Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 255
The forces of the Canasian nobles were stuck before the turn for four whole days without making any progress. They had thought their night attack would definitely work. Little did they know, the enemy was prepared for them. They had cut off the mountain path and dug a deep hole in its place into which 200-odd elite warriors fell and ended up down the valley. When the nobles sent someone to seek them out the next morning, they only managed to save near fifty heavily injured survivors.
That wake-up call gave the nobles a reality check. If they wanted to raid and get rich, they would have to cross the turn to reach the three southern prefectures and defeat the enemy at Squirrel Village. It was too bad their efforts for the past four days have been completely useless. They weren't able to approach the camp at the village at all. Apart from incurring another 600-odd casualties, they did nothing but find out that there were more of those hole traps along the mountain path.
There was no way they would be able to fill up the holes. It was one thing that the holes led straight down to the valley beneath and didn't have an underside to hold any rock or earth thrown into it, they didn't have the workers to fill it up even if they wanted to. The moment they peeked out of the turn hauling rocks on their back, the enemy would use them for target practice. One after another would fall to the booming musket shots.
The only time they could take advantage of was the night when the enemy's accuracy was greatly decreased. But the nobles found another problem that would set their plan back. They needed light for work to go on, or they wouldn't be able to see clearly either. But fires would no doubt help guide enemy fire. The fire would allow the enemy as much as them to see in the dark.
The mountain path was already narrow to begin with, especially at the turn. A lot of people was required to transport any wooden boards to the hole to cover it up. However, the enemy attacked them as they transported the wood there, causing the wooden board to fall down to the valley and around ten-odd casualties.
The second time, they tried to transport the board without any light during the night. However, the front few misstepped and fell down the ravine along with the wooden board, much to the ire of the supervising nobles. Most of the hard work they had been up to during the night had gone to waste. But they had no choice. The subjects that were transporting the wooden boards weren't nearly as well-fed as the nobles. It was already fortunate if they could have enough to fill their stomachs. As a result, most of the subjects suffered from some form of night blindness, which made their complete inability to navigate in the night not the least bit surprising.
In the end, Baron Kunrona suggested that they use some wood to make some ladders instead. First, they would have their men crawl through the turn in the dark and lay a light ladder over the hole before covering it up with smaller wooden boards. Even though it wouldn't be nearly as firm as a solid wooden board, it was at least feasible.
Count Krilaus organised another night attack and picked out a hundred elites from his subjects and guard. The other nobles also gathered another hundred. The 200 warriors who could see at night once more launched their assault against the camp. But before they took more than forty steps, the road ahead of them collapsed into yet another hole.
Fortunately, only some thirty men fell into the hole. The last few only did so because they were unable to stop in time. Fortunately, this hole didn't connect to the valley below. It was merely a large and deep hole, or at least, that was what it looked like from above. It actually had countless sharpened wooden stakes within that either killed or heavily maimed those who fell in. Their cries for help and pain mingled together in a ghastly cacophony and the smell of blood wafted throughout.
The silver moon happened to show its face, revealing the true nature of the terrifying trap to the warriors that were just beyond it. The 30-odd men who fell in were pierced through and through by sharp branches and wooden spears. One of them even pierced through three to four corpses like a fish skewer. The poor fellows were still twitching even after they were impaled, trying in a futile attempt to dislodge themselves from the stakes.
The smell of blood got heavier and heavier, but the cries for help slowly subsided. Some of the warriors' minds crumbled at the hellish sight and turned tail and ran, causing the others to follow. The soldiers at the camp fired nonstop at them and only some twenty men survived.
Not another noble brought up attacking during the night. Beyond the turn was a stretch of 300 metres, all enemy turf. Now that they had discovered two traps halfway, who knew how many more awaited them? Braving enemy fire to continue laying ladders over the trap holes would come at a startling cost. At least half of their four thousand troops would have to be paid as toll to reach the camp. The worst part was that they had to continually be shot at without being able to counterattack in the slightest.
In four days, the Canasian nobles lost some eight hundred men, nearly twenty percent of all their forces. If they continued to stack up casualties, the rest of the disorderly peasants would no doubt crumble. They had joined to make themselves rich from the spoils in the three southern prefectures, not to be sacrificed at Squirrel Village.
On one hand, the nobles were trying to suppress their own forces and comfort them to prevent anyone else from deserting. On the other, they placed their hopes on the Askilinian nobles so that they would conquer Squirrel Village soon and bring them out of this predicament. However, the informant they sent returned that night itself and came with the news that the Askilin forces were ambushed by the enemy and suffered heavy casualties. Just like them, they were also held back on the mountain path.
The Askilinian nobles only took around a thousand men with them. They left a day later than Canasians. It was worth noting that most of the thousand were members of the nobles' private forces and armed with muskets and four light-infantry cannons, the one Major Lederfanc provided to Claude. They were pretty well armed.
But unlike the Canasians, the Askilinian nobles strictly adhered to military doctrine and sent out a tent of scouts a kilometre ahead. Per Claude's instructions, Dyavid's unit set up an ambush and wiped out the tent of scouts in its entirety.
By the time the rest of the troupe of the Askilinian nobles arrived, they were greeted with the sight of ten or so scout corpses laid out in the open. The guns and other valuables on them were completely stripped clean. Even the nobles were enraged by it, they knew that the enemy didn't retreat and instead took the initiative to attack them. They raised their guard before they proceeded.
After collecting the corpses, they sent another band to scout ahead at a distance of half a kilometre from the rest of the troupe. Dyavid saw that the enemy had changed their marching strategy, so he made some changes to his ambush layout. He had his men team up in groups of three and camp by the roadsides. They would retreat immediately after firing a volley to not allow the enemy the slightest chance to retaliate.
The guerilla method he employed gave the Askilinian nobles hell. This time around, their enemy no longer targeted scouts exclusively and would strike the main troupe at the rear from time to time. An unfortunate noble who dressed eye-catchingly and rode on his horse dandily was among the first to be shot down. All three muskets aimed at him as they fired. Two of the bullets hit the noble and shot him off his mount, killing him.
The three sneak attackers immediately turned tail and ran. The noble forces shot two volleys at them, but not a single bullet hit. In a fit of anger, they ordered a band to pursue the attackers only to fall into the trap the three attackers led them into. The three tents of men were encircled and almost completely exterminated. Had the nobles not felt that something was odd after hearing the gunshots and sent two more tents to force Dyavid's men to retreat, less than ten men from the band sent earlier would survive.
That night when they stopped to set up camp, the nobles found that they lost nearly eighty men in a single day, yet the enemy only suffered around five casualties. They felt as if they ran into an iron wall. The other nobles learned their lesson after seeing one of them killed that day. The next day, all of them changed into old military uniforms in an attempt to look like their subjects.
Within three days, the nobles only travelled less than forty kilometres along the mountain path. The ethereal ambushers were truly too dastardly. Their sudden and short-lived attacks eventually caused the casualties of the nobles to rack up to around two hundred within three days. Yet, they could do nothing to stop it as their guns were far too inferior to their enemy's. The only way they could counterattack was to get in line to fire a volley, but that in turn required their men to stand as still as targets waiting to be shot at.
The Aubass Mark 3's maximum firing range reached up to 380 metres, with 240 metres being its effective killing range. But to aim properly, one had to be within 100 to 120 metres of the target, otherwise the bullet would drift.
That the nobles using volley fire to retaliate was just as Dyavid predicted, and he made sure to take advantage of it. Each group he sent to mount a sneak attack would be backed up by two other groups nearby. The moment the enemy got in line and prepared to fire a volley, the two backup groups would aim at them and shoot the still targets. As long as they could stabilise their guns properly, they would still hit one out of two times from 200 metres away.
It was a really awkward predicament to be in for the Askilinian nobles. It wasn't that they didn't have any way to deal with the guerillas at all. As long as they could afford to take the losses and send multiple bands to hunt the enemy down and support each other, they would eventually be able to wipe the pesky enemies out.
But not a single one of them proposed that idea. The thousand-odd men remaining were all their households had left. No noble was willing to sacrifice all their men and hoped that someone else would volunteer in their place. Over the three arduous days, they began to hope that the Canasian nobles could capture Squirrel Village so that the enemies that kept sneak attacking them would retreat.
Dyavid's band was also incredibly sapped by the whole ordeal. They laid ambush after another over three whole days nonstop and wore themselves out much faster than the enemy. Fortunately, they were able to effectively slow the enemy's march and gain good results without suffering too many casualties. Only one unlucky soldier was sacrificed, while another eight were injured. He still had three full tents of battle-ready men, so he decided to take a day's break to observe the enemy from afar to allow his men to recover enough energy to continue the guerilla operation.
What he didn't expect was that the enemy stopped moving and remained within the camp they set up the last night. It was the same the next day. He found it to be quite weird, so he sent someone to notify Claude about it in hopes to find out what was going on.
Claude was woken up by Myjack right after he fell asleep. He had been burning the midnight oil over the past few days due to the night attacks and only managed to sneak some sleep in during the day. The Canasian nobles only attacked during the night, save for a few times they tried during daylight. They were all too aware that attacking in broad daylight would only get their men shot down. But after they found the traps that lay ahead of them, they stopped trying so hard during the night as well.
The reason Myjack woke Claude was the retreat of the Canasian nobles. He could see them travel back the way they came from his window. Using his telescope, he saw the farmers and herders dragging themselves along with heavy and sluggish steps.
The soldiers in the camp cheered loudly. The sight of the retreating enemies was a motivating one indeed. Despite the overwhelming numbers, they managed to stop the enemy at the turn and didn't lose even a single man.
After receiving Dyavid's report, Claude wasn't too surprised. Perhaps the Askilinian nobles received word of the retreat and stopped to reconsider their options. If Claude was lucky, the other troupe would choose to retreat as well. He would've successfully defended Squirrel Village if that were the case.
But the next day, Dyavid sent another urgent correspondence to Claude which shocked everyone. The Canasian nobles hadn't retreated. Instead, they made their way to the mountain path the Askilinian nobles travelled on. Their armies had already gathered.