11 Chapter 10: The Dawn of Changes
"Please explain the situation," Laura said with a serious face, "as you know, this area is under the jurisdiction of the First Army of Azuria which operates under Reichsmarshall Elizaveta's command. Therefore, any abnormal activity must be reported to the Queen herself for the Army of Azuria to take any concrete actions. As far as I am aware of, even the King's Royal Guard is subject to such procedure. If it is so urgent, I can dispatch your message through a pigeon to the Palace and if they're fast over there, we could expect news from them in four days, so-"
"Lady Montpensier!" Generaloberst Bonny hushed, obviously furious by Laura's subtle insult. "This is not a joke!"
"Please forgive me, Bonny," Laura said with a wry smile, "alright, Young Lady, let's hear you out."
"Yes ma'am," a relieved Ursula explained as if on cue, "on our way here, we were assaulted by a bandit group named the 'Gleaming Bucket' between areas 534 and 535 in the Lohenstein forest and-"
"It's just a bandit attack," Laura interrupted with an annoyed voice, "isn't this supposed to be your exam?"
Bonny shot a stern look toward her, which made her happier and even more willing to tease the young Fahnenjunker.
"Milady," Ursula pleaded, "the bandits were armed with state-of-the-art weaponry and armor, which is highly unlikely for people of their status especially in the Kingdom of Lacrimosa where weapons are strictly regulated. Furthermore, the attack seemed to be well-planned, as they happened to ambush us at an unfrequented part of the forest at a time where nobody stays outside. Not only that, but information acquired from their hideout suggested that a highly trained illegal army is marching toward this very city as we speak for reasons yet unknown and at a perfect timing at that: when most of the army is stationed at more than ten hours of 'marche rapide' from here. Therefore, we have enough evidence to file an official mobilization of all troops at least in this city for the safety of the princess and you have-."
"Generalmajor Montpensier," a Guard officer barged in, "the Rapid-Response Force is at your command and all preparations are done for interception procedure A. Please report to the Neuchâtel Heer headquarters in the next ten minutes!"
Ursula was stunned. How could this woman be so far ahead of her when the report about well-armed bandit massing only came to HER a few hours ago as she was departing Schwanenberg?
Bonny smiled wryly. There was nothing occurring in Neuchâtel that Laura did not know for the simple reason that there have been assassination attempts on her now and then ever since her early childhood because she was the last remaining successor of the powerful Este family of the Cadornian Confederation. The Este family has many enemies within and outside the Confederation and there were plenty of families that would be happy if this clan went extinct. This was also the reason why the mansion was so heavily guarded even by royal standards and also why the Montpensier son, Friedrich, was not allowed to exit estate premises.
As the awkward atmosphere between the bewildered the Fahnenjunker and her amused superior subsided, they both rushed outside to see Laura give orders to deploy across the Neuchâtel Mountain Pass the Montpensier's Rapid-Response Force, a 5,000-men elite Sturmtruppen-class Heavy Cavalry Division with many 12-pounder canons for providing cover fire. A small light infantry unit was also quietly assembled on the side, for mountain warfare purposes.
Everything happened in an instant. Ursula could not believe her eyes: in the little time they were speaking, she has already gathered more than 5,500 men ready to fight with all the necessary NCOs and staff. She felt happy she wasn't the aggressor.
A jaeger NCO walked up to them.
"Feldwebel (Senior Sergent) Ronquerolle of the First Azurian Infantry battalion reporting to Generaloberst Bonny of the Queen's Guard Grenadiers. We have been ordered to be at your command until the end of the bandit subjugation. Lady Laura Anne has also specified that Miss Fahnenjunker will assume command of the 2nd Jaegers Company during the operation. Please meet us at Landry Village at 2200 hours. Our objective is to lure the enemy to the open field to allow the cavalry to finish them off."
She had no time to prepare as she was already thrown in the chaos of her first command ever. Being one of the top cadets at the Kriegschule, she thought she was ready for anything related to the military, especially for a final examination for which she had prepared for during all her years at the Kriegschule. However, the cold, harsh reality was many times more fearsome than she had expected.
The Jaegers Company assigned to Ursula stood before her in a village less than thirty minutes away from Landry. 120 young men in their mid-20s, dressed in their dark blue uniforms, saluted to their new temporary commander. Some of them had doubts about a mere Fahnenjunker's ability to command, others feared for their lives seeing as their commander was just a young woman not even in her 20s. Despite her newly-acquired épaulettes shining on her shoulders, an air of unease circulated among the soldiers. Clearly, they did not trust her and according to her knowledge about the 50-Years War, troops would regularly disobey to commanders they did not believe in. She needed to win their trust, and fast. The operation will start in less than 2 hours. She had no time to lose.
Quelling the enormous pressure overwhelming her, Ursula smiled resolutely and yelled at the top of her lungs, "Men of Azuria, I bet I, Ursula von Augsburn, am stronger than all of you! None of you can beat me!"
Such a taunt would not have worked on ethnic Lacrimosian soldiers, who were exceedingly professional, but Azurian troops were an emotional bunch. Then again, the problem would not even arise in the first place if the troops were ethnic Lacrimosians.
Gradually, a wave of disbelief swept through the company. Then, the neat lines suddenly became riotous as some soldiers were visibly displeased by her statement. Yes, Azurians, more than anyone, were men of pride.
"If you don't believe me, come at me!", the fragile-looking Fahnenjunker continued.
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As soon as she said that, five men rushed at her, their fists ready to fight. In war, there is no difference between men and women, especially for the common foot soldier. They learned it the hard way during the 50-Years War.
Ursula simply stood there, staring at her assailant with her cold, analytic gaze. Now it was battle, her natural habitat. She felt as if she was born for this moment. Fighting a stronger enemy against all odds. The soldiers were indeed physically stronger than her, no matter how hard she trained. That was the difference between men and women in war.
She took a stance. It was a kicking stance from the Southern Lacrimosian swordsmanship's unarmed combat style, which combines the elegance of Lacrimosian swordsmanship and the ruthlessness of hand-to-hand fighting. The best way to defeat an enemy is to not even allow them to enter the battlefield. This is what Ursula tried to do.
As the first soldier arrived before her, Ursula twisted her waist, stretched her long front leg and delivered a wide crescent kick on her opponent's chin, knocking his head back. It also had the intended effect: the man fell on the ground, partially knocked out.
The others hesitated when they saw their companion kissing the ground. Slowly, they started surrounding her, trying to grab her by the arms to immobilize her. If they manage to immobilize her, it could prove troublesome for the entire purpose of this bout.
Quickly, she ran toward one soldier who tried to grab her on her right side and held his arm, thus temporarily neutralizing him. Then, she held the man's arms with one hand and striked his abdomen with the elbow of her free arm twelve times, each blow stronger than the last. Using his chest as a stepping stone, she jumped and landed on another man's head with a flying axe kick. Now, only two opponents were left.
Meanwhile, the army was dead silent. Those five soldiers were the best of the best at physical fighting and none of them could land a hit on the young woman. Two other young women arrived in their midst atop their horses.
"Hey, what are they doing?", Estelle asked a nearby soldier, "is Ursula bullying you guys?"
The soldier was silent, too entranced by the heavily one-sided battle happening before them. He did not know what to believe anymore. How did a fragile girl like her knock out men twice her size and many times stronger? All the soldiers here were from the Montpensier private Elite Force and have all undergone Lady Anne Laura's famously cruel training regimens. How could they lose against such a young girl? Were the combatants distracted by her beauty? That must be it! They were gentlemen and dared not hurt such an attractive woman! But again, they would already be kicked out if they were like this. Some of them had tough fights against Lady Anne Laura and her friends before, so a woman's beauty should not stop them from fighting.
As the soldier was having those thoughts under Estelle and Alexa's curious stares, Ursula punched the last man on the chest, emptying his lungs, and pinned him on the ground.
The battle has ended. There was no applause; everyone was too shocked to realize what has happened.
Suddenly, cheers broke out amongst the crowd as Ursula helped her defeated subordinates stand up. She has at least been recognized as a competent warrior and that was exactly what she needed.