Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 281

Count Krilaus' castle stood on flat land, so its walls were higher than most, at some six metres. They were constructed of stones harvested from nearby quarries. The castle grounds were split into three baileys. The one into which the main entrance opened contained the barracks, armoury, stable, and a central yard for training. The next bailey along contained the warehouses and storehouses. The resident lord's audience hall and office were there as well, which was also where the keep stood. The third bailey was behind the keep, the furthest from the main gate. It could only be accessed through the main keep, by passing through the family quarter, and contained nothing but the family garden and a small pond.

The castle had been under constant construction for the last eighty years. Three generations of the family had been born whilst construction was still ongoing. It had only recently been completed, and the count had been planning another round of construction and expansion which he'd hope to start in several more years.

Neither the count, nor any in his family, had ever dreamt they would eventually have to besiege their own castle, and with hired hands, no less. The count had little choice, however. His entire levy had been wiped out in the village fire in that damned mountain pass. He would have no men if he didn't hire mercenaries. And he'd not had enough time to do so before the enemy started marching on his lands, so he had no choice but to abandon his castle.

He was back now, however, thanks to Duke Canas' promise of support. And he'd been struck by the fortune that his enemy only had a single tribe, and they'd split themselves between four castles as well! The easier the siege the better, as, while the duke had given the count some of his cavalry to help with any fighting, they were forbidden from being used in sieges, that, the count had to handle with his own men. This was also his last chance to save his family. If he failed this time, the duke would strip him of his title. While he could not be cast out of the peerage, a peer without land was no peer at all. He would have the title of count only nominally.

The duke hadn't agreed to the nobles' request to deploy his army wholesale, he agreed to give them each a line of light cavalry, with the caveat of them not being involved in sieges, of course.

He and his peers had immediately gathered up whatever wealth they had managed to bring with them, and hired as many swords as they could, then marched them right back up the road they'd come. It turned out their haste had been a wise choice, as their enemy had yet to receive reinforcements. The first reports they'd received also made them very happy. Their lands appeared to have been completely depopulated.

For each, and for Count Krilaus in particular, this was good news, as it meant all the elderly and sickly they'd left behind had been dealt with and would no longer burden them.

It wasn't all sunshine and roses, however. The enemy had realised what was going on after the initial clashes and had pulled back to the family castle with all their men.

He had an intimate knowledge of that castle and its defences. There was no taking it with even four times the defender's numbers. He would have to either starve them out, or pummel the castle down using cannons. Neither option was ideal, but there truly was no other choice. The count's father had besieged a well-defended castle many decades earlier. His force outnumbered the enemy ten to one, but six months into the siege, and despite their best efforts, the castle still stood. They gave up about a year in, and withdrew.

That result had been obtained with superior strength and manpower. Now, however, they were far inferior to Claude's veteran, professional soldiers. Who knew how many men it would take to win?

While three Aueran corps, including the elite Bluefeather, had just been wiped out in the Triumph in Canas, the nobles were more than aware that the seven Canasian cavalry corps and the two Nasrian corps suffered heavy casualties despite their victory. They were effectively incapacitated. While Duke Canas sent his other two light-cavalry corps to the Great Plains and the border of Askilin, it was only for show. He privately gave the order to retreat the moment the enemy showed signs of counterattacking. They were not to engage the enemy at all costs.

That was also the reason the duke only sent one line of troops to aid with the reclamation. He couldn't afford to send out any more. He found that he almost traded four corps of his own for the defeat of the three Aueran corps. He didn't mind the three newly formed cannon fodder corps he lost since they were made to be expendable in the first place. But the corps of elite light-cavalry troops he lost in the final encirclement of Bluefeather pained his heart greatly.

Nasri's two corps didn't fare any better. The standing corps lost a third of their forces. The Alliance had nine corps against three on the open plains where the enemy didn't have anywhere to take cover. While they managed to exterminate the enemy, they found that they suffered far heavier casualties than the enemy in total. The battle could even be considered a joke.

The nobles that were aware of that didn't dare to recruit soldiers themselves to besiege Count Krilaus' castle. They knew that the ragtag bunch like the ones they recruited to attack Squirrel Village was no match for properly trained Aueran soldiers. While the enemy wouldn't have tricks and traps at their disposal, they did have the impregnable castle and a whole tribe of men defending it. It wasn't a war between fellow nobles and their amateur forces. Only a proper army could face off against another.

That was why they brainstormed and came to the conclusion to borrow Askilin's corps and Duke Rimodra's new forces. No matter what, they were still proper armies of the two nations. Not only would it be proper to let them lay siege on the castle, they were also far more reliable in combat.

But Duke Rimodra's asking price was high. The duke that had lost his duchy seemed almost insane and gave an astronomical price. He said that they could take all three lines of his, but he would have to be in charge of their supplies and food.

The nobles paled from that thought. They would be completely bankrupt from that. Feeding three lines was no easy endeavour. If the siege was dragged on, not only would they be unable to reclaim their fiefs, they would also have to go begging for food. Duke Rimodra obviously wanted them to carry that burden.

So, the nobles went to the one in charge of Askilin's forces, who was far more reasonable. Askilin's forces were not faring that well lately anyways; they were treated rather poorly by those higher up. While the Alliance promised to foot half of their military bill, they lost control over their own fates and were at the whims of the Alliance.

While the war had lasted nearly four whole years and the fronts of Nasri and Canas were in desperate of soldiers, Askilin's nobles were no fools and knew that the remaining corps was the only thing left they could rely on. They weren't willing to let them take the role of cannon fodder, causing them to be looked down upon by the high officials of the Alliance, who worsened their treatment over time.

It didn't take long for the nobles of Askilin and Canas to click and align their goals. The nobles of Canas required a force to reclaim their fiefs by besieging Count Krilaus' castle. The Askilin nobles, in contrast, needed allies on their side and a way to make a quick buck to sustain their army. They soon came to an agreement. Askilin would send a line of infantry to aid the Canasian nobles' reclamation of their land.

Askilin's noble officers were really confident in the capabilities of their infantry line. They had been put through the whetstone of true battle against the Aueran forces at the border of Rimodra, after all. Though they were fighting mostly defensively back then, they did manage to deal lots of casualties to the Aueran forces. With there being only one tribe of enemies defending the castle, sending a line of experienced soldiers was arguably a little overkill.

The nobles of Askilin optimistically said that they would be able to conquer the castle after suffering two tribes of casualties at most, and they were being really generous to overestimate the enemy's capabilities.

It was day two since the enemy forces arrived outside the castle. When the two lines of enemy troops arrived, Canas' line of light cavalry split into four tribes. Three of them were posted on all three sides of the castle while the last one was sent to the mountain pass. They were obviously trying to choke the troops in the castle slowly. They didn't need to even attack the location Moriad's band was defending. All they had to do was make sure reinforcements or supplies couldn't be transported to the castle.

The line of Askilinian infantry, on the other hand, went into the settlement to collect wood and fell trees in the forest nearby after they set up camp. They built shield carts and siege ladders all the way to midnight before the horn to rest was blown. Dyavid confidently proposed to be allowed to bring some men with him for a sneak attack outside the castle, but Claude shot it down after some consideration. The enemy had just arrived and there was no way they would be so careless from the get-go. Either they had lookouts during the night or they were trying to bait them into attacking.

As the enemy troops only stopped to rest that late into the night, they didn't launch an attack first thing the next morning. They only launched a probing attack during two in the afternoon with the aim of testing out the firepower of the castle defences. They sent a clan of men out. They used the settlement's buildings as cover before they charged out from the streets with the intent of pushing their shield carts to the foot of the castle. With the cover afforded by the shield carts, they wanted to attempt sniping the enemy on the walls.

While the idea was sound and appropriate, there was one mistake: they didn't take into consideration the fact that 1st Ranger Tribe was among the first units to ever use precision shooting.

"Should we destroy these shield carts with the cannons?" Skri asked.

Claude shook his head. "There's no need. The enemy only sent a clan of men and their shield carts are there to test out our firing range. Let them approach. We'll return fire with some of our finer-shooting men. Have the others hide behind the walls to help with reloading. The enemy's precision-shooting muskets can't compare to our Aubass Mark 3s and have an even shorter firing range. The moment they are close enough to our walls, they'll be target practice."

Only the front walls of the castle faced the entrance of the settlement. While a trench was dug in front of the castle, it wasn't filled with water and wasn't deep either. Only two of the other three walls had a small entrance with a metal door, but the doors were only one-metre wide and sandwiched between two protruding wall sections. So, attacking the front entrance would prove to be the most effective. All they had to do was cross the trench and destroy the large doors to enter the castle.

However, the attackers didn't bring with them wooden boards to lay over the trench, nor did they bring any siege ladders. They were obviously just trying to test out the defenders' firepower.

Claude was also doing his share of shooting. Even though the enemy had shield carts, they would occasionally expose a body part carelessly. The soldiers knew to fire at those parts, causing one enemy after another to fall in pain and killed by a follow-up shot.

There were only eighty short metres between the castle and settlement, yet the enemy left some thirty corpses there. When the shield carts stopped in front of the trench, they raised their muskets to launch a counterattack. An epic shootout took place and the walls were filled with white smoke that made aiming even harder.

Some six metres away from Claude, a soldier with half his body exposed was shot through the head and collapsed on the ground like a ragdoll.

Claude roared, "Watch your cover, don't expose your body! Switch places after every shot! Don't stay in one place the whole time!"

There were too many new recruits. Even those who could shoot well still paled when it came to battlefield experience. They didn't know how to effectively protect themselves and often forgot about their safety. That soldier just now wanted to get a clearer view and exposed himself, only to have his head splattered all across the ground.

Claude noticed where the enemy was hiding: between the wheels of the shield cart. The soldier put down the gun on the ground and reloaded. While slow, he hid himself well and was hard to spot from the walls.

Myjack handed him a loaded gun and Claude went to another battlement before he started aiming. While the enemy could hide himself by squatting down to reload, he had to straighten his body before aiming. As expected, the enemy rested his back on the shield cart's wheel when he was done reloading and searched for a target on the walls in a kneeling position.

Claude pulled the trigger, causing the slow match to press into the flash pan with a fizzle. The stock of the gun shook as a puff of white smoke excited the gun barrel. Blood spurted out of the left eye of the foe as he soundlessly collapsed and slipped off the wheel onto the ground.

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