Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 460

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"The Shiksans' main supply base is still located near Cape Loducus City. It's the same place you attacked and burned down. There's only one line of garrison soldiers defending it and two heavy transport tribes. However, they built a defence line here at Fanbix Hill to lock down all traffic around Cape Loducus. It's defended by a standing corps."

Claude looked at the small, blue flag Eiblont stuck on the sandtable and recalled that he had been to Fanbix Hill before. During the last war, after Thundercrash 1st Folk attacked the main supply base, he ordered Moriad's Line 1302 and Dyavid's Line 1303 to go there to wait in ambush for the enemy. However, they wasted five days waiting only for the enemy to not come at all.

Even though it was called Fanbix Hill, it wasn't a proper hill, but rather, five small hills about 40 metres in height connected together. They were the only elevated ground on the plains with some dense trees covering some parts of them. However, Claude had the trees mostly felled when he set up camp there to rest for firewood the last time.

It was obvious that the Shiksans were trying to prevent their supply base from once more being surprise attacked by the theatre by setting up a defence line there to watch their backs. It was a strategic location on the plains which was a crucial point to travel towards the borders of the northern and eastern mountains. The Shiksans had quite a good eye. If anyone was discovered to have infiltrated the area, they would be surrounded from three fronts and find it hard to escape.

As the chief strategist of Thundercrash, Eiblont continued to report on the news the informants had sent. "The corps stationed at Fanbix Hill is called 3rd Expedition corps. It's said to comprise the troops that belonged to the rebel nobles' private armies, youths that were forcefully drafted by their lords. They're said to be slow to respond and lax with military discipline, which is probably the reason they were thought of as weak.

"In the three days they arrived in Cape Loducus, the soldiers of the corps caused quite a lot of chaos in the city, such as daylight robbery, brawling, dining and dashing, and hurting others while drunk. However, those were small infractions compared to the worst incident. A tent of patrol troops encountered a woman from the city going out to check on the farmsteads with two nikancha maidservants. That tent of troops actually dragged those three women into the woods and gangraped them there.

"After that happened, Shiks' army was pressured by Fochs to shoot the two soldiers that led the rest. The other ten were publicly caned 80 times to quell the rage of the city folk. Later, the corps was given the order to start setting up the defence line at Fanbix Hill. Ten enforcer officers were also sent to maintain discipline to ensure the defences are properly erected."

Claude made a note about 3rd Expedition in his notebook. It was a soft and easy win. He could give them a squeeze if a chance presented itself. The incidents they caused was a sign of their weakness.

Though there were corps that were lax on discipline and had strong soldiers, 3rd Expedition wasn't part of them. Robbing in daylight and eating for free were things people expected hooligans to do. The incident of the patrol tent also showed how irresponsible those soldiers were, for them to commit that kind of transgression when they were on duty. They didn't care about their post or work at all. A corps like that was nothing short of garbage.

"This 3rd Expedition is one of the three standing corps to arrive at Cape Loducus. The other two are 2nd and 4th Expedition. The two corps that arrived in the previous batch was 1st Expedition and the Royal Cavalry reserve corps. 4th Expedition is also comprised completely of the youths forcefully conscripted by the rebel nobles.

"Our informants observed that among the four Expedition corps, 3rd is the weakest one with the worst discipline. The other three, however, are only slightly stronger than 3rd. As for Royal Cavalry, it is the awarded light-cavalry corps that helped Majid III stop the noble rebellion. It was said that if they performed well in the upcoming war, they would be promoted from reserve to a proper standing corps."

"Huh? What does that mean?" Claude wondered, "So Royal Cavalry isn't one of the Shiksan standing corps?"

Eiblont knew Claude had no interest in finding out about royal etiquette. He explained, "The Royal Cavalry corps is actually a ceremonial corps of the royal family which manages security at royal events. Those who are part of the corps are descendants of nobles and their status in the kingdom is rather high.

"However, many of the noble descendants aren't fit to be soldiers and aren't capable of taking charge of basic security operations. Even so, the ones that made it into the corps have the backing of many other powerful people and the web of interrelationships is pretty complex. In the past hundred or so years, Royal Cavalry has become a place for young noble scions to socialise and network, so their fighting capability eventually reduced to nothing. The most they can do is put up a front.

"The Shiksan royal family, however, had no choice but to form it into a reserve corps. They picked out noble officers from the kingdom's army to replace the nobles in various security operations, doing all the work for the nobles who were credited for it. In time, the commoners were starting to feel disgruntled about this arrangement. After they made some contributions in quelling the rebellions, they requested to be made a proper corps."

Though Claude more or less understood them, he still found it rather weird. "However, Royal Cavalry doesn't seem strong at all. Didn't we encounter them when they first arrived? Dyavid's 3rd Line ambushed their patrol tent. After the first time, they no longer dared to move too far away from their camp. They don't seem any stronger than the Canasian cavalry, that's for sure. Can they really be considered one of the more fight-capable corps of Shiks?"

Eiblont smiled in resignation. If one looked at Thundercrash's training and track record, other cavalry units would seem rather insignificant, not to mention, the elite band Wolfang was the one that ambushed Royal Cavalry. They were the most elite 20-man band in the whole of the theatre. How could normal patrol tents possibly face up against them?

Not to mention, Dyavid's Line 1303 was armed entirely with new rifles. The muskets in the hands of the Shiksans were nothing more than glorified flaming sticks. Coupled with how Wolfang taught them their ambush tactics, they could easily take on normal Shiksan cavalry, to say nothing of a reserve corps like Royal Cavalry.

Eiblont avoided the topic since he didn't want to debate the strength of the Shiksan cavalry. He continued with his report. "Three and a half of the five Penitence corps have been exterminated by us in the last war. This time, they got two more fully staffed Penitence corps to refill their ranks. 1st Penitence is stationed at the eastern mountains' borders while 2nd Penitence is in the new camp at the border of the northern mountains."

He put two blue flags on the sandtable to mark their locations. "Currently, the Shiksans established a new camp at the border of the eastern mountains and stationed four corps there, namely, 1st Penitence, 1st Expedition, 2nd Expedition and Royal Cavalry. At the border of the northern mountains, they have 2nd Penitence and 4th Expedition. They built three defence lines near their new camp.

"It's worth noting that 2nd Penitence and 4th Expedition's camps aren't linked together. Instead, they're separated by roughly 3 kilometres by a small hill, beyond which a smaller camp is built. The two camps and three defence lines have completely sealed off all ways to go to their rear. We'll no longer be able to pass the three defence lines undetected.

"Based on the sandtable, the two corps at the northern border, the main camp at the eastern border, and the heavily fortified checkpoint at Fanbix Hill form a triangular defence perimeter. Royal Cavalry can also respond rather quickly, so we won't be able to take out their supply base by surprise to win like last time."

Eiblont put down the folder in his hand regrettably. Claude didn't really mind that, however. The Shiksans were no fools and they've learned from their huge losses to be far more careful. Only idiots would repeat their mistakes.

Picking up an eagle message, Eiblont grimaced and said, "This is good news, I suppose. In the past month, the Shiksans have done nothing apart from setting up camp and their defence lines. They didn't even send out scouting tents into the mountains. Only the light-cavalry corps' patrol tents approached the mountain borders a little. After we attacked them in the north, they retreated immediately.

"After we left the eastern mountains, they started to pay attention to them. You've read Captain Bloweyk's report from half a month ago, right? Around 120 nikancha soldiers were ordered to check on the Shiksan troops. They gathered in the open and marched in broad daylight only to run into Shiksan patrol tents and get into a skirmish."

Claude nodded. He definitely saw his brother's report. The whole area stretching from the eastern mountains' borders to the central defence line and to the nikancha's territory wasn't defended by a single soldier. Anybody could cross unobstructed. That was so that the nikancha would be pressured into agreeing to Claude's conditions. If the Shiksans knew that, they'd immediately launch an attack with a corps and would definitely succeed in taking the nikancha heartland.

However, the Shiksans didn't dare take that risk. Before they attacked, they would always send large numbers of scout tents to forge ahead. Claude had planted Wolfang to operate at the eastern borders to take out the scouts. Putting pressure on the nikancha was one thing, but the strategic spots in the eastern mountains weren't to be given up on easily. He couldn't let the Shiksans realise that it was in fact really sparsely defended, if at all.

The nikancha wouldn't be that ready to agree to Claude's conditions, naturally. They thought they could salvage the situation, so they sent tens of thousands of their youth fighters to the eastern mountains that Claude had given up on and took over the three defence lines that were constructed there. They also picked a hundred braves to test out the Shiksans' mettle, with another 20 plus who volunteered. Along the way to the border, they sang war songs and chatted merrily, only to run into a Shiksan patrol tent.

It ended with the nikancha's complete defeat. They weren't even a match; it was a complete massacre. The Shiksans only had two tents of 24 cavalrymen whereas the nikancha had more than 120. They could staff ten full tents and have five or six left over. Initially, both sides discovered each other. As the Shiksans were mounted, the nikancha did the wise thing and immediately took a small hill not far away for the height advantage.

When they saw that there were only 24 Shiksan cavalrymen, the nikancha got excited. They cried, cursed, and provoked from the top of their hill while firing haphazardly. It was too bad while the enemy was 200 metres away and within firing range of the nikancha's muskets, not a single one of the tens of shots they fired caused the cavalrymen any damage.

They then loudly cursed as they reloaded their muskets. Some hot-tempered ones even smashed their guns on the ground, stripped and pissed towards the Shiksans. It was probably the most serious insult they could think of. The 24 Shiksans stopped there and watched the joke play out. After a while, they turned their mounts around and disappeared into the woods.

All of the nikancha thought they managed to scare the Shiksans away and began cheering and dancing, brandishing their guns and blades around and praising themselves for their bravery. When they were worn out from the festivities, they sat or lay down on the hill with their muskets tossed aside without a single man keeping watch.

Then came the disaster that wiped them out. The Shiksans they thought they had scared away appeared at the flanks of the hill all of a sudden and charged upwards. The nikancha were trampled on and sliced into a million pieces; the sight was too cruel to behold. While tens of them managed to muster their bravery and engage the Shiksans in a melee, even more of their panicked brethren tried their best to escape without helping them out at all.

After the ones that bravely resisted were put down, the Shiksan troops got the luxury of harvesting. All they had to do to chase down the nikancha that were desperately trying to escape was to ride towards them before lobbing their heads off as they overtook. Of all 120 plus so-called brave warriors, only seven managed to escape the mountains alive. The 24 Shiksans that caused them so much devastation only suffered seven casualties, two among which were deaths.

Bloweyk and Wolfang 1st Tent witnessed the massacre and only made their move when the Shiksans were just about to retreat, managing to kill all 22 remaining cavalrymen while suffering no casualties themselves. They obtained 24 war horses.

Some three days later, Bloweyk got more than 70 war horses and decided to return to recuperate with his spoils. When he reached the central defence line, it was already night time. He had many torches hung on the backs of the horses to prevent accidentally falling down the ridges, though it seemed like a large army force marching from afar.

The seven nikancha braves that managed to escape told others of their kin who were defending the line. That was one of the quirks of the nikancha. If they won, they boasted all they could and nobody would mind. But if they lost, they would paint the enemy as some undefeatable monster. When they saw so many torches moving in the night in the distance, they were so terrified that they yelled as loud as they could that the Shiksans had arrived.

The other panicked nikancha that heard it immediately fled the camp. It was around ten at night when many nikancha were already asleep. Bloweyk's Wolfang had remained at the eastern border for nearly 20 days, so he wasn't aware the nikancha occupied the defence line. When he departed, the camp was void of people. He had initially planned to rest there before continuing his way back towards frontline command when the sun was up. However, he stopped when he noticed something amiss.

It seemed to the nikancha that the great Shiksan army stopped in their tracks, as if they were about to attack.

Some brave ones picked up their muskets and fired at the torches without caring about distance or aim. The worst part was when the sleeping nikancha were startled awake by the loud yelling and saw the torches in the distance, followed by hearing the sound of gunfire, they thought the Shiksans were actually attacking and immediately turned tail to run. Some even shook their friends awake.

"The Shiksans are here! Run!" they yelled.

Nikancha are like sheep; once one twitches, the whole herd runs. In the end, those who remained to fight could not hold out and joined their fleeing brethren. Soon, the defence line defended by tens of thousands of nikancha was now completely empty, save for the discarded weapons, ammunition and supplies left in the wake of the mass exodus.

When Bloweyk noticed that the commotion had stopped, he secretly approached to scout the place out, only to be utterly stupefied at the sight of the spoil-littered ground.

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