Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 443

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"General, the enemy set up a tight defence line around their camp. Their outposts are across all high points from the coast to the eastern mountains. Additionally, they also have more than ten tents of mounted patrols that go up the outposts for a check every fifteen minutes. We are unable to cross the security perimeter, at least not with that many people. Perhaps it would work with smaller numbers, though."

Hearing the scout tentsman's report, Claude felt a headache welling up. He didn't think he'd be greeted with such bad news after spending ten long days to travel to the border of the northern mountainous coasts. The ten plus scouts had kept in hiding there for two days and came to such a conclusion. The tentsman was the only one capable of bringing a tent of men into the security perimeter and being able to leave undetected. He knew the enemy guard postings and schedules all too well.

The scout tent belonged to Line 1303 and the tentsman was a sergeant-major whom Linesman Dyavid saw with great favour. Claude also knew him personally. Had he been able to read, he would've been promoted to first lieutenant based on his merits instead of remaining a sergeant-major and a mere tentsman.

It seemed that the two Shiksan corps didn't shrivel up in their camps and instead spread their troops out to cover the whole border of the northern mountainous coasts. Claude had wanted to sneak a folk of troops through their perimeter to attack the main supply base in Cape Loducus, but now, it seemed like it was easier said than done. The scouts concluded that they would almost certainly be discovered by the enemy.

The old sergeant-major took out a thin book from his chest pouch and flipped open the page on which he marked the patrol routes and outposts of the Shiksans. Every detail his tent observed was marked to obsessive degrees inside the map.

Claude asked in a surprised tone, "Mulak, you've learned how to write and draw?"

Mulak honestly replied, "The brass forced me to. I was made to memorise three words a day and it's been a year since then. I can read newspapers now, even if I'm a bit slow. Colonel Dyavid said that as long as I can pass the literacy test, I'll be promoted to first lieutenant straight away."

However, he didn't drone on about the topic. Instead, he pointed at the map of the border. "General, we used this dried-up river to infiltrate the enemy perimeter. However, along the way are two hills where three outposts are situated. Each is defended by a tent. Our scout tent used the cover of night to sneak past them on prone so as not to be discovered. The riverbed is about 1.4 metres deep, so we had to keep low to not alert the enemy."

The dried river did in fact pass through the Shiksan security perimeter. However, there were two problems. The first was the need to take out the three security outposts by the banks of the river, which could alert the larger enemy force about it. The enemy was no fool, and a folk passing through would inevitably leave traces. Any person of sound mind would know immediately where Claude was targeting.

He wanted to attack the supply base first, but that plan counted on the element of surprise. If he was discovered beforehand, Claude might be met with strong resistance and fortifications. Carrier eagles could travel much faster than a folk could, after all. The worst-case scenario was the Shiksans would move their troops from the eastern mountains to join those in the north to wipe Claude out from both sides.

While Claude wasn't afraid of the enemy numbers and confident that he could force his way to take the supply base, doing so would be wasting the plan he prepared. Perhaps he could even use the fortifications of the supply base to wear the enemy attacks down before breaking out of encirclement, but his troops would suffer too many casualties for his liking. The main thing he had a gripe with was he would be put in a passive position.

"Get me General Eiblont and First Lieutenant Bloweyk from the Wolfang band in Tribe 131," Claude instructed Anders.

Bloweyk soon came over and saluted. "Your orders, General?"

It was wartime and even his own brother had to refer to him by his military address. Claude nodded to signal for him to wait at the side.

Eiblont spent half an hour coming from the rear. Claude quickly briefed him on the situation they would soon face. "We have to change our initial plan. After I lead 1st Folk through the enemy perimeter, immediately launch a full-scale attack on the Shiksan security troops and force them to retreat their men to their camp so that they're no longer able to tell what units pass through their perimeter.

"If the enemy steps out of the main camp in a large number, give them a painful strike. I'll leave a tribe of troops armed with the new rifles from Line 1303 and half my sniper squad with you. I believe the enemy won't be able to match that. What you have to pay attention to is to never enter the enemy's main camp and waste our troops. The enemy has three folks while you only have one. Just focus on harassing them and keeping them there. That's your mission.

"Wait for me to burn the supplies stored in the base. Never act recklessly no matter how many Shiksan reinforcements come. Once I ambush their reinforcements and attack their camp from the back, they'll think that they probably fell for our trick. That's when you continue to attack mildly to keep their attention. They will think that we're the main force and focus their defences on the rear and neglect the front. When that happens, give them a forceful blow from the front and wipe them out."

Eiblont nodded. "Understood. Worry not, I'll do as you say."

Claude turned his attention to Bloweyk. "First Lieutenant Bloweyk, your mission is to lead Wolfang to wipe out the three enemy outposts along the river. Disguise yourself as the Shiksan patrol and confuse the other patrol soldiers and shield our main force as they sneak past the perimeter. Make sure the enemy doesn't notice us. Remember. I don't want to hear any gunshots during your mission."

Bloweyk saluted the two generals. "Understood. Consider it done."

Claude then pointed at the silent sergeant-major and said, "He's Mulak and he'll be your guide. Prepare to depart when night falls. Also, when I say I don't want to hear gunshots, I don't mean to not fire under any circumstances. Wipe the enemy out if Wolfang comes under threat. I hope you understand that the life of any soldier in Wolfang is more valuable than an enemy general's."

Bloweyk and Mulak saluted before leaving without a word.

Eiblont laughed as he said, "You're a little too harsh on your brother, you know, always putting him on dangerous missions like that. I once thought that you went through all the trouble of disqualifying so many soldiers to pick out the elite to protect your brother in Wolfang. I only found out later that you're trying to forge them into the sharpest knife Thundercrash can use. The other troops call Wolfang the band of kings which only the most elite of soldiers can join. It's just too bad their spending is a little too high..."

It was indeed rather high. The most proficient pugilists and sharpshooters were in that band and they were the first to switch to the new rifles and allowed to train with as many live rounds as they required. Each member of the band was also given a revolver, a privilege usually only reserved for those above the rank of second lieutenant. The spending of Wolfang was akin to that of two clans combined, but Claude was dead set on forming the first special operations unit in this world, so he didn't hold back at all.

"One trains troops for life to be used in one moment," Claude said, "This is money well spent. Do you think any other unit than Wolfang would dare to take on such a mission? Normal scout units might fire immediately if we order them to attack the three outposts and startle all the enemies at once. There's no way we would be able to cross the security perimeter unnoticed that way.

"You should go make preparations too and let the scouts of 2nd Folk infiltrate the areas near the enemy outposts. If gunshots can be heard from Wolfang, immediately attack the enemy and confuse them. Let them think we're launching our first large-scale attack on their outposts instead of the three outposts near the river alone."

"Understood, General." Eiblont saluted and left.

Waiting was a rather torturous affair. Claude honestly wanted to go on the mission together with his brother, but with his rank being so high up, there was no way he could partake in conflicts on the frontline. Sometimes, he missed the glory days of his time in 1st Ranger Tribe. As a mere junior officer, he was required to lead troops and fight at the forefront. Back then, he didn't have to consider that many problems and didn't carry that heavy a burden.

In his rambling thoughts, he gradually fell asleep. By the time Anders woke him up, it was getting dark.

"What time is it?" Claude took the towel his adjutant handed him and wiped his face with it.

"General, it is currently one twenty-seven, early morning," Anders reported.

Shocked, he bellowed, "I've slept nearly eight hours? Why didn't you wake me?!"

"I told him not to," Eiblont said as he came in, "You didn't get more than a handful hours of sleep over the past few days and were constantly plotting to destroy the Shiksans. Your body won't hold up at this rate. Since you managed to sleep so soundly once in a while, I told Lieutenant-Colonel Anders not to wake you to let you rest.

"So far, things are going smoothly according to plan. Wolfang has disabled the three outposts near the dried river without firing a shot or suffering any casualties. What remains is how they deal with the patrol tents. Colonel Berklin and Line 1301 from Thundercrash 1st Folk have departed along the river.

"According to your instructions, all soldiers were given a twig to bite on to prevent making any sound and startling the enemy. Colonel Moriad's Line 1302 is ready and will depart immediately as well. You should go with them. They're armed with the new rifles and it's much safer that way. That's why I only had Anders wake you now. Get ready for your departure."

The river stretched five kilometres, which Claude spent two hours crossing. It was almost four in the morning, the darkest moment of the night. Beyond the river was a wide, expansive forest. Once the troops ahead entered it, there would no longer be any worry about enemy discovery. Apart from Shiksan logistics soldiers occasionally entering the forest for firewood, no patrols went there.

Bloweyk and a few members of Wolfang waited for Claude at the last outpost. He smelled a heavy stench of blood on them. It seemed that Bloweyk didn't heed his advice and personally entered the fray of battle.

Claude had warned him that as the one in charge of the most elite unit, Wolfang, he had to be responsible for planning and coordination and give first aid and other treatment in the case of emergency, unplanned situations instead of treating himself like a mere pawn. However, Bloweyk always took point because of his ability to cast spells. While he gained high renown in Wolfang, it affected the development of his leadership skills negatively.

Claude could only rub his nose and pretend he didn't smell a thing. "When Line 1304 passes through, you can spread out and attack the other Shiksan outposts. Eiblont will also have the scout tents from 2nd Folk coordinate with your attack. Keep it under half an hour. Day will break then and you must retreat. Follow behind us along our path of advance. I will leave someone behind to escort you."

Bloweyk and the few Wolfang troopers saluted silently. Claude only just noticed they wielded different kinds of crossbows. He knew that those weapons were created by Angelina with the use of the alchemical array on Bloweyk's request. It was no wonder he was confident he could take out the three tents at the outposts without firing a single shot.

Five days later, Claude reached the area in the vicinity of the main supply base with 1st Folk and was glad to see it mostly undefended. Two kilometres away were the gates of Cape Loducus City. It was wide open and Shiksan officers travelled in and out on horseback or in carriages from time to time.

"It looks like the supply convoy's officer we captured two days ago wasn't lying. They really don't know we're here. He confessed in his testimony that the two corps stationed here at the border of the northern mountains lost near a clan of troops and hopes that the supply base can ship them some iron pumpkins for defence. The supervisor of the base, however, pushed the shipment back a few days, citing a manpower shortage as the reason."

Berklin and the rest stood beside Claude and observed the base with their telescopes. They happened to bump into a 170-carriage Shiksan supply convoy two days ago with only a tribe of veterans escorting it.

Berklin's Line 1301 led the way and successfully ambushed the convoy. After all the stubborn veterans that resisted were killed, the vice logistics supervisor casually ordered the other soldiers to surrender and saved their lives.

After the battle, Berklin personally questioned the officer and found out that the convoy was actually transporting iron pumpkins to the camp near the border of the eastern mountains. It's said that the troops on the eastern front were in a stalemate against the theatre's troops and iron pumpkins were being used up immensely on a daily basis. Frontline command had sent three carrier eagles in a single day to demand the base in the rear to ship over 50 catapults and even more iron pumpkins to the frontlines as soon as possible.

The officer also volunteered that the base was defended by a folk. Apart from the veterans the ambush exterminated, two other convoys escorted each by a tribe of veterans went to the frontlines and didn't return. The rest of the troops were either drinking or gambling in the base without even bothering to defend it or close the main entrance at night.

The main reason for that was the officers of the defending folk holding positions of linesman and above were used to going to the nearby city for women and alcohol, often staying there overnight without returning. The officer himself was only put to the task of escorting the convoy because of an unlucky draw of lots, only to end up captured.

Claude put down the monocular and started to give orders to the officers of 1st Folk. "Let the troops rest and assemble tonight at eleven to storm the supply base!"

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