Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 340

Three days earlier, on the 20th of the 10th month, Claude made it to Colonel Sevict's fort in the Mosraka mountains in Anfiston.

"Balingana is in far more dire straits than Robisto. Its capital's been encircled by Shiks for three months. The colony's four towns have fallen. According to our prisoners' testimonies, the enemy believes they can take Brikaman in no more than a month. Balingana will be fully conquered when it falls.

"Robisto is faring much better. The capital's defences are tight. Shiks has launched several attacks but have been driven back with high casualties each time. Apart from the three towns now conquered. The two towns still on our side of the port haven't fallen yet.

"Robisto isn't threatened from the land. The threat is at sea. Shiks' navy has sent a flotilla to work with the Pancry corps in an amphibious assault. They're bombarding the port with their shipboard cannons. The prisoners said the flotilla lost two ships. Three are damaged and have had to limp back to Port Vebator for repairs. We won that particular engagement, but Port Patres didn't come out unscathed. The docks are in ruins, and most of the wall-top cannons are rubble.

"It seems Robisto will be safe for the time being, but if Balingana falls and Krado regroups with Pancry and the flotilla... Port Patres might yet smoulder."

And so 20 days of scouting had been laid bare. Berklin had at one point led a tent behind enemy lines into the port capital to meet the viceroy, Count Farwat, and the high-commissioner, Colonel Tristed. He brought a request back with him. They desperately needed cannons if they were going to hold out.

Claude had no idea where he was going to get those cannons, however. Since the variety mounted on the walls weren't meant for field operation, they were supposed to just sit in one spot all the time, they were several times heavier than anything he had. Other things aside, only Grinosburg had any, and only four.

Even if he got his hands on some, however, he had no means of transport. He was not going to break through enemy lines and lug it overland. He would have no men left by the time he reached the city walls, nevermind cannons. The only option was by sea. That was how all the port cities in the colonies had been supplied. Port Patres had had 19 just a year ago, now it had only 7 still in operation.

If there was one navy superior to Aueras', however, it was Shiks'. They had only sent a flotilla of 20-odd ships against Port Patres, but they'd flattened the docks and half the dockside districts of the city. A quarter of the flotilla had been sunk or sent limping home, but they still had 15 ships, several of which were still anchored outside the harbor.

Claude didn't understand what the kingdom's two navies were doing. Storm excused themselves by saying they couldn't go north to engage the enemy as they had to make sure the new trade route was kept secure. Fearless on the other hand was completely invisible. Not even a shadow of a trace could be seen near the waters of the kingdom's colonies, allowing the tens of Shiksan ships to sail about unabated there.

He shook his head to refocus his train of thought.

Sevict looked around the map and said, "Lieutenant-Colonel Claude, you mean to say we should set our defence line here?"

Claude snapped back to reality and nodded.

"This is the border between the two colonies. Balingana sits on the Albator Plains and Anfiston is mostly mountainous, investing most of their development in mining. So, we can set up our defence line along Mosraka Mountains and use the terrain advantage to defend against our enemy's attacks. As long as our fortifications are proper, we wouldn't have to worry about enemies coming from Albator Plains.

"As for the area between Robisto and Anfiston, which is a good place for our enemy's corps to travel through, we have to dig trenches and erect defensive walls and strongholds to link it to our defence line. That way, we can properly defend the southern side of Anfiston. Even if both Balingana and Robisto fall to enemy hands, we can still use this defence line to hold them back."

Sevict looked at the map and looked around at the terrain from time to time and nodded. "You did choose a good place to set up the defence line. However, the workload might be a little too large and take too much time as a result."

Claude laughed. "Why would more time be a problem? We have more than enough men. The nikancha youth locked up in the towns will be what we're using to construct this defence line. Additionally, Tribe 131 also received more than a clan of captive Shiksan soldiers, right? Use them as labourers too. Trust me, their numbers will only grow."

He wasn't joking at all; it was completely true. For young officers like Moriad, war was a time to rake in merit. They suppressed the nikancha revolts per Claude's orders and reformed the garrisons in those towns, before sending out their scouts into the warzone.

Initially, it was thought that Shiks would definitely have a strong army because the nation was the hegemon of Northern Freia. However, when the scouts from Ranger had a small skirmish with enemy scouts, an unbelievable truth was revealed. Nobody would've expected the Shiksan colonial forces to be easy pushovers. They didn't have anything else apart from foolish bravery. In fact, they were even inferior to the local keepers of Aueras.

Take for example the time Berklin told Claude about his first encounter with the enemy scouts. Back then, he split his tent of 12 men into three groups of four in an arrow formation some hundred metres away from each other as they headed for Robisto. They ran into some enemy scouts when they passed through a swamp. The moment they spotted Berklin's group of four, the twelve Shiksan scouts galloped their way with blades drawn and courage mustered.

Berklin said that they were utterly panicked when they saw their enemy charging at them with such fervour and almost wanted to turn tail to run. However, they calmed down when they noticed their enemies drew their blades instead of using their muskets. They raised their own muskets, took aim, and fired when the enemy was some 70 metres away before turning tail and running without checking whether they'd hit.

However, they no longer heard any sound of chase from behind after running for a few hundred metres. They turned back and noticed that the enemy had stopped. A simple count showed that three of the four scouts charging at them were shot by Berklin's group of four, resulting in two deaths and one injury. The remaining nine enemies stopped their chase and raised their muskets to randomly fire at Berklin and the others. Obviously, their bullets flew to who-knows-where. The enemy then collected the corpses and helped their injured comrade before escaping, much to Berklin and the rest's stupor.

Since the enemy tried to run, Berklin and gang gave chase. He also instructed the other two groups following behind them to flank them from the sides. They reloaded on firm ground and mounted to begin their pursuit. The enemy, upon noticing the four giving chase, angrily sent out six riders towards them. Berklin and his men raised their muskets again and fired, hitting three of the men, before going in for a melee.

No fight broke out, they didn't even clash in close combat. The three of the six that survived immediately turned tail and ran, leaving even their injured comrade and the corpses behind. However, not one of them managed to escape. The two groups caught up with them and flanked them with their muskets raised, cutting off their escape route.

In the end, the six surviving scouts stopped their mounts, dismounted and raised both hands to surrender. Berklin was so shocked at the sight that he almost hurt his jaw when it dropped.

"Sir, I think the enemy can't even take a hit," Berklin reported, "They fight using old tactics and muskets. You can't imagine our surprise when we found that the enemy convoy escorts were armed with trumpet-muzzle muskets, the kind that can't even use a bayonet attachment. And when they discovered us and tried to attack us, the first thing they did was blow the whistle for the line formation. They wanted to use volley fire to stop us. I was completely dazed."

Berklin said they instantly got on the ground and shot the still, neatly lined-up human targets. In fact, the unit participating in that attack was a band of light cavalry that numbered less than sixty. Their target was a Shiksan logistics convoy defended by an escort numbering more than 200 men that was heading to an enemy camp outside Port Patres, but they so happened to bump into Berklin's light-cavalry band when they were on patrol.

Berklin hadn't wanted to exterminate them, only harass them some and sending them running. Yet, he didn't expect the enemy to conveniently arrange themselves into still targets for them to practice shooting. More crucial was the fact that the convoy wasn't equipped with any light-infantry cannons for defence. The enemy only managed to get two volleys out before the commanding officer giving orders from the side, probably a clansman, was shot dead by Berklin. Their troops collapsed in an instant, but they weren't able to escape the mounted scouts. In the end, more than 130 men dropped their weapons and were taken captive.

Currently, the Shiksan scouts, patrolmen, and convoy escorts Tribe 131 numbered close to 300. The light-cavalry clan wasn't the only unit that contributed to that number. The scouts the four other clans sent out also brought some captives back. Their combined assessment of the Shiksan colonial forces' combat ability was that it wasn't worth bringing up at all. Moriad said that Krado, that was besieging Brikaman, and Pancry, that was stationed outside Port Patres, were no different.

Claude decided to take Tribe 131 into Balingana first to deal with the forces threatening to take Brikaman. Though the enemy was besieging the city, their situation was far better than Brikaman's. Shiks wouldn't take the well-defended city by only relying on the weak forces of Pancry without waiting for more reinforcements.

Colonel Sevict had made it to Anfiston with Line 034 and was just in time to take over defence duties in the whole colony. Claude's tribe had set up firm foundations for that over the past month. Not only did he manage to get a grasp of the situation in Balingana and Robisto, he also managed to reform Anfiston's local garrison force and captured up to ten thousand nikancha, securing the first batch of the labour force they needed for their defence line's construction.

Apart from that, Claude also personally led units to scout out the borders of Anfiston, Balingana and Robisto and set up initial plans for the structure and location of the defence line. Colonel Sevict only had to follow the plans to be able to complete the objectives folk command gave them.

"When are you departing?" Sevict asked attentively. Compared to his task of building the defence line and training reserve forces, Tribe 131's next mission was far riskier. They had to infiltrate enemy territory to sabotage their supply points and cut off their supply and command routes, like a blade being driven deep into the heart of the enemy. They would pose a huge threat to them and buy enough time for the rest of Ranger folk to arrive.

Even though the Shiksan forces didn't seem as strong as they imagined, being so weak it wasn't worth bringing up, Claude's men still numbered too few -- less than two thousand. They were dancing on blades and could easily end up hurting themselves, given that they were up against two corps of more than 100 thousand troops.

"Two days later," Claude said, "I've ordered the various clans to gather at the mining town of Rosas. We'll set out from there."

Two days later, Claude entered the Balingana colony with Tribe 131.

At the same time, Colonel Sevict began construction of the defence line at the border with the nikancha labourers.

"Sir, what do we call this defence line?" Sevict's adjutant asked with the plans in hand. Defence lines like those had to be named for convenience of documentation, such as the approval of maintenance funds.

Sevict gave it some thought and said, "Since Lieutenant-Colonel Claude was the one who planned out and designed it, let it be called Claude Defence Line."

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