Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 444

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As the tribesman of the garrison tribe defending Cape Loducus City, Lieutenant-Colonel Lemando was quite satisfied with his post. It was a great place to spend his latter years, with the scenic views and the pleasant climate. He had even planned to write to his relatives to get them to move here from their hometown to start a farm and let their family line continue in the colonies.

Lemando was 43 and had served in the Fochsian fleet, Goddess Verona, for 25 long years. He started as a mere shiphand and became a major of the kingdom's navy, a rather stellar achievement if he might say so himself. He was already a figure of legend in his small fishing hometown.

However, his luck ran out when he suffered a small-scale pirate skirmish two years ago, during which his left hand was severed from his body. He had no choice but to be discharged from the navy, and the ministry of the navy of Fochs wanted to reward this major that had contributed much to the kingdom. So, they appointed him to be the tribesman of the city guard tribe and promoted him to lieutenant-colonel.

However, he didn't understand why Fochs would involve itself in the war between Shiks and Aueras. Shiks was a superpower in Northern Freia whereas Aueras was a superpower in Eastern Freia. Even though Aueras was quite worn down throughout the five-year war, it was still a powerful nation Fochs couldn't afford to antagonise.

The only explanation he could think of was that the Shiksan gold keptons were far too tempting to the point that Fochs was willing to do the unprecedented act of leasing away a colony. Fortunately, the lease agreement stated clearly that apart from Cape Loducus City, the rest of the colony would be under Shiksan jurisdiction. Otherwise, Lemando would definitely lose his job within a year.

As there had been no precedent of leasing a colony out, he had no choice but to interact with the Shiksans on a daily basis like all the other officers. While Cape Loducus City was still under Fochsian jurisdiction, it still had to deal with the Shiksan troops in every affair apart from civilian life. Both sides often got into conflict from ruffling each other's feathers and the local officials were tearing their hairs off mediating between both sides.

Lemando's job was much simpler: the security of the city. If he ever met drunk Shiksans causing trouble in the city, all he needed to do was to subdue them and take them back to their camp. The way he saw it, the Shiksans were great targets which brought him great profit. Since their arrival, the brawls in the city's red-light district got far more frequent, causing prices for security to rise.

It was a normal night for Lemando. He was accustomed to going up the walls for another round of patrols before heading to sleep -- a luxury he didn't have while serving on the warships. On the wide expanse of the sea, the captain's night duty was to check on the others on night duty to make sure they were awake and alert. His presence also gave his men boundless courage before the terrifying, dark seas during the night.

Just as he was about to get off the walls after his patrols were mostly done, he heard gunshots out of the blue. The commotion wasn't loud. It was probably some drunk Shiksan that misfired a gun; such things happened a few times before. Lemando gazed at the camp in the distance, then froze.

Gunshots and explosions could be heard from the brightly lit Shiksan supply base. He could see silhouettes contrasting against the lights running around in chaos. Countless dark figures approached the base from the dark wilderness. Shots, explosions and cries of agony came from the base nonstop.

Lemando was more shocked about the rapid progress of the intruders. Thanks to the bonfire at the main entrance of the camp, he could see the figures swarm into the base, kneeling on one knee and shooting or drawing their bayonets to chase down escaping enemies. The Shiksans in the base didn't even seem able to muster any sort of effective resistance. Soon, the gunshots resonated closer and closer to the deepest parts of the camp.

Night attack! I'm actually witnessing one... Lemando shivered, not from fear, but from agitation. There was nothing more shocking than seeing a battle break out all of a sudden. It wasn't a drill; what was going on in the camp was real war. Countless lives were being claimed and blood flowed freely on the ground.

"Lieutenant-Colonel... What... what do we do? Will... will we be attacked by them as well?" A shuddering voice stunned Lemando out of his stupor.

"Quick! Shut the gates! We can't let anyone inside! Don't let anyone out either!" he ordered, "Light more bonfires on the walls. You have no firewood? Go collect some, quick! Put up more Fochsian flags so that anyone down there can clearly see! Fool! I'm trying to keep you alive! Don't forget that we're neutral in this war! Quick!"

With Lemando barking out his orders, his men got everything ready within an hour. Right after that, all the soldiers of the garrison tribe were woken up. They rushed to the walls with their muskets in hand and prepared to man the sentry cannons. Only after that could Lemando truly relax.

He didn't know whether the counter-pirate garrison tribe could resist the surprise attackers. He went over the same question on which his life depended countless times. By then, nothing could be heard from the base two kilometres away apart from cries and the occasional gunshot. The Shiksan base had been occupied and they were probably wrapping the whole thing up.

It truly was quick. They only spent little more than an hour to occupy such a large base defended by a whole folk of Shiksan troops. Lemando couldn't help but be impressed by the combat prowess of the attackers. Were they the so-called troops of the Aueran war theatre? Didn't they only have two local irregular corps? If the Aueran irregulars were that strong, it would be hard to tell who would emerge from this war the victor.

Lemando had seen the Shiksan troops himself and he believed that their officers were mediocre. All the high-ranking officers of the corps and the logistics officers were lustful, greedy gamblers. They even lined their pockets full of wealth through the lease. Lemando was all too aware that the spending of the Shiksans in the city was all covered by public funds. The officers themselves even came out with heavier wallets from those transactions.

Sometimes, Lemando felt that the lease price they offered the Shiksans was a little too ridiculously high, but he didn't think the Shiksan officers in charge of purchasing supplies would be even more egregious. They earned a 20-percent commission for their purchases to the point that one sheep cost as much as a whole cow under usual circumstances.

But no matter how he looked down on the Shiksan officers, he was nevertheless impressed with the quality of Shiksan soldiers. They were the finest soldiers he'd seen, though they were a little aged and didn't like to speak. However, they were incredibly obedient and performed perfectly during the drills. These troops would no doubt be considered elite in any other nation.

That was why Lemando believed no matter how incompetent the Shiksan officers were, their elite troops would still guarantee their victory in the colonial war. After all, they had ten standing corps with over 600 thousand troops. It was a powerful army by Freian standards enough to wipe out a small kingdom or duchy.

However, he came to understand something after seeing the battle for himself that night. The news the high-ranking Shiksans revealed in a banquet about their troubles at the frontlines were true. They weren't making things up to cover up their faults. The Aueran war theatre's forces were really much tougher than they were.

An argument broke out behind him.

"What's going on?" Lemando snapped back angrily and asked, only to find a large group of Shiksan officers that went into the city for entertainment coming to the walls to see whether they were being tricked and told the enemy was attacking. Some drunken ones were still cursing out loud for the garrison tribe's soldiers to open the gates for them to go back to check out on the base.

"Strip their military uniforms and let them up on the walls," Lemando said after some consideration. Since they were still on good terms with the Shiksans, he had best do what he could to appease them. He could let them on the walls, so long as they weren't wearing Shiksan uniforms.

"Lemando! What's the meaning of this?" A Shiksan officer pinned him to the wall after removing his uniform. He was so mad he was going insane and didn't even bother addressing Lemando by rank. It was an insult so serious that it could result in a duel to the death for one's honour.

However, Lemando didn't throw a fit over it. He merely gave the man a pitiful look. "I'm saving your life, fool! The enemy already conquered your supply base. If you show up on the walls in uniform, I'm certain that they will turn around and attack our city. Do you think our mere sub-thousand-man tribe can fight them off?"

The high-ranking officers on the wall were speechless. They were lustful and greedy, but not stupid. They were all too aware that Lemando spoke the truth. They turned to the direction of the supply base. Some of them looked nonstop with the telescopes they brought with them.

"Our... base was really... attacked?" a fat officer stammered. The base seemed rather calm and quiet with the occasional gunshot from time to time. The explosions had stopped, though the cries of pain and despair hadn't. The base was also better lit now, but not in the way orderly placed bonfires illuminated a place. A few tents were on fire, but nobody seemed to care enough to put it out.

Even though the base was quite bright, it was still hard to see through a telescope two kilometres away. The officers could more or less make out figures at the entrance of the base, but they couldn't see the uniform clearly.

"That's right, the attackers only spent a little more than one hour to conquer your base." Lemando's words sent chills down the other officers' spines. They knew full well that losing the base would impact their war effort greatly. There was no way they'd be able to explain themselves to Majid III.

A commotion suddenly broke out from the wilderness ahead of the city walls. It sounded like waves of people charging towards them. Lemando immediately ordered, "Everyone, get ready! Put out your slow matches and don't fire! Cannoneers, don't light the cannons!"

A group of people emerged from the darkness into the illuminated area. Lemando saw that they were a bunch of Shiksan troops that managed to escape from the base. They seemed really haggard with their helmets discarded and their uniforms untidy. Some only wore one shoe, while even more were completely unarmed. They breathed heavily with their tongues out at the wall and relaxed. Those who still had the energy cried for the gates to be opened.

"Ignore them! Don't open the gates!" Lemando barked.

A Shiksan officer charged at him and held him by the collar. "Why aren't you letting them in? They managed to escape! We can get intel about the enemy from them! Get the gates open now!"

The other soldiers of the garrison either reignited their slow matches and aimed at the Shiksan officers or readied their bayonets to fight one that held Lemando up with the bayonet. "Let go now and step back!"

Lemando waved them off with his left hand, or rather, what's left of it after it was replaced with a hook, to calm his men.

"Do you know what letting these soldiers in will mean? That will be akin to a declaration that our Fochsian garrison stands with Shiks and will fight your enemies. Our kingdom has already expressed that we're taking a neutral stance in this war and won't pick a side. If the enemy doesn't attack our city, we can't fight back. Provoking them is also strictly prohibited."

Lemando pointed his hook at the begging Shiksans. "If I let them in, it'll mean I'm on your side, and the enemy will be fully justified to attack us. The kingdom can't blame them for it either since we would be the first to go back on our declaration of neutrality.

"Satisfying your request will put the whole city at risk. The moment they attack us, the escaped soldiers and even you will either die or be taken captive. We'd also be criminals in our kingdom because we allowed our subjects to fall into Aueran hands. They'll be free to pillage and slaughter."

The Shiksan officer loosened his grip and slumped on the ground, before clutching his face as he broke into tears. They understood what Lemando meant. They were powerless to help the soldiers and could only listen to their pleas and cries.

Time passed just like that. The pleading of the soldiers outside the gates became hateful curses, but the guards up on the walls made no move to let them in.

"Let's wrap up. Have Colonel Berklin gather the escaped soldiers. The one in charge of the city's garrison has a sound mind and didn't let them in. We don't have justification for taking this city, so we'll spare them," Claude instructed.

"But General, the high-ranking Shiksan officers are inside. Are we going to let them off like that?" Moriad said with dissatisfaction.

"So what? Fochs has declared neutrality and the Shiksan deal is merely business. They won't bother with us no matter how badly the fight devolves. But if we attack the city for no reason, we'd essentially be declaring war against them. The Shiksans will be all too happy to see that happen.

"Even though the ground forces aren't anything about which to write home, they have a powerful navy that can cause lots of trouble for our ports and coasts. There's no need for us to make a strong foe at sea during such a time. Also, it doesn't matter if the Shiksan officers aren't captured. I won't mind letting Shiks keep officers as incompetent as those."

Since Claude already made the decision, Moriad didn't say anything else. He had an orderman pass the message to Berklin, who was lying in hiding near the city walls.

Seeing the Thundercrash soldiers that appeared soundlessly and out of nowhere, the Shiksan survivors begged and pleaded to deaf ears as they were dragged away as captives. Lemando felt a chill on his back. Reaching to touch it, he noticed he was drenched in cold sweat.

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