Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 343
Push and Pull
The river water was bone-chillingly cold. It would be impossible to cross the river during such a season.
Being the largest river in Nubissia, Dorinibla River was incredibly wide.
After spending two days' time, Berklin only managed to find a spot some ten kilometres upstream the enemy's security camp where the river water was slower and seemed easy to cross. However, the other side of the river seemed to be around a kilometre apart. Nobody knew how long it would take for one to be able to make it to the other side. Additionally, there was no boat or fishing folk nearby. They would have to prepare their own vessels with which to cross the river.
Claude asked the civilians in Ferro about it and some residents who came from Jinkle told him that the enemy's security camp and two floating bridges weren't constructed by them. They had been there all along and used to be the only place from which the river could be crossed in Balingana. The reason the floating bridge was constructed there in the first place was that the river was most narrow at that part, being about 600 metres wide, and the flow of the water was gentle and wouldn't affect the floating bridge much.
That place used to be where the ferry docked. However, each ferry trip took at least an hour. Eventually, some wild-bull merchants decided to gather a sum of a thousand gold crowns to build a floating bridge to make it more convenient for the bull carcasses to be transported to the other side. Not long after the bridge was fully constructed, the Shiksan troops came and crossed the bridge to attack Jinkle before heading on to Brikaman.
It was no wonder the floating bridge across Dorinibla River wasn't marked in any of the kingdom's maps. They only specified a ferry station there and Claude had thought that the enemies were the ones who built the bridge. While knowing how it came about well and good, the problem of how Tribe 131 could cross the river still remained.
An old man from Jinkle suggested that they use wooden goatskin rafts. The goatskin didn't mean that the rafts were wrapped entirely with them. Instead, they were goatskin floats the size of basketballs suspended at the bottom of rafts to provide buoyancy. Each raft was about six square metres wide and required around 25 of those goatskin floats and could allow ten adult men to cross the river at once.
The old man said that when the first settlers arrived, they used such goatskin rafts to go hunting wild bulls on Albator Plains and started the bull industry Balingana was famous for. As the industry developed, the kingdom decided to colonise Balingana properly.
But when the ferries came, goatskin rafts were relegated to history. Now that the ferry dock was in the hands of the enemy, Claude had to try to use goatskin rafts to make his crossing. Making them was rather simple as the materials were available and didn't need to be processed, but the old man did mention on flaw they had: they were slow and not really balanced.
The support band of Tribe 131 finally had a place to shine. The carpenters and leathersmiths soon made prototypes of the rafts according to the old man's descriptions and made incremental improvements to them. Claude also personally participated in the testing of the rafts at Dorinibla River. He found that they could work and ordered even more of them to be made. They would cross the river in one go to accomplish their surprise attack.
On the 9th of the 12th month of Year 584, Claude took two clans of men across Dorinibla River using goatskin rafts.
The reason he only took two clans of men with him to attack the enemy camp was the reports he received from Berklin, who was sent across in advance to scout the area out. The enemy's security near the floating bridges was really lax; there was less than a tribe of men there. The camp was also packed full of supplies and materials for the repair of the bridges waiting to be shipped across. While Claude wasn't completely confident he could take the entire camp, he was certain he could burn the whole place down, so two clans of men were enough.
Additionally, the two clans of Tribe 131 that remained had to set up a defence line on the other side of the bank to prevent the enemy from conquering the crossing point Claude and the others used after seeing the fire break out. Should that come to pass, it would be over for them and they wouldn't be able to make it back. Additionally, they couldn't bring their mounts across the river, so without their mobility and logistics support, they would be waiting for their demise.
The crossing point of the river was upstream some 17 kilometres away from the floating bridges and security camp. Claude and the rest spent a whole morning to cross the river. They would march on after a short rest. At six in the evening, they finally reached the spot a kilometre away from the enemy camp, found a spot, and began their rest. They would start their operation at ten at night so as to approach the enemy camp without making a sound.
As Berklin had described, the enemy's security truly was lax. The lookouts at the entrance of the camp were snoring away while hugging their muskets and no soldier could be seen on duty atop the lookout towers nearby. The bonfires some 20 metres away from the camp weren't even lit, making it extremely easy for Claude and his men to make their way to the camp.
He pointed at the lookouts at the camp entrance and made a cutthroat gesture. Myjack nodded and took Gum with him, speeding towards the lookouts. Soon, the sleeping guards could be seen slowly being laid down to the ground from the illumination of the moonlight and the fires from within the camp. Myjack pushed the entrance gate and poked his head in for a look before waving for Claude to come.
They would first begin their slaughter silently. There were many sleeping enemy soldiers within the camp who would never again wake up to the light of day. But soon, some of them realised their camp was under attack. Gunshots, cries and shrieks rang throughout as a commotion brewed within.
"Let there be fire," Claude ordered.
One burning torch after another was thrown into the tents, warehouses, stables, and straw piles. Light and smoke rose towards the sky. The commanding officers of the enemy rushed out of their tents and blew their whistles.
"Don't panic! Regroup around us!"
Right after that, a gunshot from the darkness rang out. Soon, the brave and responsible officers were felled one after another and the soldiers that gathered scattered in all directions like aimless flies as they cried out in panic, further adding to the atmosphere of terror.
Claude ordered his men to ignore the soldiers that escaped the camp. Their orders were to eliminate all enemies that resisted in the camp and burn anything that could be burnt. The attack progressed much faster than Claude expected and the enemy didn't seem intent in the slightest to regroup and resist. The only more dangerous moment was when an officer led ten-odd of his men to bring out a light-infantry cannon out of nowhere to establish a simple defence line.
It was too bad that before the cannon could be loaded, the attackers found out about their intentions. Needless to say, the officers and the soldiers around him fell off their horses following each bang. They lost their chance to turn the situation around.
Claude came to the riverbank near the camp. Two long floating bridges that stretched to the other side were before him. There were also four ships docked at the bank filled with wood and rope. The gunshots at the rear of the camp had stopped and the enemies that remained had probably fled the burning camp. As the fire grew, one thing was for certain. Claude and his men would no longer be able to return to the other side using the route from which they had come.
"Gather your units and make a headcount. Myjack, scatter oil over the wood piled up near the floating bridge and burn them. Captain Moriad, Captain Andruk, bring your men aboard the ferries and unload all the wood onto the floating bridges or the shore. We'll leave here by ferry," Claude ordered immediately.
Those on the other side of the river had noticed the fire and many people gathered at the riverbank. With the light the fire gave off, they were able to see the sight of Claude and the other attackers throwing torches all over the place clearly. The floating bridges and the woodpiles started to burn. The fire quickly spread to the surrounding areas.
As the camp burnt down, the four ferries could be seen sailing upstream. The embers that rose from the fire occasionally fell into the river water around the ferries and let out sizzles. From time to time, explosions could be heard from the camp, probably due to exploding gunpowder.
"Push harder!" Gum yelled, instructing the soldiers with the punt poles to push the ferries away from the burning shores. It was a bad time to raise the sails as they could be easily set alight. "Those at the side, quick, start rowing using the wooden boards! Those without boards, get buckets and douse water on the deck and cabin! Move faster!"
The wind from the other bank brought with it the curses of the enemy.
Myjack quietly approached Claude and said, "Sir, I think the enemy will easily discover our crossing point if we go straight there like this..."
"No worries. We've already destroyed their camp and ruined their plans to repair the floating bridges. It's no big deal even if they know where we crossed from. Don't forget that the enemy soldiers on the other bank are infantry troops. They would take at least four hours to make it to our crossing point 17 kilometres away. Additionally, we had Major Schnak and two clans of men set up a defence line there. The enemy wouldn't be able to breach that easily."
Claude pointed upstream and continued, "Now, we're heading to where we crossed to burn down the goatskin rafts. We'll cross the river with these ferries. We'll get there far quicker than the enemy infantry can and by the time we get on shore, the enemy wouldn't be able to do much against us. We shall see how they plan to survive the winter after this..."
The enemy soldiers on the opposite bank actually sent out two tribes of soldiers to tail the ferries and find where Tribe 131's crossing point was. However, they were really slow and only arrived when it was nearly dawn, only to be ambushed by Scnhak's two clans of men. The enemy left behind a whole clan's worth of corpses and injured thanks to the bombardment of 18 light-infantry cannons and left without being able to fire a single shot.
When Claude got on shore with the men he took, Schnak gladly reported the results of the ambush to him. However, Claude was a little dissatisfied. "You should've ordered them to pursue on horse the moment the enemy began their retreat. Think about it. There's a stretch of 17 kilometres from here to their base. The troops they've sent out are infantry and they've been marching for the whole month only to be ambushed by you. Even if they managed to escape, they'd be filled with terror and incredibly fatigued. If you send out our men to pursue them on horseback, I doubt a single one of them would be able to return to camp."
Major Schnak was filled with regret, but Claude didn't think what he said would help much. He understood the major well. He was someone capable enough to handle most of the tasks delegated to him, but he lacked the ability to make adaptations on the fly. He was quite a stickler for the rules and it was already commendable enough for him to defend the crossing point properly.
On the 15th of the 12th month, Claude set up an ambush and sent Berklin's cavalry clan to attack the supply convoy of Krado that was still at Brikaman. They baited the only cavalry line Krado had remaining to chase them.
An hour or so later, the enemy cavalry was successfully led into a trap. The battle lasted for about two hours and only a small number of enemies managed to break out of the encirclement. Since then, the enemy had completely lost the ability to resist the highly mobile Tribe 131 and could do nought but stay cooped up behind their defences in Jinkle, watching as Claude's men roamed freely outside.
As the 40-plus-kilometre supply route had been cut off by Tribe 131, the soldiers at Brikaman had run out of ammunition and food and were no longer able to continue their siege. They were forced to retreat back into Jinkle. Brikaman, Balingana's capital, had been rescued!
The resolution of the crisis at Brikaman was like a shot of motivation for Tribe 131. They had managed to enter Balingana and take on a whole enemy corps with only a tribe's worth of men. Using rapid tactics, Claude managed to lead them and forced Krado, who had been besieging Brikaman for the past five months, to retreat. It was a wartime miracle.
Even the viceroy and high-commissioner of Balingana couldn't bring themselves to believe that Tribe 131 was really a tribe. However, Claude didn't bother to waste his time explaining it to them and only said that he hoped that they could let the Aueran civilians and the injured soldiers inside the city to retreat first. In the meantime, they should also restock on the city's supplies while they still could.
By that time, snow had already begun to fall and the temperature tanked. It was just as the Aueran settlers mentioned. While the period of snow on Nubissia was shorter than it was on Freia, it was far colder.
Claude hoped to chip away at Krado's will to fight by depriving them of winter clothing. By the time winter was over, the rest of Ranger would arrive and they could wipe out Krado once and for all.
What Claude and the rest of the soldiers in his tribe didn't expect was that on the 26th of the 12th month, some enemy ships would actually dock at the ferry dock by the river. There were three class-one triple-sail warships and six long-distance transport ships. After they docked, they began unloading loads of supplies.
Claude could only watch it bitterly. Even though the enemy lost their floating bridges, they could still rely on their ships to resupply. Claude's plan to eliminate Krado had once more been thwarted.
The enemy ships didn't only bring with them supplies. They also came with a line of escort soldiers that prevented Claude's tribe from taking them out. He could only watch as the enemy marched in broad daylight with large amounts of supplies into Jinkle.
After being resupplied, the three warships sailed along the river to the part of the bank near Brikaman and bombarded the city with their cannons for a whole day, breaking apart much of the walls facing the river, before sailing back to sea.