We earn our living by plundering noble carriages! Nobody hired us! Honest!"
"How did you know we were coming?" She asked. "You were obviously lying in ambush out there."
"We just happened to be there when you came!" He said, while his expression twisted slightly. "We...we were hunting, you see, with the winter coming and all!"
"Are you sure of what you're saying?"
At this point, Ursula's patience snapped. She was already an impatient person to start with and the man is calling HER "ma'am"! She wasn't even past 18 and she's already called a ma'am? How irritating! Then, he had the stupidity of lying to her despite her earlier warning.
"Is he taking me for a fool?" She thought angrily.
Suddenly, a fierce, cold aura emanated from her body and Mueller suddenly felt intense pressure on his mind.
"Ma'am! I was wrong!" He pleaded on his knees. "W-we were notified by the Lohenstein family watchman this morning that you will pass here! They only told me that some rich people will pass here! I never knew it was the royalty!"
As he fell on his knees to plead for his life, Ursula's schadenfreude intensified.
"Hmmm...I see you people have lots of experience pillaging nobility," She said with a detached voice. "I assume you have stacked a considerable amount of treasures in your headquarters?"
"Y-yes ma'am!" He tried to bargain. "You could have it all if you let me go!"
"Can I go now?" Mueller asked hopefully.
"Don't worry about that," she said. "We'll only let you go when the stock will be in our hands."
"W-what?" The man exclaimed. "That's preposterous! You can't just...just...do that to me!"
"Cuz collectin' ransom from civilians is illegal, right?"
"And what makes attempting to murder the Princess of the country not a crime in itself?" She toyed with him.
"I didn't know! I didn't know! Had I known I'd never have - " He yelled desperately.
Granted, the "mens rea" for murdering THE PRINCESS was certainly not there, but the fact stays that Mueller and his people attacked a carriage with the intention of plundering and violating the people inside beyond any reasonable doubt. Therefore, he was guilty before the laws of Lacrimosa and can be executed without trial considering the sheer amount of hard evidence of his guilt. Ursula has intended to kill him from the start, but she had also received the order from Bonny d'Estaing, her greatly superior officer in army ranks, to try to make this situation as profitable as possible for the Princess. By finding their hideout and snatching away their goods was doing just that. She trusted Bonny would take care of everything after that.
"You see, Herr Mueller," she said sarcastically. "If you just happen to tell us where is your hideout, we might just consider letting you go just this once."
"No, I can't betray my comrades!" He screamed.
A bone snapped. A finger bent into an odd angle. A man screamed in the silent forest.
"Repeat that now?"
"I WON'T BETRAY MY - "
Another bone snapped. Another finger bent into an abnormal angle. The screams intensified. The man's eyes became bloodshot. His heart beat like never before. Mueller, with the last of his breath, yelled in an apologetic tone.
"IT'S ON TOP OF THE WEISS MOUNTAIN! IN THE CAVE BEHIND THE BIG CENTRAL WATERFALL! I SWEAR IT ON MY LIFE!"
A shot rang. Mueller collapsed, lifeless, on the cold snow. It soon tainted red with his hot blood. Wild beasts will soon come to enjoy a last tasty meal before the roughness of winter. Having said all there was to say, he paid for his heinous crime and all of those he committed in the past. Ursula wondered just how many people he has killed and how many women he has raped throughout the years. Just the thought made her want to throw up.
After stripping the corpse of all valuables as her companions did to the others, Ursula jumped on her horse and rode forward with the coach, her heart saddened by her own guilt. She just found out a side to herself that she never knew existed. Her dark side. A thorn to the image of the perfect and radiant noble lady officer she wanted to become.
After the battle, Alexa and the others gave a detailed report of the situation to the princess and continued riding alongside the carriage, doubly vigilant for potential attacks.
It was only when they safely arrived in the city of Schwanenberg the next day that the guards relaxed slightly. This was the King's birthplace and the hub of the royalist faction. For the princess of the Kingdom, this was one of the safest places in the world. This grand city is where the most loyal supporters of the King dwell and it is under the direct control of the Lacrimosian monarchy.
Once a poor town of 2000 people a fifty years ago, it was now a city on par with the capital in terms of demographics and economy. Its primary industry was the mining sector in the Sankt Adel mines, which provided iron, silver, and salt to the city, which in turn would allow all sorts of factories to thrive. Amongst other great organizations currently seated in the city, the Schwanenberg Institute of Technology boasts the greatest records of technological advancement in the entire Eastern region. This international conglomerate directly under the House of Elektrov-Lacrimosa's jurisdiction has 5 research centers, 1 top-rated university, and an industrial park with more than 50 factories working on various innovative projects. All the new technologies in the Eastern region of the past 5 years have been developed and tested in Schwanenberg. With its population of more than 800,000 people, even excluding the many tourists visiting the area, this is the third most populated city of the Konigsreich and attracts tens of thousands of new citizens each passing year. This was the best-equipped facilities for professionals of all sorts, especially engineers and architects. Therefore, the intellectual community in this area was the most advanced in the Kingdom. As this city is a source of tremendous income for the Kingdom and the royalist faction, the security there was extra tight. It is currently protected by a 54,000-men garrison army equipped with the most recent weapons developed by the Lacrimosian Institute of Technology Department of Arms, Research Center #2.
When the small delegation entered the city gates, they went through the usual identity checking procedures and were escorted to the King's Eisenschloss Palace. The 3 cadets were granted a one-afternoon vacation in the city, as the princess' security was handed to the Chief of Schwanenberg's Life Guard Division. It was the safest place within the city walls and also the city's last stronghold. Its walls were immune to all current explosives and types of projectiles, offering the best protection to the royalty and professionals during times of war.
Inside the castle, old Lacrimosian culture mixed harmoniously with the latest technological innovations. Elegant water fountains linked to the most recent water treatment systems could be seen here and there. The water was perfectly safe to drink, even to royalty standards. It was part of the potent water-processing and sewers system built just a year ago in Schwanenberg to allow access to drinkable water in every household and public places.
Alexa was impressed. Born in the Eastphalia province at the Far East of Lacrimosa where technology had a lot to do to catch up with the rest of the Kingdom, Alexa has never seen such incredible sights in her life, not even during her Kriegsschule days in the capital. This city was basically made of steel and concrete, with little to no vegetation, except for a big park in the middle of the city and occasional gardens in the residential districts. Everything was gray and gold, with the blue and gold banners of the Lacrimosian Royal House at every street lamps. Tall buildings of bricks and glass could be seen everywhere, with men and women dressed in tight, but elegant garbs of all colors walking around hurriedly. This city's Königsmarkt was also very eye-catching, as it was a tall building adorned with the King's emblem and the Lacrimosian Finance Department's golden horse design. Some would even call it the Großer Königsmarkt. Inside, an incredible number of stores longed the hallways with beautiful displays to lure the shoppers.
Estelle, a citizen of Azurian descent of the nearby city of Neuchâtel, was also impressed by the changes that occurred in Schwanenberg since she last visited only six years ago, right before her enrollment at the Kriegsschule. At that time, the Großer Königsmarkt was even smaller than the one in Neuchâtel and the public fountain program was only in its earliest stages. The rapid development of the city is so overwhelming that Estelle, who wanted to guide her friends through the place, felt more lost than ever. Gleefully, she joined Alexa in her bafflement and they walked through the large alleys, browsing the many shops and beauty facilities like never before. Their purses lightened significantly after this afternoon.
Ursula, on the other hand, as the acting captain of the princess' guard, went to report at the Headquarter of the 1st Army of the West, a luxurious building plated with elegant copper and gold.
At the glass door, she was escorted to the general of the army, the Count of Leiden. He was a man in his prime, wearing proudly the Prussian blue uniform with gold embroideries of the Army of the West. As he saw Ursula, he smiled gently, like a father seeing his child finally gown up.
"Hi Ursula," he said casually after she gave him a military salute. "It's been a long time...what, 3 years if my memory's good? How are you today?"
"I am very good, sir." She replied. "Though I must admit that I am impressed by how this city has changed since the last few years! Oh, and by the way, Generaloberst Graf von Leiden, sir, thank you again for everything you have done for my family and I."
Count Leiden laughed heartily. "It is my pleasure, of course! Your dad and I go way back in our days as young officers during the war! As for how the city has changed, even I was astonished when I was assigned here. It is earth and sky with how it was back in the old days. We used to come here to restock on bread, you know!"
His smile changed slightly. "Now back to business, Ursula. How was your trip until now? I heard you were attacked?"
"Yes, sir," Ursula reported, "we were attacked between Areas 534 and 535 of the Lohenstein Forest by ten heavily armed bandits. Their hideout's location and the bandit's testimony, including some disturbing information about the Lohenstein family, are in the report I have submitted to OberLeutnant Raeder."
"Was there anything special about them?" The general asked wearily.
"Yes," Ursula explained, "they carried Steinsbach '19 3rd generation bayonet rifles. Aren't those last year's army rifles? If bandits have them, it may be even more dangerous for travelers in the future."
"That is certainly peculiar," the general said. "I believe I have heard that some weapons disappeared from the disposal units back in the first decade (10-days week) last Termidor. Perhaps this is where they went. What do you think we should do?"
"I believe that a bandit group armed with such strong weapons must not be allowed to roam freely," she judged knowing he was testing her, "especially since their aim is to plunder carriages passing through the forest. Therefore, we must proceed to Dangerous Bandit Extermination Process Phase 3 with a strong contingent of Jaegertruppen and half a squadron of Chevauleger cavalry units. "
"Very well, young lady!" The general laughed again. "I see they have taught you well at the Kriegsschule. Let me ask you, though, why Phase 3 and not 1 or 2? What's more, why Jaegers? While I understand the need to be some form of cavalry support, are the Sturmtruppen infantry not good enough for this mission?"
"We already know the exact location of the enemy, sir," she explained, "and we also know the level of proficiency of the enemy, which I would assess at Threat Level C due to their weapons. In fact, us cadets were able to defeat them easily enough, which implies that the enemy doesn't have any substantial battle competency against professional soldiers. As for the choice of units, since the raid objective is a cave behind a waterfall on a mountain, any kind of operations there requires great stealth unachievable by simple assault units (Sturmtruppen). The Jaegers, on the other hand, are trained for combat in difficult geographical landforms and conditions, hence would maximize the mission's success and minimize casualties. Ideally, I would've sent the Berginfanterie, but this isn't serious enough to send our specialized mountain units."
"Commendable!" The general thought as he felt pride for this girl's insight. "She even considered the priority of missions and evaluated the assets of different units in this situation to choose the best formation. I will send a letter about this to the Kriegsschule later."
"Very well," the general replied to Ursula's explanation, "we will carry out all the necessary procedures for this operation, don't worry about it. If that is everything, you are dismissed. You did very well and you really deserve a vacation."
Ursula nodded. "About that, general, Bonny has a personal favor to ask of you."
The general was curious about what would the Colonel General of the Lacrimosian Guard Cavalry could possibly ask of him. "What is it?"
"You see," Ursula said. "The princess wanted to return the stolen properties to the people to whom they belong, and she also wanted to keep the everything else from the bandits to have some pocket money. Is it alright if you do that for us? We have to leave for Neuchâtel tomorrow morning."
"Of course," the general nodded, "if this is an order from Generaloberst Bonny d'Estaing and Her Highness Ekaterina, "then the spoils will be handled as she commands. Do I return the identified items under Her Highness' name?"
"That's right," Ursula replied wrily, "the princess wants to become popular."
As she exited the Army Headquarters with some gifts from General Leiden, she heard a couple of officers singing an inspiring song.
"Great Fatherland, oh Fatherland, show us the signs
Your people have fought to see"
Upon hearing this, Ursula chuckled and joined them for a little while.
"The morning will come when the world is ours
When Lacrimosa will stand tall and proud
Over everything else in the universe."
When they finished singing, Ursula von Augsburn passed by the palace to put away the gifts and took out her purse from her luggage. At the moment, it was filled to the brink with many Bank of Lacrimosa notes, but she knew it will be significantly lighter once she comes back.
Despite bearing a cruel side and an extremely professional persona when dealing with military affairs, she was still a frivolous young noblewoman who loved to buy new apparel and eat excellent food. Unlike her astonished friends, she has read all about Schwanenberg and its extensive selection of stores and luxuries.
"Finally free!" She thought as she ran to the Königmarkt's wide alleys."I'll need to go buy some new perfumes in the Perfume Palace, winter clothes at Viersen's, shoes at Spendau's...oooooooh and don't forget the Nordmark-style spas with a good glass of wine! Holy Chronus! So many things and so little time!"