Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 333

"It's essential to know what you can eat and drink when you're out here. Grass roots and tree bark can fill your stomach. Even those disgusting bugs will give you enough energy to keep going. You have to know how to find clean water. If the water isn't flowing or if there are fish and other water creatures in it, don't touch it. You'll die.

"You will learn how to find food and clean water when you run out of supplies. You have to learn to tell which roots and bark you can eat and which bugs won't kill you. How to look for water when you can't light a fire to boil it. In even harsher conditions, I suggest drinking your urine rather than drinking from a questionable source."

Claude suddenly realised that if he had an elite unit of magic soldiers, he wouldn't have to go to so much trouble to train them in survival. At the very least, magic users weren't as reliant on clean water sources. They could just cast a spell to make clean water. And they would be absolutely deadly to enemy scouts.

Aueras gathered children with magic talent and trained them for the Watchers to fight foreign and rogue magi. Claude thought perhaps he could do something similar, but he was far from capable of doing it just yet, to say no less of the time and energy it would take.

131's training finished at the end of the 11th month. Claude bid his family goodbye and returned to Castle Kristo. Miselk summoned him three days later.

"I've seen the records of your training. You did well. The royal guards will do a three-month course in the 4th month. I want 131 to go against them in the war games. Can you win?"

Claude nearly fell off his seat. This was not an assignment to be tossed around so casually.

"Come on, General, Ranger is barely half-a-year old. Why on earth would the guard want to go up against us? That's just bullying."

It was all unreasonable. The royal guard had returned to the capital after the war's end and was the first to be fully manned. The war was three years behind them, and the guard had spent the entire time training. Sure, Ranger was mostly veterans, but two years of doing nothing while they waited for the unit to finish organising itself had softened their muscles and rusted their bayonets.

The guard was picking on the weak to try and win back some esteem as the supposed 'best force in the kingdom'. Claude didn't understand why Miselk agreed to that request that would bring much trouble to the folk. If they really wanted to host war games, they should at least do it a year and a half later when every unit of Ranger recovered to full combat ability.

Miselk shook his head with a pained smile and told Claude the arrow was nocked and it was only a matter of time before it was fired. The royal guard wasn't only the number-one corps in the kingdom, it was also the royal family's primary force. Ranger was the unwanted, over-eager junior.

Ranger was not a cheap force either, and the royal guard was most displeased that the tiny folk had a budget greater than them, an entire corps. The bastards had even taken one of the oldest royal guard strongholds; Castle Kristo.

"Let 131 go against the guard. We won't have a fight greater than a line and the first prince is presiding. I don't really care about win or lose; I do hope you won't be crushed too badly. We're really pressed for time and the first prince knows we're nowhere near combat ready. If you can do as good as you did back in the college, I won't have any complaints."

Claude had no choice but to accept.

The 4th month came after the rainy season.

When 131 confirmed they would be participating, the royal guard announced they weren't willing to oppress them with numbers and would match their numbers. They would only deploy two combat tribes, which equalled 131's bloated roster. Claude had wanted to curse, as it was a blatant lie. Two combat tribes had two and a half more clans than 131; 500 men more.

The schedule was also decided. Tribe 131 would face off against two royal-guard combat tribes in seven matches.

The first was 'capture the flag'. A spot marked 'A' would have a blue flag. 131 had to fight their way to it, while the royal guard would start from C. Whoever got to the flag first had to hold it for 3 days.

It was a most conventional game. They were roughly equally matched, and no side had a unit the other didn't. It would be imperative to have a thorough strategy.

If they charged the cavalry to the flag, they would have nothing with which to defend. Cavalry were the best attackers on the battlefield, but they were useless on the defensive.

That said, if they could catch the flag, they would have the advantage. Upon reaching A first and setting up a defence, they could hold their ground. Even if it ended in a siege, the defending side would suffer fewer casualties. So, this particular exercise focused on the mobility of the cannoneers and their ability to defend them. Victory would be close at hand if they could arrive at the flag point first.

Little did the royal guard know Claude wasn't planning to engage them in a siege at all. After three days of marching, 131 detoured and continued in the night, setting up an ambush on the path the royal guard would take. The royal guard's two tribes advanced and headed straight into the trap... That was the end of it. No one got to the flag, the battle ended long before anyone got even close. The referees decided no one made it out of the ambush in fighting condition.

When the exercise concluded, the guard officers accused Claude of not following the rules. They were supposed to capture the flag and defend, not go for the kill outright.

Claude simply said it would be far easier to take them down. The war was one the moment the start whistle was blown.

Prince Hansbach ruled in the 131's favour.

The second war game was called 'encounter'. As the name of the exercise suggested, the two units would run into each other on the battlefield and fight until either side lost.

This time around the two royal guard tribes had learned their lesson and advanced incredibly cautiously. They also sent out their light-cavalry clan to scout ahead of their path. Soon, they discovered the mounted scouts of Tribe 131. Half a day later, the royal guard's scouts reported that 131 had occupied a small hill and were setting up camp and their defensive fortifications.

It appeared that 131 was intent on going into a siege battle with the two royal guard tribes. The commanding officers were quite confident and said that they would teach 131 a lesson in the siege. So, they set up camp and rested well for a night to prepare for an all-out charge the next day to conquer the enemy base. Additionally, they had the light cavalrymen pay attention to the enemy camp to prevent a surprise attack during the night.

Claude did in fact plan to mount a night attack, but he wasn't going to send out the whole tribe. Instead, he mobilised only three of the most elite tents and the referee group. The scouts the royal guard sent out, on the other hand, mounted a surprise attack on the camp of 131 without paying attention to the smaller troupe of soldiers sneaking past them at the rear.

Claude's three tents of men took a large detour and circled to the rear of the camps of the two tribes and easily infiltrated them. Everything later happened as planned. The commanding officers of the two tribes were all captured, tied up and gagged with a towel. They had to be tied up, as the referees announced them dead from the ambush and dead men made no sounds. So, they obediently allowed themselves to be tied up and kept their dignity as soldiers.

The next morning as the two tribes of royal guards were preparing for battle, they noticed a few referee officers standing amidst them in the camp. They announced that half of them had been killed during the night, all of their officers were eliminated, their warehouses were burned, and even their cafeteria didn't prepare any food as all the supplies had been burned up.

Sentiments such as how it couldn't be possible for them to lose after waking up and the referees were cheating were echoed. However, the soldiers' complaints couldn't change the minds of the referees. The remaining royal guards were eliminated even when the exercise focused on direct confrontation. Even though the normal soldier wasn't convinced with the results, the officers were no fools. Tribe 131 only mobilised three tents of elite troops to infiltrate their camp. If it was a real battle, the two tribes would no doubt suffer complete defeat.

The third and fourth war games were sieges. Each side took turns to defend a castle. Claude was fortunate enough to draw the defending side in the first battle. That way, 131 could set out three days in advance to fortify their stronghold. The royal guard tribes would only begin their attack after that.

The siege lasted for five days and nights and 131 emerged victorious with a slight edge. One point of contention was Claude's use of straw scarecrows to confuse the enemy and bait them into firing while having sharpshooters counterfire at the ones that shot the scarecrows. The referees judged that the royal guard units that tried to sneak up to the stronghold were eliminated. No matter how the officers objected, they weren't able to change the referees' judgment.

For the fourth war game, it was the royal guard's turn to defend against 131's assault. The officers of the royal guard thought that this was where they could turn the tables. After experiencing the experimental tactics 131 used in their defence, the royal guard officers from both tribes confidently said that they would win. After all, they did have five hundred more men than 131 and the advantage of defending the stronghold.

But this time, they lost even faster. They didn't manage to hold on for more than half a day. Claude merely ordered his men to set fire to dried straw mixed with water, leaves, horse and dog stools and so on downwind. The smoke covered the entire stronghold and all the soldiers within coughed as they fled out of the smoke. Most of them even abandoned their muskets.

The officers of the royal guard were completely speechless.

Even though some complained that 131 was messing around, the officers with battlefield experience knew that if they really met an enemy like 131, they would be fortunate to even escape with their lives.

There were supposed to be seven war games in the training exercise, but since 131 had already won four times, the officers of the royal guard lost all their will to fight. They didn't think they'd run into someone like Claude who employed unconventional tactics like those. They lost so badly that they no longer had the face to continue participating in the other games.

And so, Prince Hansbach announced the end of the exercise as all of them wished. Claude only spent a month's time squaring off against the royal guard before returning to the main camp with the tribe.

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