Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 262
Major Lederfanc took only one day to arrive at Squirrel Village. Claude had just managed to settle the captives down and made an inventory of the spoils he got from the noble army's camp. There was still much to do, such as deconstructing the camp, refilling the trap holes on the mountain paths, as well as cleaning up the village along with burying all those corpses. It all culminated in a huge headache.
The moment he saw Lederfanc, Claude was overjoyed. He dropped everything and left it to the major before returning to his room for a long slumber. Seeing Claude's bloodshot eyes, Lederfanc understood how tough it must've been to fend the enemy off and ordered the soldiers who participated in battle to get some rest. He would take charge of the captives with his band of men.
Nevertheless, youth was forgiving. Claude slept a whole fourteen hours before he next woke and emerged, fatigueless. He was completely refreshed. After going downstairs, he saw Lederfanc and a few other officers from tribe headquarters seated at the dining table in the main hall looking through the inventory of spoils. He greeted them before heading into the kitchen to get something to eat and wash up before coming back out to hear the results.
It was unfortunate that while they obtained quite a good amount of supplies, there weren't many things of worth. Most of them were food and ammunition. The food was meant for the peasants to eat, so they were the coarsest and most unrefined sort. The nobles themselves didn't need that huge an amount of fine ingredients anyway. As for the ammunition, as the standards of equipment between Aueras and the other two duchies varied too greatly, so they wouldn't be able to even make up for the amount of ammunition Claude expended.
There wasn't much cash either, with there being only a chest filled with copper coins and a small sack of silver coins, all in Askilinian currency to boot. They were worth only some 30 crowns in total. Lederfenc conjectured that those coins were for motivating the peasants. The nobles had attempted to go to raid the three southern prefectures, after all, not to trade there. So, they brought lots of soldiers with them but little to no money.
The most valuable spoils were the tents themselves, especially the nobles' tents. Most were made from high-quality leather with golden embroidery, mostly of their family crests. They had to be handed over to their superiors as proof of their achievements, however. It was a shame, since they were no doubt quite comfortable to live in.
Lederfanc pointed at a corner in the hall. "Take two bottles for yourself. You can pick one from the other stuff as a memorial of this battle. These are all collected from the nobles' tents and are among the most valuable things we got from the battle."
Claude turned to look and saw five cartons of fine wine, which the nobles brought along to enjoy during their excursion. There were only a little more than a hundred bottles in total. Beside the cartons were the weapons, clothes, and gold and silverware. Usually, officers were allowed to personally claim some of these artefacts as memorials, since submitting them wouldn't earn them more merit anyway. They would only end up in a pile of other valuables in the treasury.
He took two bottles of fine wine and an elegant shortsword. It looked to be a magic item. He had used Eye of Appraisal and saw a silver glow enveloped over the blade. He believed the sword was enchanted with Sharpen. He tried to pierce the wooden pillar nearby and as expected, it slid in easily.
"Let's go over the finer points of the battle in the report," Lederfanc said in a strict tone, "Please give detailed description wherever possible and outline all the traps and tactics you used to set fire to the village. The results are so ridiculous that most would dismiss it as made up. It's 5000 versus 170-odd men, yet you were able to exterminate more than four thousand enemies while suffering only a couple losses of your own. That is why we must make sure the report is as concrete and substantiated it can be so that people won't be able to find any loopholes in it."
"I understand." Claude nodded.
The major worked another busy week in Squirrel Village. He instructed the captives and soldiers to clear out all 2500 plus burnt bodies from the village and bury them in a marked spot. Then, he got Claude, his men and the captives to go to the defence line behind the village and the turn the Canasian nobles were stuck at to dig out all the burial spots to count the corpses before reburying them. The total number of killed enemies was 4385, as proven by the corpses.
According to the testimonies of the captives, there were another 400-odd heavily injured men who were transported back. Coupled with the 200-odd captives, Claude had indeed resisted an attack from five thousand enemy troops with only 170 men and exterminated nearly all of them. That disproportionate victory was miraculous and would mark a significant chapter in history.
Lederfanc returned with his thick stack of documents, satisfied. Not only did he have Claude's detailed battle report, there was also a count of the enemy corpses and the marked burial spots as well as the testimonies of more than two hundred captives. Some more heavily injured captives and the six unlucky nobles were also taken away, leaving behind around 130 able-bodied captives and most of the supplies. Claude would need them to rebuild Squirrel Village.
Less than three full bands remained in the village. Most of the two duchies' nobles had escaped, but they still had to regroup with their armies before they could come back. It was severely unlikely, but Claude could not afford incaution.
Aueras had been in a severe predicament in the region before Lederfranc's report. While Claude was resisting the nobles' attack, the 200-odd thousand Alliance troops in Rimodra pushed on Bluefeather's positions on the border. They wiped a third of Bluefeather off the map in just a fortnight. The corps was just barely holding on and had been forced to deploy another irregular corps.
To the east, another irregular corps was facing off against Askilin and Canas' reformed reserves. Fortunately, the two duchies' elites were in Rimodra. The ones sent against the southern prefectures were mostly greenhorns and combat virgins. While they had numbers, they lacked skill and dashed themselves against Aueras' irregular, but veteran corps.
The area with the highest tension was actually in the southern prefectures. There was always a rebellion going on somewhere and the temporary road through the Pikleit Mountains hadn't been cleared yet. Reinforcements and supplies couldn't be sent into the three southern prefectures. Lacking in manpower, the Aueran forces in the prefectures weren't able to suppress the revolts effectively, to say no less of logistically supporting the troops at the frontlines.
If Claude didn't stop the nobles, the results would be catastrophic. What little semblance of order was left would be shattered. No one doubted the whole region would burn and drown in blood.
Lederfanc was all too aware that Claude's report was just what the region's troops needed to lift their morale. It might even calm the uprisings. Many of the insurgents were incited by spies sent by those very nobles, after all.
But now that the nobles' five thousand men were actually repelled by a mere 170 and almost completely wiped out, the spies would have to reconsider how truly strong the Aueran forces were and whether they would have any future should the Aueran reinforcements arrive.
Lederfanc's worries proved to be necessary, as many weren't willing to believe the battle report after it was publicised. Many people in the three southern prefectures thought it a lie and even a joke. The officers of the three main corps of Aueras, on the other hand, believed that it was a lie devised to boost morale, a group lie which they all agreed to not expose.
Lederfanc also sent a summary of that report to frontline command through carrier eagle and the officer who received it balked in disbelief immediately. Regardless, he did submit the report to the staff. As expected, the staff officers were also infuriated at the degree of supposed exaggeration of military accomplishments among their ranks. A mere 170 men wiping out 5000 enemy troops was completely unbelievable. Were the enemies armed only with swords and spears? They submitted the report to the first-in-command on the frontlines, Prince Hansbach, and suggested that the officers responsible for that report be punished.
Prince Hansbach was incredibly busy. As the first-in-command, he was occupied with endless tasks. Ever since the rainy season ended during the 3rd month, he had never gotten more than five hours of sleep. The temporary path they paved through Pikleit Mountains had been destroyed by the floods of the rainy season. Mudslides and the slippery surface made the path completely unusable and caused the forces in the three southern prefectures to lose contact with the main force. They were truly isolated and the sudden turn of events drained the prince greatly.
Early in the 4th month, the prince ordered the royal guard and two irregular corps to push onwards. He hoped to take some pressure of the three prefectures. Hansbach officiated the manoeuvre. He hoped it would wipe 500 thousand Alliance troops off the map. He didn't think the rainy season would cripple their supply route so severely. The situation had become so dire the prince had started doubting his judgement.
If the three corps involved in the offensive were wiped out, Aueras would lose the initiative, possible irrevocably. The best result then would be another stalemate, which, whilst the best result, would not be a good one. The kingdom had more manpower than any one, or two, of its adversaries, but could not equal their total. And, while its enemies could share the losses, it took every death personally. Not to mention that everyone knew the Alliance was being supported by the powers further north, though mostly through unofficial channels. It was a useful bulwark against Aueran ambitions.
The prince didn't know the saying, 'a just cause inspires support', but he couldn't deny Aueras' imperialist ambitions. He knew that if he made a mistake and suffered a strategic loss now, the war could last several more years, if not another decade or more. The kingdom had prepared for years before this war started exactly to finish it in a timely manner. His failure would thus undo the efforts of thousands of people, an uncomfortable number of which held considerable power and influence in the kingdom.
The path through Pikleit Mountains had to be restored as soon as possible so that the three southern prefectures could be reached. That was the key to turning the tides of war. Frustratingly for Hansbach, no matter how determined he was, he wouldn't be able to teach the logistics units how to fly into the three southern prefectures. The path was successfully constructed in the first place thanks to the stiff road conditions in winter. But the rainy season weakened the loose earth around the mountains and repairs were going slowly in that state. More manpower wouldn't necessarily accelerate the pace of the repairs.
And during such a crucial time, the officers pestered the prince for a seemingly faked battle report. Did the troops in the three southern prefectures think that nobody would be able to verify the truth of the matter just because the route there was cut off? Hansbach wanted to order for the punishment of the officers involved in that report without even bothering to read it.
At that moment, his aide, Captain Skri stopped him.
"You should read the report thoroughly."
Skri didn't fear the prince's temperament, however.
"This report was sent by Major Lederfanc, and the one credited is Claude."
"Lederfanc? He's the tribesman of 1st Rangers now, right? He's a reliable and responsible man. He wouldn't defraud me. Who's Claude again? His name sounds familiar..."
The prince pondered for a long moment.
"He is one of the lower-ranked officers you wanted to note. His name and file should be recorded in that notebook of yours," the captain reminded.
He picked up a thick notebook from the prince's desk and opened it to reveal names and descriptions. The ones recorded within were those whom the prince thought to have a bright future, but many of the names were crossed out with a black line, which marked their deaths on the battlefield.
He flipped to the rear.