Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 466
Perhaps the floating bridge at the fishing town was the only thing the Shiksans could count on to fight Thundercrash. So long as that bridge existed, they could continue to send reinforcements and supplies nonstop. Now that the town was burnt to a crisp and the bridge was reduced to ashes, a commotion broke out at the Shiksan camp outside Lanu. They all knew that they no longer had an escape route.
The 100 thousand Shiksan soldiers were now sharks in a jar for the theatre. They had lost all the threat they posed, especially with their inexplicable high-ranking commanders that ordered an immediate retreat to Mormaly. After Claude asked a few high-ranking captives, the reasoning he got was that the Shiksans wanted to build a floating bridge at the coasts of Mormaly so that the remaining 90 thousand plus soldiers could escape alive.
Of the two garrison lines in Mormaly, one was transferred to Birkin and was fighting at the borders of the eastern mountains. The others received Claude's urgent order to defend Port Cobius in Tyrrsim. Mormaly no longer had a defending army and the Shiksans easily took the colony by sending two light-cavalry lines.
Claude could only despair on the Shiksans' behalf. If he were their commander, he would only have one choice: to retreat back to the fishing town and fell wood immediately to build floating bridges. After all, the town was much closer than Mormaly. Even after being burnt down, the town was still surrounded by hills and woods. Building a temporary floating bridge should've been possible.
But the Shiksan officers decided to retreat to a small coastal town in Mormaly before building a bridge there. It was a blind order that ignored all practicality. Ever since Thundercrash arrived at Lanu, it was no longer possible for any Shiksan infantry to leave their camp. Thundercrash's light cavalry would swoop in like the wind with the initiative they held on the battlefield.
That was especially true at night, when Thundercrash was akin to a nightmarish existence to the Shiksans. They launched attacks on their camp from various directions, using mortars to blast away at the fortifications. Many Shiksan troops were tired from resisting and running all over the place to put out the fires. Only then were they able to prevent Thundercrash from breaking through. Many Shiksan officers didn't even get a good night's sleep since coming to Lanu. Their eyes were surrounded by dark rings of fatigue.
As for Royal Cavalry, they were slaughtered so badly by Thundercrash they lost all their guts. Even during the day, they didn't leave the firing range of their own artillery. Countless mounted scouts that had been sent out of camp had immediately fallen prey to Thundercrash's ambushes. Each clear-sounding gunshot represented the fall of one of the Shiksan light cavalry.
Had Claude not taken note of the fighting spirit of the Shiksans and chose to avoid attacking the camp directly to minimise casualties, he would've long been able to break through it. Since the battles were already playing to his rhythm, he didn't really mind letting it drag on for a little longer. Once they ran out of ammunition and could no longer fight, it would be much easier to deal with without suffering too many casualties.
So, after Myjack and Bloweyk returned with the captives, Claude ordered for a few of the officers to be released to bring word back to camp about their cut-off escape route to accelerate their despair. He would also observe how they reacted to the news. If they continued to defend the camp, it would only lead to death. But leaving the camp would give Thundercrash even more chances to have a go at them.
Claude didn't think retreating to Mormaly would be their choice. Perhaps they were lulled into the illusion of safety as the town had been occupied by them. They thought it to be their territory. It could also be because they were confident they would be able to get enough supplies in Mormaly. Three days after the burning of the fishing town, the Shiksans left their camp for Mormaly.
Their ranks stretched on endlessly. The 80 plus thousand remaining Shiksans leaving camp caused quite a commotion. The remaining five light-cavalry lines served as vanguards by charging through the ambushes set by Thundercrash without regard to casualties, leaving behind thousands of corpses and horse carcasses to pave the way for the troops at the rear. After that, the cavalry turned back and defended the flank of the marching army from Thundercrash's own light-cavalry units.
When Claude heard about their retreat towards Mormaly, his jaw dropped. He was completely stupefied and couldn't figure out their reason, as it took seven days to march to Mormaly from their camp outside Lanu. Thundercrash was a light-cavalry corps, so what were they going to use to fight off the constant attacks by Thundercrash during their march?
Claude ordered his men to not stop the Shiksans from marching. Instead, he wanted what remained of Royal Cavalry to be dealt with so that attacking their rear would be far less troublesome. During the first two days, the Shiksan retreat proceeded rather orderly. They divided themselves into folks. The folk in front marched for half a day and built a simple stronghold with trenches and cannon platforms. The cavalry flanked them and the troops at the rear served as the rear guard.
It was the same on the second day. The folk that left half a day ahead built another stronghold. While that would slow their retreat down, it would be able to ensure the largest number of them would be able to survive, as was common knowledge in the armies across Freia. Additionally, the infantry marched while being flanked by their carriages to prevent surprise attacks from the enemy.
Claude observed for two days and settled on his tactics. First, he would split Thundercrash's 1st Folk and 2nd Folk, having them take turns to harass the Shiksan troops. He instructed his men to attack in tribes and only from the outskirts using mortars and light-infantry cannons to try to bait the enemy into entering their ambush zones to wipe them out. They would then use their mobility to launch an encompassing attack on the Shiksans.
Before three days passed, the Shiksans were on the brink of collapse. When Royal Cavalry still existed, the retreat proceeded as normal, since most of the harassment attacks were intercepted outside. But as their numbers dwindled to less than a line, the high-ranking Shiksan officers were no longer willing to send them to their deaths. That was when the rest of the infantry were subjected to attacks nonstop day and night.
Right before they even got a taste of soup during mealtime, a few mortars or round shot would tear through their ranks and blast away some unlucky fools. Right after they repelled the enemy, they would turn around to see their hot soup gone, either spilling onto the ground or mixed with mud and blood.
They tried to sleep during the night, but explosions sounded again. The enemy attacks were relentless and ubiquitous. They couldn't even get good sleep or warm food. It didn't take more than three days for the marching soldiers to start to wobble. Some even hoped to be shot dead the next time the light cavalry from Thundercrash came around to release them from their suffering.
On the sixth day, Claude gave the order for a full-on attack. The last of the Shiksans had given up on fighting altogether, standing on the spot blankly as they watched Thundercrash's troops ride over with their blades raised. Some who tried to resist reacted too slowly and were easily culled. When Thundercrash's soldiers yelled that anyone that discarded their guns would be spared, most of the soldiers got rid of the dead weight from their hands and collapsed sleeping. As far as they were concerned, the war was already over.
Not every soldier was like that, however. The units in the centre of the bunch were the most well rested. The elites and high-ranking officers' guards were gathered there. As they were located at the centre, they were affected the least by the ambushes. So, they were able to react much quicker. They discarded all heavy supplies and collected large numbers of workhorses and the remaining light-cavalry troops. Then, they cast the infantry away to be their shields before forging ahead for Mormaly like there was no tomorrow.
After Thundercrash's light cavalry captured most of the Shiksans, they continued their pursuit, but couldn't quite catch up. The ones who escaped to Mormaly gathered the garrison troops in every town as they continued their way to the coastal town. When they finally arrived, they were caught up to. The Shiksans had no choice but to hole up in the town of Bobia. There were only around ten thousand of them left in total.
While Bobia was right on the coast, it didn't have the terrain fit for a fishing town or a port. It was around 500 metres away from the sea itself and was located on a beautiful, brown beach. The Shiksan ships were sailing in the deep-water regions a kilometre away from shore. While the smoke signals for help from the Shiksan troops and the flags flown onshore were clearly visible, there was little the ships could actually do.
The first of Thundercrash's light-cavalry tribes had already surrounded Bobia. They were merely monitoring the Shiksans to not give them any time for constructing a floating bridge. They also had all the fishing boats near the coasts burnt down. Now, even the high-ranking officers had no chance to escape by ship.
While the Shiksans had more than ten times the number of Thundercrash's light-cavalry tribe out of town, they no longer had any will to fight after taking Bobia. The long retreat had spent most of their energy. Once they entered the town, most of the officers ate and went straight to sleep after doing nothing other than delegate patrol tasks and a security perimeter.
The next day, a line of Thundercrash troops reached Bobia. Though now rejuvenated, the high-ranking Shiksan officers knew they had no other place to escape. They looked at the Shiksan ships at sea from the walls as tears flowed down their faces. There was no sight that could be more depressing. The distance between the town and the coast measuring a few hundred metres was akin to a mountain reaching into the skies. Thundercrash's troops had set up ambushes there. The moment the Shiksans tried to head for the beach, they would be shot.
When Eiblont's 2nd Folk's two lines finally rushed to Bobia, the trapped Shiksans no longer bore any hope for escape. After two days of negotiations, the high-ranking officers got Eiblont's word to allow their families to pay a ransom for their freedom and quickly asked their men to surrender.
The Shiksan flag in Bobia was lowered while the three Shiksan warships were still in view. Then, the flags of Aueras and the theatre were raised.
The recovery of Bobia signified the extermination of the three Shiksan corps that infiltrated the theatre. It completely crushed the Shiksan momentum and strategy. However, the battles also brought the theatre serious losses up to 30 thousand, ten thousand of which were common civilians that were hurt by the enemy troops. Property damages amounted to around 20 million crowns. Lanu needed reconstruction, and the civilians of the fishing town harmed during the occupation as well as their damaged property had to be made up with pensions from the theatre.
Around 200 thousand Shiksans got ashore from the fishing town. While nearly half of the three standing corps were casualties, only around 80 thousand of them were taken captive, though, it wasn't surprising at all. Among them were 2nd Penitence, the corps formed completely of veterans, which was completely wiped out. During the attack on Lanu, they suffered over 40 thousand casualties. These veterans were also the ones that resisted the strongest during the retreat. They would rather die than be taken captive again.
Claude finally solved the riddle that had been plaguing him for a long while. After asking the surrendered Shiksan officers, he finally found out that the previous commander-in-chief, Kralio Dor Sirius, couldn't get used to life on the colony. After he finished the plan to take the fishing town, he was sent back to the kingdom for severe diarrhea. It wasn't known whether he could be healed and saved.
The high-ranking officers of the three corps that implemented that plan were ordered by Majid III to completely destroy Lanu, which was the centre of the colonies' management and headquarters of the theatre, to vent the rage he carried for losing the previous four colonial wars. Additionally, according to traditional norms of war on Freia, conquering the enemy's capital meant victory. Lanu was akin to the capital of the colonies, so the Shiksans were dead set on crushing it.
However, the theatre's victory didn't necessarily spell the end of the colonial wars. Seaking and the Alliance's navy were still circling around in their waters. Thundercrash could do nothing but remain in Mormaly and Anfiston to clean up the aftermath of the battles. They would need to restructure the garrison forces at the coasts to prevent another such incident from repeating.
Claude was so busy he couldn't even catch a breather. It was near the end of Year 593. However, there was not much worth celebrating the upcoming new year's eve. The rubble-like Lanu echoed the wounds the cruel war brought. In a letter Birkin sent, he said after the Shiksans received word of three of their standing corps being wiped out, they no longer continued to attack. Instead, they gathered their forces to defend the borders of the mountains.