Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 353

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Claude made a long sigh and looked at the majestic Wickhamsburg from afar.

It was the 8th of the 2nd month of Year 587. After a long march that lasted more than ten days, Line 131's light cavalry tribe arrived at Cromwell's capital, Wickhamsburg, and hid themselves in the snowy wilderness not far away.

"Sir, according to our scouts, Wickhamsburg is defended by two enemy lines. One of them is the logistics line left here by Cybok in charge of supply transportation. The other is a garrison line from the Shiksan colonial forces who are put in charge of guard duty." Berklin, who had arrived earlier than the rest, made his report.

"Due to the massacre that took place during the 11th month, there are no more nikancha in the slums, so we're unable to infiltrate them.

"As the supply line has constantly been attacked, Wickhamsburg has stopped all shipments to the town of Bullhunt in Balingana. The current supply frequency to Port Vebator is twice a month. Once, I disguised myself as a lost traveller to infiltrate one of the convoys and heard from the coachman that Port Vebator's supplies are running out. Most of them have been transported to Wickhamsburg."

Claude pulled the robes on him tighter. The winter of Nubissia was far too cold. Even during the 2nd month, when the snow had begun to melt, he could still feel the chill burrowing itself through his clothes. Even with long fur pants, gloves, boots and a thick robe, standing outside for the slightest amount of time made his body jitter. Though, it didn't help that he had braved the cold winds on his way there for quite a number of hours. Riding a horse in that weather was nothing but suffering.

He stomped his feet and cursed. It simply wasn't the time to attack Wickhamsburg and sabotage its supplies in weather like this. However, orders were absolute. Miselk had personally written him an order and requested for the destruction of all enemy supplies at the end of the 2nd month so that they would lose their last bastion to end the four-month-long war.

Since the war started at the end of the 10th month last year, Claude's Line 131 had cut off enemy supply routes completely according to plan, making it so that supplies at the rear couldn't be sent to the frontlines. Even when the enemy sent out a whole line of troops as escort for the supply convoy, they were still wiped out. Either they were completely exterminated or they turned tail to run. As for the supplies, they were either appropriated for Ranger's use or burned up and destroyed. At the very least, Claude's line had gotten more than 200 new carriages picked from the finest among their spoils.

Miselk led the folk and the 1st Colonial Corps to wipe out Tanya and Kujoa, but Claude didn't participate in those battles. At that time, he was busy attacking the Shiksan supply convoys all over and accumulated a huge amount of supplies and food. Those that he had transported to the rear could supply Ranger folk and the colonial corps for up to half a year, which greatly decreased the pressure of having to procure supplies from Robisto on the other side of the river. It was a huge military achievement.

During the 12th month, the enemy learned their lesson and no longer sent only one tribe to defend their supply convoys, choosing to send a keeper line instead. Regardless, Claude gathered four tribes and landed one attack after another before completely crushing them. He took control of the foremost supply base in Balingana, the town of Lokid, and burned the town formerly famous for leather production down to the ground.

Ever since then, the Shiksans knew that they wouldn't be able to count on themselves to protect their supply convoys. All they could do was to fortify their supply towns and hope that the standing corps would send forces to them for escorts. Regrettably, the three remaining standing corps couldn't even protect themselves. They sent out a whole folk as a supply escort but even then they were consumed by Ranger whole.

A huge snowstorm raged on during the 1st month of the new year. Wicklan, Faybort and Cybok huddled by Dorinibla River to keep warm and refused to move. The supply bases in the towns no longer bothered trying to send them any resources and did nothing but defend themselves. All Line 131 could do was endure the cold winds in the wilderness of Balingana. Claude was so pissed that he wanted to conquer a town to stay out of the cold.

However, during the middle of the 1st month, Claude received an order from Miselk to burn up the supply stores within Wickhamsburg by the end of the 2nd month.

It wasn't something impossible to do. In fact, last year when the evacuation of Wickhamsburg was carried out, Claude was ordered to have a secret underground tunnel dug to connect the city to the outside just in case.

When the five Shiksan corps first set foot in Wickhamsburg, they decided to use that place as a supply hub to store the goods they received in Port Vebator. Even though Line 131 had successfully managed to cut off the enemy supply lines to the frontlines, Miselk had to prevent the war from dragging on if the three corps suddenly decided to retreat to Wickhamsburg. That would further delay the end of the war.

"Sir, we can mobilise the whole line to conquer Wickhamsburg. Why are we only burning up their supply warehouses? Their stocked-up supplies are worth a lot. We'll make it big if we are able to take them," Berklin said.

Claude shook his head. "Burning the supplies up serves to eliminate all hope the enemy has. If we conquer Wickhamsburg and take the supplies, we'll have lost the initiative on the battlefield and put ourselves in the light. We can do naught but await enemy attack under those circumstances. In other words, we'd be trading our mobility for the supplies and would have no choice but to engage the enemy to protect them too.

"While the supplies are indeed worth a lot, they aren't something we urgently need. The enemy captives have told us that they have nothing but food, winter clothing, ammunition, daily necessities and some luxuries for high-ranking officers to enjoy. Only the wine and high-class ingredients are of use to us and I believe it isn't worth trading the lives of our men for them.

"We have enough food and winter clothing, and their ammunition doesn't work with our weapons. If we conquer Wickhamsburg and keep the supplies, we can indeed sell them for a good sum after the war, but that will keep the enemy's hope burning. Before they run out of supplies, they'll definitely mount a desperate attack on Wickhamsburg to take it back.

"It isn't hard to figure out once you think about it. Our folk isn't able to stop the three corps if they want to retreat. It would take a month or so to march from Dorinibla River to this place. I'm sure the enemy supplies at the frontlines will have run out by then. Even if we have Wickhamsburg in our control, that doesn't change the fact that it's the enemy's only ticket to survival. Do you think our line will be able to resist the attack of up to 200 thousand enemies?

"Alternatively, if we burn down the supplies in Wickhamsburg, even if the three corps of the enemy choose to retreat, they'll despair when they find their goods turned to ash. That way, they'd have no more drive to fight. Hungry and without food, they will obediently surrender to us. General Miselk thinks the supplies are a small price to pay for the downfall of three enemy corps, understood?"

There were times Claude had no choice but to break down the strategic aims of their unit to his aides. He hoped that they would mature and grow quickly from that. Sometimes, being promoted too quickly wasn't a good thing. Berklin, for instance, was now a major and tribesman of the ligh-cavalry tribe. While he was rather good at tactics, his grasp of the bigger picture was poor. He would be easily misguided by what appeared to be on the surface. Otherwise, he wouldn't have suggested an attack on Wickhamsburg. While it sounded like he lusted after its wealth, it wasn't the case. Rather, his recent successful attacks on the enemy supply convoys bolstered his pride and caused him to look down on his enemies.

"I understand, Sir," Berklin said with embarrassment. Myjack, Bloweyk and a few other adjutants of Claude's aides nodded alongside.

"Alright, now we have to think of a way to approach the city," Claude said with a smile, before furrowing his brow. "I knew we shouldn't have dug the exit of the path at the moat. We should've endured it a bit longer and tunneled through further..."

The secret passageway they dug ended at the outer moat of Wickhamsburg, which was quite hard for the enemy to detect. The issue was snow piled up as tall as a foot there and it was the melting period. While it looked white on the surface, it was actually a muddy sludge. It wouldn't be difficult for any enemy from the walls to detect signs of infiltration left behind in the mud.

Just as Claude and the rest were racking their brains over how to infiltrate the city to bring them pandemonium, Seaking, on which Wicklan, Cybok and Faybort were counting, finally arrived in the waters near Port Patres. They began their assault without delay.

The bombardment lasted for three days and nights. They fired from a distance during the day and closed in during the nights, managing to level nearly the whole of Port Patres. It was the largest naval attack the port city had ever faced. The near hundred ships of Seaking reduced most of Port Patres to rubble, but the emphasis was on the word 'most'. There were still some eight sentry cannons launching counterattacks against Seaking.

47 ships of Seaking had to return to Port Vebator to repairs and 21 were sunk in the nearby waters. However, the destruction of the cannon formations in the port city was a huge victory for Shiks. Now, Dorinibla River was free to enter. Seaking sent their remaining 32 warships and the 50-odd transport ships they took along upstream towards the campsite of the three corps.

What Seaking didn't expect were the metal chains Miselk prepared to block the river off. The heavy cannons along the riverbank fired back at the enemy and sunk three transport ships and one warship in the first barrage.

Seaking, taken aback, was only able to start their counterattack after suffering heavy losses. But by then, Ranger had gathered most of their field-infantry cannons to the point of conflict to add to the barrage. While the fist-sized rounds of the infantry cannons weren't able to damage the ships much, the heated cannonballs were successfully able to set the deck and sails of the ships alight. They still posed a huge threat to the marines and crew.

As more and more of the ships returned fire, the numbers of Seaking started dwindling. One warship after another was struck and started their slow sink into the depths. The river was littered with marines who abandoned ship, but the cold weather of the 2nd month and chilly river waters caused many of them to sink and never resurface again.

The river bombardment on the 12th of the 2nd month was among the worst defeats Seaking ever had to suffer. They weren't defeated on open seas by an enemy naval force. Instead, they were ambushed by ground forces of the enemy within a river inland using heavy and light field cannons. Only eight warships and eleven transport ships were able to escape and return to Port Vebator.

The counterattack from Port Patres and the battle on Dorinibla River was hugely damaging for Seaking. While they had some fifty ships remaining, most were damaged and couldn't even return to Shiks without proper repairs. In the next year and a half, no ships flying the flag of Shiks could be seen.

After hearing about the terrible state of their navy, the three Shiksan corps no longer hesitated and began their retreat towards Wickhamsburg in Cromwell. Ranger didn't stop their retreat and merely conquered the three supply points and emptied them of resources so that the enemy wouldn't get any respite.

On the 25th of the 2nd month, Claude personally led a tent of elite soldiers dressed in Shiksan military wear to enter Wickhamsburg when the enemy guard was low. During midnight, they set fire to the warehouses in the city. As the fire burned bright and the enemy fell into chaos, Claude took his men with him to open the city gates. Line 131, already prepared, stormed the city and crushed the fallen enemy and managed to conquer it.

The next day, even more warehouses were burned up. Line 131 escorted the captives and left Wickhamsburg with hundreds of supply-filled carriages. The fire burned for two more days and reduced Wickhamsburg into rubble.

On the 10th of the 3rd month, the rainy season came. Amidst the heavy rains, the three Shiksan corps continued their march and finally reached Wickhamsburg on the 28th day of their long journey. They saw only ruins of ash and cinders.

The hungry and desperate Shiksan soldiers finally despaired. They weren't able to last the half month they needed to continue their march to Port Vebator. The officers' mounts and the leather equipment they had were already consumed.

When Ranger's banner appeared before their eyes, all Shiksans dropped their weapons and surrendered.

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