Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 354
The General's Mistake
A drizzle fell gently outside.
How had he come up with that plan? Stealing the supplies and setting their warehouses on fire? It was hardly an orthodox strategy. Miselk asked himself, sitting in his tent.
His smile was broad and his gait jovial.
The near 180 thousand troops of the three Shiksan corps had surrendered peacefully, their spirits broken by the loss of their supplies, and with it any chance of holding out more than a couple of days.
It was a giant relief for the general. It would no doubt be the crowning achievement of his career. He did not see how he could outdo taking a regional capital defended by 3 corps without losing a single drop of blood whilst capturing those same corps completely intact. This was worse than a humiliating defeat for Shiks, it was a debilitating one. They'd lost a second flotilla and another 5 corps after their first defeat. Even for them, this had to quickly be becoming too much to bear.
Miselk didn't care much about what their reaction would be, however. For now he just wanted to bask in the glorious afterglow of victory. The feeling only lasted a couple moments, however. He had not become a general on the backs of others. His mind was sharp and it immediately informed him of something he'd neglected to consider so far and the reminder gave him an immediate headache. They'd captured 180 thousand men, all hungry and thirsty.
Whilst the men could not win a fight, they could do more than a little damage if they struck out in desperation, even unarmed. Even if they just sat there and died, it would still be a serious problem. His glory would be wiped out by the shame of his inability to care for his captives.
Killing an enemy actively fighting against you was fine, but letting captives die was a disgrace. It would be less of a disgrace to kill them if they rose up, but the shame of being unable to keep them from rising up in the first place would be just as bad. The consequences of their deaths would be greater than just shame as well. Their deaths would disgrace the kingdom, and the king and the two councils would come down on him like so many cannonballs.
He suddenly regretted ordering the city burnt. They'd destroyed the only shelter large enough to house their captives within reach. With the city's destruction they also didn't have the facilities to cook and otherwise prepare food for the men even if they had the rations. The best he could do was dole out severely rationed dried food. Otherwise their only option was hope and prayer.
Myjack brought Claude's report shortly after.
Claude had set up a large camp five kilometres outside the city. It was just large enough to handle the 180 thousand captives and Ranger, under less than ideal conditions, but far better than any other option, for the rainy season. He'd also taken the liberty of preparing some food for them. It was just simple sailor's porridge -- cooked hard tacs with salt and an afterthought of scrounged roots and wild vegetables -- but it was better than nothing, and the heat would be welcome reprieve from the cold and wet.
Miselk's face nearly split in half and he had his men marching before he'd even gotten out of the tent. He had a hot bath as soon as he set foot in the camp before calling for Claude.
"How on earth did you know to set up a camp?"
The words were out of the general's mouth as Claude's foot hit the ground inside the tent, half his body still outside. He had many other questions, but this one burnt the hottest in his throat.
Claude came to attention.
"Actually, I was forced to..."
They'd been forced to find an alternative way out of the city after realising that the secret entrance they'd used to get into the city couldn't be used to get out without being discovered. They couldn't get out once they set the warehouses on fire. They'd be discovered and caught.
Even if they made it to the passage, they would not make it out before the blaze alerted the city's defenders. They'd be on the lookout for any sign of someone trying to leave the city, and they would no doubt be discovered and shot as they pulled away from the city walls.
So, he recalled Berklin's words about burning the supplies being a waste. The city was defended by just two lines. They could take it. If they could hold on to the city, they could keep the supplies.
Claude was against the suggestion at first, but it made more sense the more he thought about it. They didn't have to leave the same way they'd come, so couldn't they just sneak in, open the gates, and let the rest of the line in? It would certainly make burning the warehouses easier.
He decided to give it a go and send off his contingent of eagles to call on the rest of the line's combat contingent. That was why he'd delayed the operation.
Since they weren't going to escape right after setting the fire, Claude and his men dressed in Shiksan uniforms, set the fires, and threw all the enemies into turmoil by rushing them to put out the fires. At the same time, they ordered the patrolmen by the gates to help out, drawing them away.
Claude climbed to the battlements on top of the walls and cleared out the lookouts. They opened the gate and gave the signal for the rest of the line to storm through. The line rushed the enemy headquarters and main barracks, killing anyone who resisted and forcing the majority to surrender. They had the city by sunrise along with 7 thousand captives.
They'd spared the supplies. They could always burn them later if they were forced to abandon the city for some reason. As Line 131 had cut off the supply routes of the enemy, there was no way for any of the supplies to be delivered to the three Shiksan corps, so the supplies piled up in Wickhamsburg alongside the six hundred carriages they left in the main square as well as the two thousand horses in the stables.
There was no need for any other consideration. They took anything they could. Lien 131's men supervised the seven thousand captives as they loaded the carriages with supplies. After that, each captive was given carrying poles or large sacks filled with supplies and marched away. Only after all that was done were the warehouses burned down.
Claude had prioritised moving away food, clothes, medicines and other supplies they might need without taking the ammunition and weapons that were incompatible with Aueran ones. Not long after the fires were set, explosions rang out and Wickhamsburg was reduced to rubble.
After travelling a few kilometres away from the city, the captive laborers were worn out and begged to be allowed to rest. Line 131's men thought the captives were intentionally trying to delay their march and prepared to give them harsh punishment.
When Claude took note of that, he stopped them and asked why they were going to punish the captives. The soldiers replied that the captives were probably intentionally delaying their progress so that enemy reinforcements could come to save them.
It finally clicked in Claude's mind and he broke out laughing. Why would he need to leave in such a hurry with Line 131 in the first place? It was no wonder he felt something was off when he left Wickhamsburg. In fact, he was actually afraid of pursuing enemy soldiers. Having near 800 carriages loaded with supplies made him feel like a thief who was afraid of losing those supplies to the enemy again.
However, it didn't occur that the enemy no longer had any men to chase them down. Shiks sent five standing corps to Nubissia. With Kujoa and Tanya eliminated, Wicklan, Cybok and Faybort began to rush back after receiving word of Seaking's defeat and were already halfway to Wickhamsburg.
Ranger had already captured thousands of Shiksan soldiers. According to the captives, the three corps were really tight on supplies. Apart from officers, who were given more food, the grunts were only fed a bowl of gruel a day. They even had to kill their work horses to make meat soup.
There was no need for Line 131 to leave in such a hurry. They had just wiped out two enemy lines. There was no other large force close enough to do anything to them. Instead, the faster they returned to join Ranger's main force, the faster they would encounter the three enemy corps.
The corps were heading for Wickhamsburg and Ranger's main force was tailing them from behind. For Line 131 to join up with the rest of the corps they had to head straight through the enemy. Claude was marching his men to their deaths for nothing.
Upon realising his mistake, he immediately ordered his men to stop and rest before sending out light-cavalry scouts to survey the area. When they returned, the whole group immediately turned away from the projected route the Shiksan corps would use and headed for the highlands behind Wickhamsburg. They set up camp after finding a good water source and were prepared to wait out the rest of the war.
As Claude waited, he made more accurate projections of the enemy's journey and found that by the time they reached Wickhamsburg, they would completely run out of resources. The city was now in ruins and the enemy would definitely despair. They had no other option but to surrender.
Checking the dates, he found that it would be around the rainy season then. There was no need to speculate any further. The results of the war had been set. Ranger would soon have near 200 thousand men captive. The thought of the captives reminded him about the fact that Ranger was travelling lightly to tail the enemy corps and await their surrender.
Therein lay the problem: what would they feed all 200 thousand captives with? Claude knew that Ranger only carried around a week's worth of food. With the captives eating away at their supplies, they might not last longer than four days.
The Ranger folk only numbered some 30 thousand men. With an additional 200 thousand captives, the most they could do was provide them with one full meal each day, or once every two days if they want to stretch it out. Even after more food was delivered through their supply lines, Ranger wouldn't be able to sustain that kind of consumption as the shipments were calculated based on the amount needed by Ranger. They had never expected to take 200 thousand men captive, so they couldn't have prepared that food in advance.
The moment Claude set his gaze on the 800 carriages of supplies, he burst out laughing. he ordered his men to get the seven thousand captives to begin work on a campsite immediately to accommodate more than 200 thousand men. It was finally completed right before the rainy season in the 3rd month. They also prepared enough firewood to last them.
As their carrier eagle had yet to return after Claude used it to send a report about the spoils he reaped from the burning of Wickhamsburg, he wasn't able to notify Miselk about their campsite. He had no choice but to send a scout tent to the area near the city. After some wait, they finally met up with the rest of Ranger and the 180 thousand captives from the three corps to solve their food and medicine crisis.
After hearing Claude's explanation, Miselk burst out laughing. He happily patted Claude on the shoulder. "Your growth has truly surprised me. I mean it. Claude, you're a born soldier and the battlefield is the only place you can live to your fullest potential. Back then, you were a great commander, but now, you've finally embarked on your journey to becoming an outstanding military leader.
"Being able to anticipate and consider the big picture in the long term and the changes that might ensue is a fundamental skill every military leader has to grasp. You have truly helped me out greatly this time around and made up for the mistake I committed out of insufficient consideration. You have once more contributed greatly to Ranger, and by extension, the kingdom! Thank you, Claude. I had been so occupied with making the three Shiksan corps surrender that I had completely missed out on the burden it would put on us to take them captive. It truly was a grave mistake I made."
Claude hurriedly spewed a few polite lines and took his leave when he saw how worn out the general was.
'Triumph of Balingana! All Five Shiksan Standing Corps -- Eliminated! Seaking Fleet Crippled!'
When news of the victory was sent back to the kingdom's mainland, all of Aueras was shaken. It was a complete and utterly unexpected victory. General Miselk was hailed as the war god of the kingdom. Even though he admitted in his report that he had almost let the captives starve to death due to his mistake, that didn't dull the glory of defeating 300 thousand enemy soldiers with a mere folk of troops!
It was a miraculous battle forever to be chronicled in the history of the world of Faslan. General Miselk's reputation spread far and wide and was acknowledged unanimously by military historians in future generations.