Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 352

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War in this era was like playing chess. The biggest mistake Shiks made was to pick a fight with the champion of the previous competition whilst having not contested a match in decades. They were naturally defeated. They refused to surrender, however -- the spoil sports -- and pushed back. They went in nearly triple or nothing, and got nothing.

Confidence is not the same as ability.

Shiks may have believed they could use five corps to take all seven Aueran colonies. But they had no way of dealing with Ranger and got a wake-up slap instead. Two more corps were wiped out even faster than the first two. Faced with such a loss again, they became deeply doubtful of their ability and that of their enemy.

Their scouts rarely made it back alive and those that did didn't ever have new information. Their informants in the enemy capital were luckier, however. They brought information regarding the force that had dealt them two serious defeats. They were apparently a new mobility-focused force under the direct command of the king. They were called Ranger. They had been just a folk when they'd arrived on Nubissia, but had since been expanded to a full corps. They'd also overseen the formation of two new colonial corps.

The Shiksan corps hadn't bothered to learn anything about their enemy before marching across the border. It had cost them dearly. Their wargames had assumed Ranger could be worth no more than a corps, at best. They'd instead worried more about the two new colonial corps. They'd believed that even with the three corps, they'd still be woefully short of a fair fight. Their initial breeze through Cromwell had seemed to confirm their suspicions. They'd paid with Tanya and Kujoa for their arrogance.

Wicklan, Cybok, and Faybort looked into the reports they had received on Ranger before the campaign and finally realised how badly they'd underestimated the corps. They'd beaten even the royal guard, which had centuries of history behind them, even before they'd gained any actual combat experience themselves.

If they were the royal guard's equals at least, then they were more than a match for the two now-extinct corps. Shiks had not considered them a serious threat, however, and they had realised their mistake too late for Tanya and Kujoa.

Although the realisation brought several new problems to light, the remaining corps' commanders breathed sighs of relief. It was better to know your enemy was a worse threat than you'd thought than to remain blissfully ignorant of their true strength. One good thing their realisation told them, however, was that the enemy had won thanks to their numbers and battle strength, both of which were now severely reduced thanks to their losses. Not enough to make them an easy fight, but enough that, if the three corps stuck together, they would be no more than an equal.

Wicklan, Cybok, and Faybort had no choice but to nestle together on the bank of Dorinibla. They could not push through the river while the enemy remained on the opposite bank, however, and so they sat in a stalemate.

When their supply convoys from the rear were attacked and unable to deliver information to the main camp, they sent out a combat folk to counter Ranger, but only a few hundred light cavalrymen returned. When the enemy light cavalry showed up near their camp, they finally realised they'd been led into yet another trap.

The wisest choice was to retreat. If they watched each other's back, they could pull back to Wickhamsburg. If they could make it safely behind the port city's walls, they could plan their next move carefully.

No one dared suggest a retreat, however. Whosoever proposed such a humiliating move after they'd already had to do that once at the hands of the same force, would be committing career suicide. No ambitious man valued anything higher than his career, and so no man was willing to sacrifice his career for this. And this was if all they were to suffer was the death of their career. If the grand strategists back in Shiks decided they'd misjudged the situation and ordered an unnecessary retreat, they'd lose far more than their career, and they'd not be the only ones to suffer for it. Their entire family might be kicked out of the nobility, and they might even end up in a labour camp or in the gallows.

They'd rather wait for the enemy to attack and hope to fight their way out, even if it meant they had to lose half or more of their men. A glorious fight out of a desperate situation would vindicate their courage and turn a cowardly retreat into the miracle work of a brave warrior and keen leader of men.

Their enemy refused to oblige them, however. They appeared content to stare at them over the river. That couldn't be allowed. Command decided they would send out smaller units to bait Ranger into attacking and slowly increase their numbers to escalate the engagement into a full battle. Ranger didn't fall for it, however. Command convened once more to discuss the matter. They couldn't send their troops too far from camp. There was little point in throwing away their manpower if it wouldn't get them a grand battle.

They decided to send out a light-cavalry line to clear out the annoying scouts. Unfortunately, the moment their cavalry chased the scouts a little further away than they had planned, more scouts popped out of nowhere and cut off their retreat.

Had the main Shiksan force not immediately sent out another unit to rescue the half of their men still alive at that point, they would have lost all four thousand. The moment the enemy light cavalry noticed more enemies coming, they let the surrounded cavalry go.

Command could do nothing but count the seconds to their doom. They knew better than anyone that even though their supplies could last a month, or more if they started rationing them immediately, they could do nothing once they ran out.

They had tried sending out forces to re-establish their supply line but the minor force was attacked and ambushed by the enemy. The three corps could conduct a united retreat, but none of the officers was willing to take responsibility for that. In their dilemma, one strategist came up with a complete and ingenious plan. According to his analysis, Ranger and the other colonial corps had men hidden all around the three Shiksan corps to monitor their camp. Given the camp's tight defences, the enemy didn't have an opportunity to attack, so the two sides ended up in a stalemate.

Since Ranger and the colonial corps were in Balingana, that meant that the other side of Dorinibla River, Robisto, wouldn't be that strongly defended. In fact, it might just be hollow. It was entirely possible that the other Aueran colonial corps that had suffered quite a few casualties were stationed there to defend it.

In other words, if the three Shiksan corps could cross the river, they would regain the initiative on the battlefield. They could block the Aueran forces on the other, more desolate side of the river and the three corps would be free to roam the other Aueran colonies and occupy them completely.

As for Ranger and the colonial corps, they wouldn't be able to gain logistical support from the rear within Balingana due to their own scorched-earth tactics. As long as the three Shiksan corps could cross the river and cut off their enemy's supply line from Robisto, the enemy would be left with no choice but to surrender.

It was a plan that could turn the whole situation around and give the Shiksan corps a chance to play an active role on the battlefield instead of passively watching the enemy scouts from their camp without being able to attack. There was only one problem: how would they take three corps across the river?

Dorinibla River was the largest river on Nubissia. The widest parts could be as far as two kilometres and the narrowest parts were 600 metres apart. On average, the width of the river was one kilometre. Unfortunately, the opposite bank of the point at which the three corps set up camp was 1.6 kilometres away and the current was strong. If the Shiksans wanted to make floating bridges to cross, they would have to look for a better crossing point.

The downside to doing that was it was entirely possible for Ranger to notice their intentions and make preparations for them on the other side of the river. They could even cross first to set up an ambush and attack them mid-crossing. Doing so would completely derail the three corps' plans and they would fail horribly instead of managing to make the crossing.

The ideal method was to keep the three corps untouched to mislead Ranger. They would leave Seaking in charge of bringing them across. If Seaking was deployed in full force, it would be able to breach the defences of Port Patres at the point Dorinibla River connected to the ocean. That way, Seaking could sail against the river's flow to where the three corps were camped and easily transport them across.

Not only would that be beyond the enemy's expectations, Seaking could also seal up the river and prevent Ranger and the colonial corps from crossing it to reinforce the rest of the Aueran forces on the other side.

That was the best plan they could come up with thus far. The deciding factor of their success or failure in this colonial war was whether Seaking could breach the lockdown enacted by Port Patres. The officers also knew that if they went with the plan, Seaking would bear full responsibility.

If this battle failed, Seaking would be held accountable for it. If they couldn't breach Port Patres to clear the river mouth, what would be the point of all the investments in the fleet?

The three brave corps of the kingdom, Wicklan, Cybok and Faybort, hadn't yielded against the terrifying enemy that wiped out Kujoa and Tanya and kept on fighting regardless of their casualties and ended up in a stalemate. However, they saw a ray of hope for victory in their new plan. If Seaking refused to take part in it, they wouldn't be able to turn things around. In that case, it was clear who bore the most responsibility for the loss of the battle. The Shiksan officers from the three corps wouldn't be blamed for it at all.

And so, in the eagle message they sent to Seaking at Port Vebator containing their plan, the high-ranking officers stressed the importance and urgency of the operation. Then, they sealed the doors of their campsite and no longer launched any attacks as they waited for Seaking's arrival.

During the 1st month of Year 587 of the Sacred Light Era, Balingana got a rare and brief respite from war, as if it was celebrating the coming of the new year. Even though it was the frontlines of the war, little to no gunshots could be heard.

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