Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 451
The Wondrous Nikancha
"Reporting in. Wolfang returned from an excursion and exterminated three Shiksan light-cavalry scout tents, collected 31 enemy tags and 26 war horses while suffering only one light casualty," Masonhughes told Claude.
Claude fumed with anger. "Get First Lieutenant Bloweyk to me. I had 3rd Line send small tents to wait in ambush for enemy scouts. What is Wolfang doing attacking them without orders? Do they still respect my authority as corpsman?!"
Bloweyk soon came to Claude, only to be heavily rebuked before being locked up for five days. However, that was enough to absolve Wolfang of their mistakes. Nobody would be able to pursue the matter moving forward.
Claude knew that Bloweyk had actually been encouraged by Dyavid to go out. Since 3rd Line was resupplied, Claude had Dyavid send tents out to exterminate the light-cavalry scout tents and lookouts of the Shiksans at the border of the northern mountains to completely blind them.
However, that kind of order was rather difficult for Dyavid to execute. Back when he, Berklin and the others served as Claude's direct subordinates, he was the one who hated using his brain the most. Since Claude was there to make all the decisions, all he had to do was to complete Claude's instructions. It ended up with him not learning anything about how to hide in ambush or analyse enemy movements.
Now that Claude had him send out small tents to ambush enemy scouts like their days in the ranger tribe, he didn't know where to start. If he sought out Berklin or Moriad, he would be mocked by them. In the end, he decided to call his four tribesmen and had each tribe send out two tents to carry out the mission while simply telling them to use wild grass as camouflage.
However, the mission wasn't accomplished at all. Of the eight tents sent out, four of them didn't meet any enemies the whole day. As for the other four, their encounters with the enemy didn't end well. Even though all of them were armed with new rifles and each carried a hundred rounds, their disguise was easily discovered. Their ensuing battle led to the deaths of two and injuries of fourteen others while they scattered the enemy ranks.
So, Dyavid was badly rebuked by Claude for not properly teaching his subordinates the tactics of ambushing after giving them the order. Berklin had a great laugh at the expense, saying that 3rd Line shouldn't have been armed with the new rifles. In the end, Moriad gave him a reminder on account of their friendship, telling him that there wasn't anyone more proficient in ambushing tactics than Wolfang in the corps.
If Dyavid had asked Bloweyk to serve as 3rd Line's instructor in ambushes, then everything would've ended well. However, when he recalled what Claude said about countless training sessions being subpar to one actual field practice, he decided to let the troops he picked out to watch Wolfang do the ambush so they could watch and learn in person.
However, no enemies showed up at most of the ambush points. They only managed to encounter three Shiksan scout tents within the whole day. They were wiped out completely, as expected. Apart from five Shiksan corpses that were carted away by their running horses, the rest had their dog tags harvested. The only soldier of Wolfang that got lightly injured was due to being kicked by the enemy's war horse when he went to collect it.
While the battle went quite well, Bloweyk had attacked without receiving an explicit order to do so, so he had to be punished for the record. After that, Claude ordered Wolfang to train Line 1303's troops in ambush tactics in the coming two weeks and allowed Wolfang to hold live training for them by ambushing and taking out enemy outposts.
It took them less than ten days to cause the Shiksans to no longer be able to resist that kind of abuse. On average, they were losing three tents of men each day. They lost almost a whole clan in ten days alone. Nowadays, the scouts that got picked for patrol acted as if they had been handed a death sentence. They left camp crying and despairing, oftentimes casually strolling outside camp to kill time before hastily returning to camp. When asked about the situation of the border, every one of them shook their heads and said they knew nothing.
It wasn't that they hadn't thought of wiping out the annoying ambushers, but their camp was far too close to the foot of the mountains. If they sent in a large force, the enemy would easily notice them and retreat.
Once, a clan of Shiksan light cavalry caught up with an ambush tent and trapped them on a small hill. They had wanted to try to overwhelm the tent with their mobility, only for two other ambush tents to come from their flank. All 30 plus guns fired at once. The fact that they were mounted only made them even more obvious from less than 50 metres away. Within five minutes, 70 to 80 of the 200 Shiksans fell, much to the terror of the rest who immediately rode to escape. Not one of them charged in to give their lives.
In the end, the two and a half corps of Shiksans who gathered at the burnt-down camp had no choice but to retreat some five kilometres back to build a new camp. Claude also stopped while he was still ahead, ordering the three lines' ambush tents to not go beyond five kilometres of their current camp. Both sides used the abandoned Shiksan camp as a border, each taking a side and not infringing one another.
Claude knew that if he ordered the ambushers to try their tactics five kilometres ahead, he would fall for the Shiksans' ploy. While it would still be possible to retreat the tents from a distance of five kilometres away, it was different if the distance was ten kilometres. The Shiksans could send their light cavalry to circle around and block the ambushers' escape route before sending their veterans to wipe them out once and for all.
Half a month later, Birkin came. He told Claude that the nikancha troops stationed at the defence line for the eastern mountain area had also retreated with the excuse of spending the new year with their families. Birkin said that the nikancha suffered heavy losses throughout the war with the Shiksans. Of the 100 thousand youths they had, only some 40 thousand managed to return. They'd not expected to lose over 60 thousand men.
Initially, the nikancha defending the fringe of the eastern mountains were bombed to high heaven by the Shiksans with their iron pumpkins. Haggardly, they gave up on their post and retreated after losing some four thousand men. When the first defence line there also fell, they lost another ten thousand. It was worth noting that any nikancha that fell into the hands of the Shiksans would be killed no matter their level of injury. Perhaps they saw the nikancha as unfit for being slaves anymore, now that they dared to wield weapons against them, and decided to simply kill them off to save trouble.
After retreating to the second defence line, the Shiksans were unable to follow up. Coupled with Claude leading Tribe 131 to their rear and exterminating two of their standing corps, their attacks on the second defence line was more bark than bite. Even the nikancha were able to easily repel the Shiksan skirmishes. The nikancha suffered relatively light losses at around a thousand plus.
Then, there was Claude's mobilisation of Thundercrash at the Shiskan supply base near Cape Loducus City. Two Shiksan standing corps at the east got wind of the news and decided to retreat. Before they left, they intentionally staged a huge attack to misdirect Birkin. It was only a day later that Birkin realised he fell for it, and the Shiksans had retreated far away by then, leaving only an empty camp behind.
Birkin immediately sent men to pursue and wanted to trap the Shiksans in the eastern mountains, but by then, the nikancha stopped listening to orders. They all thought victory was at hand. With the Shiksans haggardly trying to escape, it was their chance to strike them while they were down. So, all of them eagerly charged ahead, ignoring all of Birkin's orders, and swarmed towards the Shiksans.
The nikancha saw a battle of pursuit far too simply. They thought chasing the retreating Shiksans would give them a swift revenge, only to suffer a painful ambush. The 30 thousand nikancha fell into an ambush in a large valley that was sealed up from both sides. Iron pumpkins rained down from the sky, coupled with countless shrapnel from the cannon scatter shots, as well as the precise shooting of the Shiksan veterans. It was a nightmarish massacre of metal rain.
Fortunately, Birkin's unit came quickly and launched an attack from the rear. The Shiksans immediately retreated, leaving some ten thousand lucky souls and a few thousand injured men alive. However, that ambush had completely crushed the nikancha's courage. The remaining 30 thousand of them would start at the slightest breeze in fear of falling into another similar ambush.
Birkin had no choice but to have the nikancha assigned to the rear to take charge of logistics while he forged his way forward with Monolith.
By then, he only had three lines and a folk -- as well as Tribe 131, led by Myjack. Those troops were the main players in the latter half of the pursuit while the nikancha provided moral support, not even doing their logistics job properly. They lost a bunch of supplies, allegedly from dropping them down into canyons.
The nikancha had also tried to get the new rifles and rounds, which Birkin was all too aware of. They had seen how impressive the new rifles were and sent a few elders to request the theatre to provide them with some, even being willing to purchase one for 200 crowns, only to be met with immediate refusal.
But as it was wartime, the troops at the frontlines still needed the cooperation of the nikancha. So after Bolonik discussed the matter with Birkin, it was decided that Grandmaster Liboyd act out a show for the nikancha elders to see. Liboyd took the nikancha elders to a really secretive room, in which the materials for making a gun and an array was prepared. He spent a whole day to make one new rifle and ten rounds.
Bolonik and Skri told the elders there that all the theatre's new rifles were made by magi using arrays. If not for the Shiksan attacks, they wouldn't hand such precious magical items to the normal forces. It was the result of years of hard magical research, and not even half of the units that reported directly to the theatre could be armed with them. Even if the nikancha could muster two thousand crowns for a single rifle, it still wasn't a done deal.
While they managed to fool the nikancha elders, Bolonik and Skri knew they were persistent and wouldn't give up. So, they intentionally wrote to remind Claude and Birkin to be watchful of any trickery they would try to get the rifles.
Naturally, it was all fine with Claude's side. Apart from the rushed attack between Eiblont's troops and the nikancha, which saw Eiblont rely on the new rifles given to 3rd Line as his lifeline, the rest of the rifles were tightly monitored. There was no way the Shiksans could get any.
Birkin's situation, on the other hand, was harder. They were all at the same defence line and the nikancha loved to flock around the line with the new rifles, with all sorts of excuses such as losing their way and going to the wrong unit and so forth. In the end, Birkin was forced to take a page out of Myjack's book by ordering all his men to refuse all interaction with the nikancha. Any of them that dared make their approach would be given only three warnings before they would be shot and wounded before being arrested.
The soldiers wielding new rifles were given really stern warnings to even sleep while hugging their rifles. Night patrols were intensified. Even soldiers needing to heed nature's long call would have to get their comrades to look after their rifles. Those strict responses prevented any rifle from going unaccounted for or missing. During the whole month at the second defence line, the number of arrests of nikancha thieves that couldn't shake off their old habits was a few times more than that of other lines.
When the pursuit started, the troops armed with new rifles were all sent to the forefront. Only then were they spared from the nikancha harassment. Even if there were casualties in the battles, the rifles were immediately collected. Even the transport was handled entirely by Monolith to prevent any instances of crates 'falling into the canyons'.
Birkin once exasperatedly said that he spent more effort on dealing with the nikancha than the Shiksans. It was the same with the officers he sent to command the nikancha. Initially, they were obedient enough, but that didn't stay for long. They all listened only to their chiefs and elders, so the officers eventually ended up being nothing but strategists who suggested plans to the nikancha chiefs. It ended with them refusing to stay with the nikancha tribes any longer and heading straight back.
During the pursuit, the thousand mines Claude had assigned to Tribe 131 were the main contributors to their success. Initially, Myjack had planned to plant them on the roads to disrupt the Shiksan supply line. The total Shiksan retreat wasn't something they expected. So, Myjack led Tribe 131 to the rear of the Shiksans and managed to slow their pace down with the mines they had planted, allowing Birkin's follow-up forces to exterminate a folk of Shiksans that were cut off from the rest.
The Shiksans had wanted to send reinforcements to save their isolated brethren, only to be heavily wounded by mines Myjack had buried and be forced to hold back and watch the isolated men killed.
They'd done the best they could. It had not been enough. Had his men not been armed with the new rifles and had the cooperation of Myjack's tribe, there was no way Birkin could deal with a folk of determined and hardy Shiksan veterans. That was why despite all the advantages he had, Monolith still suffered around ten thousand casualties.
In the meantime, something else also occurred. As the mines weren't monitored like the rifles were, one box of mines transported by the nikancha was listed as having fallen off the canyon. The nikancha who personally handled that even personally swore that it was true and that the donkey he had carrying the box fell along with it.
Obviously, that was a lie. Nobody would transport only a box of mines with one donkey. The lie didn't even make sense, but Birkin couldn't be bothered with arguing, since the mines weren't as top secret as the new rifles were in the first place.
Little did the nikancha know they would simply be doing themselves a huge disservice. During the night, two loud explosions could be heard somewhere in their temporary camp. Almost everyone was startled and thought that the Shiksans had attacked. It was only after they checked that they found the two missing mines as well as a nikancha injured from the blast. They heard from him that he was hurt by the two mines.
It all went down rather simply. After the nikancha embezzled the box of four mines, a few chiefs wanted to celebrate. So, they took out the mines to appreciate the spoils of their efforts. However, they treated them like mortars and thought they worked like iron pumpkins. The four mines were pressure-activated, though the nikancha didn't know that and tried to look for the rope fuse without success.
As the chiefs discussed how it could work, one of them accidentally stepped on the pressure spring. He heard a click and was utterly elated, telling them that he found the activation switch. Another chief picked up a mine and pressed it. But when he couldn't find the fuse still, he tossed the mine at the table in annoyance, only to trigger an explosion. The mine in the hand of the other chief also blew up.
Seven chiefs from different tribal forces and some ten other partying nikancha were caught up in the explosion of the two mines. Had the nikancha that were serving them not been standing further away from the tent entrance, they would've lost their lives too.
Claude was completely speechless. He knew the nikancha were wondrous, but not to this extent. Because of that, Birkin got into a huge argument with four elders during the aftermath. The elders dared to blame the mishap on the theatre for not telling them about the existence of the mines, which would've prevented the tragic accident. With seven chiefs now dead, they said the theatre had proven itself unworthy of the nikancha's trust and cooperation.
"Claude, while we did win in this bout with the Shiksans, I can no longer bear working with the nikancha. We have to be more wary of them than we do the Shiksans. I hope you will support my view during the upcoming meeting at headquarters. I would rather have the nikancha as our enemies than allies," Birkin said.