Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 342

Meanwhile in Balingana on Nubissia...

On the 7th of the 11th, Year 584, Claude reclaimed Ferro by massacring the entire garrison.

On the 15th, he led his tribe in a night attack on the Shiksan forts on the banks of Dorinibla and burned two pontoon bridges, cutting the corps' main supply route. He took out the tribe guarding the forts, then ambushed and massacred another tribe sent to reinforce them.

Claude let his morale-filled soldiers attack Krado's supply base in the town of Jinkle on the night of the 19th and attempted to burn their supply stores. This assault was not as successful. The enemy had been preparing. The battle raged for eight hours. When Krado's main force marched on the town to reinforce it, Claude had to withdraw.

While the operation wasn't a complete success, they still dealt a heavy blow to the defenders. The defenders lost a whole line and most of their fortifications had been reduced to rubble. Five of their warehouses were now ash as well. The attack tied down two more lines which had to be moved in to help with reconstructing the defences.

Claude felt no joy for what they had achieved. He did not consider the loss of 352 men for a temporary gain a success. Not to mention the severe injury his dear friend and subordinate, Dyavid, had suffered. He'd only just barely survived this far, and he might yet turn for the grave.

War was the greatest teacher, and Claude had to admit he had been a slow learner. He'd underestimated his enemy because he'd gotten two easy victories. The enemy was no fool, however. They'd taken a while to figure out what was going on, but had reacted with frightening speed and precision once they had.

Claude had reflected on the battle and discovered several stupid mistakes. He'd given his men too much leeway after they broke through the first line of defence. Their enthusiasm had taken over as a result, and they'd over-extended.

They had not expected the enemy to concentrate most of their firepower in their final line. There were only a few cannons in the first three lines. The rest were hidden in houses along chokepoints.

The troops that managed to breach the third line all thought it was all the enemy had to throw at them. After they shot at the more obvious platforms in the fourth line, they charged. They were completely caught off guard by the hidden cannons. They'd been turned into paste and crimson mist just as Claude had done to so many enemies. Dyavid had gone down in the first volley.

They mounted several similar attacks elsewhere, with similar ends. There were no weak points to exploit, no shortcuts to take. They could only grind at the enemy until something gave way.

Fortunately, the men were well trained and understood they shouldn't bunch up. Most of the men were caught by the edge of the cone of death, and survived. But as their casualties grew, almost all the troops went into a frenzy. Even when Claude gave the order to retreat when he heard enemy reinforcements were almost there, many soldiers hoped to hold on for a little longer to make one last-ditch effort.

The sacrificed soldiers were all cremated while the injured were sent to Anfiston. After Claude reflected on his errors, he put himself back together. His takeaway was to never attack a heavily defended area unless he had either absolutely no alternative, or had a way to cut through with minimal casualties.

Nubissia's weather was some degrees warmer than Freia's. It hadn't begun to snow even though the 12th month was just around the corner. The weather did cool down a bit, however; the breeze often brought chills. Scouts had to be careful not to return with frozen extremities.

"Krado has lightened the siege on Brikaman, most likely because of the supply problems we caused. They don't lack ammunition or food, but I don't think their winter uniforms made it through before our attacks. I also have several reports that they have started slaughtering every animal they can find, especially sheep.

"They've stationed a line by the ruined pontoon bridges and surrounded the wooden forts with more trenches and an additional layer of walls. We also spotted between four and six barges patrolling the river. I suspect they'll start work on the bridges soon."

Their dreams of repairing the bridges would stay just that as long as Claude had a say.

Claude would never allow Krado to restore their supply lines. Winter was almost on hand and the weather was cooling. The enemy wouldn't starve and they wouldn't run out of ammunition, but without clothing he could whittle their numbers down significantly without firing a single shot. At the very least he'd trap them in their camps and forts until spring.

The need to build shelter for the winter would also force them to send parties out to cut down trees -- soft, sweet targets for a raiding force such as Tribe 131. Claude had had Moriad take three bands and harassed the parties already. It had been very successful in tying down even more men, as the enemy quickly dispatched a line to guard the parties. The guards were then baited into traps with mock assaults and ambushes that had whittled them down significantly.

Corpses streamed into their camps by the dozen every day. In less than a month they'd be short a thousand men. Save for the pontoon bridges, Claude had the entire winter to do his work. His only job was to keep Belingana's capital in friendly hands until his reinforcements arrived, every kill he got doing so was just a bonus.

Myjack stepped into the room.

"Sir, there are more than a hundred townsfolk refusing to leave with us. We also noticed some have close relations to the Shiksan officers. They probably have many young women in their households who are the officers' mistresses. I believe the enemy has noticed our attempts to encourage the townsfolk to move away and have begun to strengthen their defences."

Claude nodded.

"Forget it, then. There's no need to care of their livelihoods if they won't listen. Since there's proof of their treasonous behaviour to the kingdom, there's no need to worry about their safety."

Claude had Myjack encourage the townsfolk who hadn't left to leave for Ferro or the colonies to the rear. Since their attack was supposed to be tougher and more savage than before, it would be best for the civies to leave town.

There were still around three thousand in Jinkle after the latest round of encouragement, around five hundred households. Since war broke out, half of them escaped to Brikaman, the colony's capital, and the other half left for the other colonies where their friends and relatives were. Some left after Krado occupied the town. So far, the ones who stayed behind were those with fixed assets that would be rendered to nothing if they left.

It wasn't that Claude was really going to mount an attack. He was just worried that Krado would target the townsfolk when winter fell due to their lack of winter clothing, thereby causing them harm.

Unlike the tightly defended north part of town, the residential area the townsfolk resided in was far easier to infiltrate. The past two times Myjack went there was to advise them to leave, but after that, he got those of repute in town to be his spokesperson. The reason for that was some moles in town discovered his presence and notified the garrison forces in town about it. The enemy sent a tent of men to camp at the house of the whistleblower in anticipation of Myjack only to waste two whole days waiting.

Before getting the townsfolk to leave, Claude instructed his men to not get into a firefight with the enemy in that part of town to prevent accidentally harming them and drawing their ire to himself. Even though war on Nubissia was fought based on the unwritten rule of not harming the free citizens, there was nothing one could do about angered enemy soldiers taking out their frustrations on civilians aside from revenge.

Snow usually fell on Nubissia from the end of the 12th month to the end of the 1st month. Those days were said to be the coldest. The rainy season during the 3rd month didn't last as long as Freia's, being around ten-odd days only, and the rainfall wasn't as heavy either. But there was another half a month of rainy season from the middle of the 6th month all the way to the beginning of the 7th. That was when the rainfall was the highest.

Since the townsfolk that wanted to leave had done so, Claude no longer cared about those that remained and sided with the Shiksans. He thought for a moment and told Myjack, "Then, let's roast them alive."

Roasting required fire, and Claude wanted to burn down the south part of town where the residential area was located. That way, the enemy wouldn't be able to use the houses of the civilians for wood to stave off the cold.

Claude also wanted to try his chance at burning down their supply warehouses as well. If it worked and burned down the north part of town, then Krado, without their ammunition and supplies and winter clothing, would be fish on the cutting board. Claude could cut them open however he liked.

At ten during the night of the 27th of the 11th month, Myjack took Gum and a band of guards with him to sneak into the southern part of town. They scattered fuel all over the houses of the residents who left and set fire to the place.

Claude had the rest of Tribe 131 waiting in ambush near the north. He hoped that the fire would spread there and cause chaos among the defenders while also burning down the supply warehouses to force them to leave town. That way, Tribe 131 would be able to launch a fatal blow on them.

It was too bad that Claude's plan fell flat. Jinkle was located in the area between Albator Plains and Dorinibla River. The townsfolk used mostly rock and sand for their houses due to their better defensive properties. It was said that when the first-generation immigrants built their town there, there were many wild beasts and wolf packs in the vicinity. So, that was a factor they had to take into account.

As a result, the houses didn't burn that bright. The embers only licked at the windows and roofs instead of burning down whole buildings as if they were made entirely of wood. The stone walls were annoyingly fireproof. Had he not sprinkled them with oil, the fire might not even pick up.

As the fire grew, the residents who refused to heed their advice fared far worse than those who did. They were startled awake from their dreams and rushed to escape their burning houses and the residential area. Even though every building in the residential area was lit, the enemy forces situated at the north of town reacted quite quickly. Soldiers swarmed on the streets and tore down nearby houses to prevent the fire from spreading by making a wide and empty zone separating the residential sector. They also passed buckets of water nonstop to douse the remaining buildings that burned.

Claude's tribe could only lie flat on the ground and watch as the fires in the south of town were gradually put out. What Claude found even more agonising was the fact that the northward wind only came after the fires were mostly extinguished. If it had come two hours earlier, they could've brought the fire to the north part of town. The enemy wouldn't have been able to fireproof the place in time. All it would take was for a few warehouses to start burning and all would go according to plan.

"Let's return to camp. There's nothing else to see here." Claude shook his head and turned to Berklin. "Go to the riverbank tomorrow and see if there's a good crossing point elsewhere."

"Sir, you intend to cross the river?" Berklin asked.

"Yes. Didn't you report there being a line of garrison soldiers at the security camp on the other bank? Since it's heavily defended, we won't be able to surprise attack them like last time. Since the defences here in town are tight too, we might as well cross the river and see. At the very least, the enemy believes we won't be able to cross Dorinibla River, so the bank would only be lightly patrolled. If we can't take this place out, we can try going for their other security camp there and burn the building material they piled up. Regardless of what happens, the results will be the same. They wouldn't be able to repair their floating bridges."

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