Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 254
Within a single afternoon, the light infantry cannons controlled by Mazik fired only three times. The musketeers also only shot three volleys. In total, they had killed around ninety enemies. The Canasian nobles were no longer willing to send any of their men to turn to their deaths after that.
The terrain was truly too disadvantageous to the attackers. That kind of distance was just right for cannon and muskets to shoot at them. The turn was small and narrower than four metres, only enough for one carriage to make a turn. Only six people at most could go through it single file at once. On the side of the turn was a ravine and one careless mistake was enough to cause one to fall off it.
According to the original marching plan, the Canasian nobles wanted to leave in the morning, arrive in Squirrel Village during the afternoon and camp there for the night. They didn't think that the Aueran troops stationed there didn't choose to retreat and instead chose to stand their ground and used the terrain to their advantage to deliver a harsh blow to the Canasian troops.
"Didn't you say that the band of men stationed at Squirrel Village had already retreated?! I thought that we could go to the three southern prefectures unimpeded!" cried a frenzied noble as he clutched another noble by the collar. He didn't think that a single turn would cause half his household forces to be lost.
If he had known better, he wouldn't have let his household's band of men take point. The others had praised him for having a unit comprised entirely out of elite troops instead of retired veterans and he agreed to their suggestion to take point in the heat of the moment. It was, an honour, after all. There would also be a better chance for his men to reap better spoils if they were at the front row.
Before they left, he had also suggested for a scout to be sent out to inspect the situation to make sure there were no enemies up ahead. However, everyone thought that their enemy had escaped. The accursed Baron Linkbyk even confidently proclaimed that there would not be a single enemy barring their way, given that they had a whole line of four thousand troops while the three enemy bands numbered less than two hundred. They would definitely have a deathwish if they didn't escape. There was no way they could be waiting for them in ambush.
Now, the noble cried all his tears dry. He had lost around three tents of men from his single band. Fortunately, the last tent of men didn't pass the turn. Otherwise, this viscount would have zero men under his command. He really wanted to challenge Baron Linkbyk to a duel, but he knew he wouldn't stand a chance. It was common knowledge that the viscount's band was the core force of his house, House Plist. He didn't think that the band he had spent so much resources on building would be crippled before they could even fire a shot.
"Viscount Plist, let Baron Linkbyk go," an older noble came and advised, "This is something we couldn't have predicted. None of us could predict that the Aueran band wouldn't retreat and instead chose to defend Squirrel Village to use the terrain against us. Please get over your loss. Now, we have to discuss how to attack our enemy and occupy the village."
The viscount had no choice but to let go of that baron, but he refused to join the following discussion. "Apologies. My household is no longer capable of participating in the attack. My band has been crippled and can only help out with suppression from the rear. If we do manage to reach the three southern prefectures, I only hope that all of you can leave us something so that my household can recover from my losses."
Not a person was willing to stop the viscount from retreating away. They knew that losing most of the band was a critical blow to House Plist. Even though they managed to gather a force of four thousand plus, most of the numbers weren't actual soldiers, but were rather subjects of the dominions. The real forces of the households numbered less than a quarter of the total number. It was already quite rare for a noble house to have a tent or two fully-equipped soldiers as the costs of maintaining a force like that was quite high in Canas.
After half a day of debates, the nobles decided to send some men out to test the enemy's defences. This time around, they wouldn't be sending their actual troops to die. Instead, they got some conscripted subjects and arranged them into a few lines before forcing the poor sods to march towards the turn.
They soon discovered the extent of the defences of the Aueran band. There was one light-infantry cannon and some forty muskets. While it didn't seem like much, not a single one of the unfortunate chosen survived the turn. Their corpses were littered everywhere.
One of the nobles with rich combat experience believed that the light infantry cannon wasn't that terrifying. Instead, the true threat came from the precise and effective musketeers. In their last test, of the twenty-odd men they forced to march to the turn, only three were blasted by the cannons. The rest were all killed by musket shots. Even the one running the fastest didn't make it past ten metres. It seemed like the Auerans were armed with precision-aiming muskets and the distance of the turn to the camp was within the their firing range.
There was no way they were able to send anyone to the turn. Not a single one of the troops that remained were willing to charge. The first three waves of fools to do so had all died and the peasants who thought their turns were next looked ready to kill. They cast their murderous gazes at the nobles with their weapons in hand. If the nobles forced them to march, they would spell their own demise.
The nobles leading the army weren't idiots, however. All they could do was wait for the troops at the back to arrive. As expected, it didn't take long before the top commander at the rear, Count Krilaus, to send some men ahead to check on the situation. He was already aware of the obstacle they faced and it seemed like they would be camping on the mountain path that night. There wasn't even an empty plot of land on which the troops could rest. Some were worried they would roll in their sleep and fall down the ravine.
When the nobles at the vanguard described their situation, the other nobles at the back were completely dumbfounded. It didn't occur to even a single one of them that there would be such a devastating turn ahead that caused all of them to be stuck there. Numbers wouldn't do them any good. The road was only so wide and sending ten-odd men to charge at the enemy each time was doing nothing but giving the enemy troops free merit.
"Is there no other path around the turn?" Count Krilaus asked, "Can't we scale the mountains to circumvent it?"
As such, the nobles sought out a few herbal farmers and merchants familiar with the area, only to be disappointed. Those who frequently traveled through the area said that there was no other way around the turn. Descending from the path down to the ravine wouldn't work as it was impossible to climb up from below. Climbing up against the mountain wouldn't work either since there was no path up there. There wasn't a route down in the valley either. But there was a stream down in the valley from which fresh water could be procured.
An older peddler did point out that some seven kilometres back on the path was a small road that led to Eastern Askilin which could be used to circle around the turn. However, they would still have to cross the three-pronged path near Squirrel Village to go there. It was the best option available to circumvent the narrow turn ahead.
Count Krilaus waved them away. He didn't want to turn back and use the path leading to Eastern Askilin to avoid that turn as he would be completely humiliated and lose all face. He had talked to the nobles of Askilin and agreed to meet up at Squirrel Village before heading to the three southern prefectures.
Both sides believed that they could simply travel through the respective mountain paths near them to go to Squirrel Village. And yet, even though the village was already within sight of the Canasian nobles, they were stuck behind the turn and couldn't cross. If they turned back and took another detour to circle around to the Askilin side, Count Krilaus would be completely embarrassed. His force of four thousand was actually stopped by a small band in the mountains. The Canasian nobles' reputation would forever be besmirched by that incident.
"Is there a way we can rush through that turn ahead and conquer Squirrel Village?" Count Krilaus asked the other nobles with a gloomy expression.
A number of nobles suggested some far-out ideas which were all rejected.
In the end, the noble with rich battle experience stood out. "I believe that even though our enemy has the advantage of terrain, their numbers are their greatest weakness. They only have tens of muskets and one light infantry cannon and are severely lacking in firepower. If we can afford to ignore casualties and press our way through to the camp, the enemy's defeat is inevitable. We have numerical superiority after all and we'd still be able to wipe out the enemy easily even if that means losing ten men for every one we take.
"However, the turn really is far too small and that prevents us from swarming them with soldiers. Sending small numbers there only amounts to suicide. The enemy has more than enough time to load up and shoot our brave warriors. However, I noticed that it is still the day when the enemy can clearly see. I suspect the effectiveness of their cannon and muskets would drop at night. Perhaps we can try launching a night attack. We'll have our troops crawl through the turn before pushing the offense all the way to their camp."
"A night attack? That's it... We can launch a night attack!" Count Krilaus was overjoyed. "Under the cover of night, the enemy's firepower is sure to be affected. We can use our superior numbers to push our way through. As long as we can make our way to the camp, we can wipe them out without breaking a sweat. Baron Kunrona, as expected of someone with a military background. Since you have the experience, we'll do as you say. Everyone, pick out the capable ones from your troops. Let them eat and drink well and prepare them. As long as we can cross this path of a few hundred metres, we'll be able to rush the enemy and engage them in a melee! I believe that no matter the kind of enemy they are, they will fall to our mighty warriors' scimitars!"
The weather during the night was ideal. The silver moon was frequently blocked by the clouds above. The 200-odd warriors had made their preparations. According to the plan, they would crawl past the turn and keep a low profile before switching to a frenzied sprint for the enemy base after hearing the whistle signal. All the warriors understood that the faster they ran and the closer they were to the enemy camp, the safer they would be. So, they armed themselves lightly; most of them brought only one scimitar to fight in close combat with.
They were the first batch of warriors. There was another death squad behind them. They would continue to rush past the turn after the charge began to cover for the brave warriors before them so that they could make their way to the enemy base sooner as well as to draw enemy fire away from the first batch. Even at night, scatter shot was still able to bring the 200-odd warriors great casualties.
The sharp whistle finally sounded and swarms of dark figures jumped on the mountain path and dashed like their lives depended on it.
The enemies in Squirrel Village cried out in shock. The cannon and muskets began to fire. It didn't take long before one figure after another fell to the ground as they cried out in agony. However, the nobles behind continued to wave the weapons in their hand to force the farmers and herders to run to the turn and attract the enemy's attention.
The cannon and every other musket were still trailed in the direction of the turn. It was as if the defenders didn't notice the first batch of 200-odd warriors that dashed ahead, or perhaps they weren't able to react in time.
Two of the frontmost warriors suddenly felt the path beneath them sway. Why was the ground so soft? Before they understood what happened, they lost their footing and fell straight down the path into a deep hole. The warriors who dashed too quickly couldn't react in time and the whole group fell into the whole like a long centipede burrowing its way underground. Only the tens of warriors at the very back managed to stop in time before tumbling down with the others.
The most despairing part about the hole was how it stretched down endlessly all the way to the valley down there. The ones who fell into the hole would roll their way to the bottom of the valley. Cries of pain and fright echoed nonstop.
Nobody would've imagined the defenders of Squirrel Village to be such sadists. Not only did they cut off the mountain path, they even set up such a savage trap that took out more than two hundred of the finest men of the Canasian nobles in a single night. The psychological pain from losing all those men almost made them vomit blood. They had thought that their night attack was a guaranteed success. The reason they doubled down by sending their finest men ahead was the promise of spoils and reward, namely, the famed muskets and equipment of the Aueran military...