Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 511
Choosing to Fight or Leave
"We should abandon Polyvisia and retreat immediately. The region only deployed two corps this time. Our mission isn't to help the kingdom take over the whole of Eastern Freia. It's just to help the kingdom repel the invasion. We've done our part and then some. We reclaimed the lost territory, exterminated two duchies, and drove the Union's army out of the kingdom's borders.
"Our strategic objectives have been achieved. Shiks no longer has a foothold in Eastern Freia, and the extermination of Seaking means they'll no longer be able to interfere in matters in this part of the continent. We also conquered Polyvisia. Nasri won't recover in any less than several decades. We got a rather good deal as it is. We should quit while we're ahead," Berklin said during Thundercrash's meeting.
His views were shared by many of the men. As long as they held Polyvisia, they were at risk of having to face off against the 700 thousand soldiers in the five northeastern and seven southwestern Nasrian prefectures. Berklin wanted to run immediately, with their spoils at least. They couldn't leave it to the enemy.
But Dyavid would not accept running from a battle. He represented the autonomous region's battle maniacs. So what if the enemy outnumbered them ten-to-one? It just meant shooting ten times more. There was no need to do something as humiliating as running away.
Claude was at a loss with his two minions. Berklin wasn't the cowardly sort; he'd never have led his lone folk against Polyvisia if he were. He only preferred fighting battles when he had a reasonable expectation of victory, and preferred ones with low casualty numbers. The way he saw it, with Nasri ransacked, they could not get back up anytime soon. Thundercrash should pack up and return to the new territories.
Dyavid, however, stood on the opposite side of things. He was too confident in Thundercrash. He'd even on occasion talked about how invincible it was. After all, he dared to charge against 100 thousand with just 10 thousand. He didn't care for casualties either. Who could challenge him when he had results to back up his madness? All he saw in the coming fight was a chance to win more honours. He would not accept running away from such a chance.
They would be fighting against ten-to-one odds, at best. They would be legendary heroes if they won such a fight. Dyavid's faction didn't fear death, they only feared the enemy's cowardice denying them their grand fight. They believed Thundercrash could wipe out any kind of enemy. They believe it so fervently and unquestioningly their first response to facing an enemy with 700 thousand men, was to load their rifles and prepare extra ammunition.
Claude himself was quite conflicted. Unlike Berklin and Dyavid, he looked at it from a more big-picture perspective, allowing him to see further-reaching implications and make more grounded decisions.
Berklin's move to retreat and abandon Polyvisia would, in effect, render Thundercrash's efforts void. They would be giving up on the best chance to wipe out Aueras' archnemesis, something Claude didn't wish to pass up.
The real reason for the chaos in Eastern Freia was the constant struggle for supremacy between Nasri and Aueras. The land and its people would only see peace once one was completely destroyed. As long as both lions stood on the same mountain, every generation would see war. It would be bad enough if it was just those two fighting it out every couple decades, but they always dragged their neighbours into it as well.
Claude wasn't willing to give up on this opportunity. Ending this constant bickering had become his personal mission. He understood he could only gain greater recognition within the kingdom by taking down their long time nemesis. Putting aside the old nobility, who had no right or business bossing him around, even Fredrey I would have to think twice before badmouthing him. The potential benefits were endless.
Additionally, leaving as Berklin suggested wouldn't be an easy task; the 50 million crowns' worth of wealth wouldn't be that easy to leave with. Unless all of Thundercrash changed into infantry to use their horses to pull carriages filled with their spoils, there was no way they'd be able to leave with all of it.
Naturally, there was the option of distributing the spoils in advance, though that went against the region's regulations. The main issue was how good the soldiers could still fight while bringing along all their spoils with them. Claude would never do something so foolish as to cripple himself. It would also affect the discipline of the troops negatively.
That aside, there were more than 100 thousand captives. The isolated 200 thousand family members of those captives also wouldn't be easy to deal with. They were to be transferred to the region to solve the manpower issue since Fredrey I and the royal court refused the region's request to recruit more people from the mainland. They even insisted nobody who didn't have any familial relations with the settlers were allowed to become immigrants. Since Monolith's arrival, there had been fewer than a thousand people who had moved to the region.
If Thundercrash decided to abandon Polyvisia, there would be no way for them to take the captives and their families with them. All they could do was bring along some of the more high-profile captives like the royalty and nobility. If they wanted to take all of them along, they would have to keep watch and escort them, which would greatly decrease their ability to fight. Even if the enemy didn't actively try to stop them, the slightest accident or chaos on the journey would be enough to deal great damage to Thundercrash.
Even if taking the captives along was impossible, Claude wasn't too willing to give up on them. The captives were deathly loyal to Nasri and they wouldn't be thankful to Thundercrash even if they were set free, especially with how their property was confiscated by them. Freeing them was akin to aiding enemy forces by expanding the pool of experienced officers to recruit from. Thundercrash's problem would only further be exacerbated and they would soon lose control of the towns around the royal capital.
He believed the only solution his officers would suggest was to kill them. Since they couldn't be let go, killing them was the only solution. Thundercrash could have a far more relaxing time leaving after that. However, Claude didn't want such a decision to be made on his watch, or he would truly be known as a bloody slaughterer for good.
While he exterminated only insurgents across the towns near Polyvisia, he was already considered the Butcher of Polyvisia because of the 100 thousand civilian casualties. While he didn't personally kill any of them, he had given the orders.
Though, it was still understandable, and Claude himself didn't really mind that moniker. Thundercrash's men were only wiping out insurgents. They couldn't just stand still and let harm come to them just because their opponents were women, children or the elderly, after all. As long as they were the enemy, they were to be felled with no exception. Civilians who didn't resist, on the other hand, wouldn't be touched by Thundercrash's troops. Their wealth wasn't confiscated and their women weren't teased. Discipline the likes of that was almost never seen in armies of that era.
While killing enemies on the battlefield was justified, acting on defenceless captives was something that would immediately earn Claude a slanderous reputation that would extend to even his descendants. There were unspoken rules in Freian wars that captives were to be cared for and ransomed after the war in good cases, or used as labourers in bad cases. However, no nation would condone killing off captives just like that.
Claude was going to send them to Loki Mountains so they could make a living mining. That was standard protocol and nobody could fault him for it. But if he killed the 300 thousand captives, he would definitely be lambasted for it, even in the region. Nobody liked merciless slaughterers who harmed defenceless people.
The only reason his officers could suggest something like this was the different position they held. All they had to consider was Thundercrash's wellbeing, so they made decisions that benefited Thundercrash without any other regard. The one who made the decision would be Claude anyway, so all credit would go to him.
He couldn't kill them, but couldn't release them either. The best solution was to crush the approaching troops of the Union and wipe Nasri out for good. That way, they would have enough time to transport all captives and wealth back to the region. However, Claude wasn't even sure how he could pull it off.
Dyavid's only strategy was to charge in to beat the enemies up regardless of their numbers. Claude wasn't nearly so reckless. An army of 700 thousand wouldn't be as useless as Nasri's 18th Standing Corps. At least, those in the seven southwestern prefectures who retreated from the frontlines at Aueras and had lots of actual experience in battle. That 400 thousand were the actual foes he had to be wary of, with them being nearly as powerful as Aueras' royal guard.
While the 400 thousand troops were defeated badly in Ambruiz, it was largely due to their low morale for fighting on Aueran soil and the two duchies' newly formed troops that dragged their feet down. The rockets and new cannons also caught the enemy off guard, resulting in their ultimate defeat. But during that retreat, they had a rather stable performance and even caused Reddragon significant casualties in the battle on Ibnist Plains. The three corps of Aueras could only let them leave the kingdom without much of a fight.
While Monolith triumphed in the battle at Ambruiz, they expended half their ammunition stores. Had the Union been aware of that, they would've continued attacking nonstop with their numbers. So long as they were willing to pay another price of 200 thousand troops, they would be able to drain Monolith of their ammunition to the point they would no longer be able to hold Ambruiz.
It was fortunate they had no idea of that at all, being too shocked by the fearsome might Monolith had shown. The extermination of the two duchies and Shiks' new territories being reclaimed as well as Polyvisia's occupation gave the Union's army no choice but to retreat to Shiks to make sure their escape route wasn't cut off.
If the royal guard, Reddragon and Griffon had continued tailing the Union nonstop and applied some pressure, Claude wouldn't have been so vehement about the court and ministry's interference to the point of calling them shameless.
Little did anyone expect, the royal guard returned to the Aueran royal capital after the Union left the borders, leaving Reddragon and Griffon behind to set up a defence line at the border, allegedly to prevent the enemy from coming back through.
It made no sense at all. Couldn't they just cross the border into enemy territory to attack? Since the enemy invaded Aueras first, they should return the favour! The fact that they didn't only put Thundercrash in a more perilous situation.
There was also some good news. The transport fleet once more arrived at Port Floric, bringing with them six garrison lines from the region. They were stationed in the crucial towns and cities in the two duchies.
A huge shipment of ammunition also came along with them. Eiblont was rallying Thundercrash's direct forces to escort the ammunition to Polyvisia. However, they would only arrive after twenty plus more days.
Thundercrash's direct forces which reported to corps command only comprised one independent, enhanced combat line and four logistics and security tribes, as well as administrative officials, healers and other support staff. They numbered 15 thousand in total. With them escorting ammunition to him, Claude felt a little more confident in holding Polyvisia. But he still had to consider whether he ought to take the initiative to attack to slow the march of the Union's army before Eiblont joined up with him.
The other good news was Monolith had left the Aueran capital and was on the way to cross the Audin Mountain Range to reinforce them. However, Monolith was an infantry corps unlike Thundercrash, so they required a month and a half to travel to Polyvisia. Bolonik and Birkin wrote that they hoped Claude and the rest would be able to hold on until they arrived.
Given all that, he couldn't leave now even if he wanted to. He decided to let Berklin's 1st Folk attack and slow the Union's army's march, at least until Eiblont arrives with the ammunition. However, he received a surprising piece of news before 1st Folk set out.
"What? The three Nasrian corps now fly Prince Vedario's banner? They're not marching towards Polyvisia, but are setting up a defence line in the prefecture of Giovalvo instead?"
Claude, Berklin and Dyavid had no idea what sort of insanity overcame the Union's soldiers for stopping halfway. Though, it wasn't surprising to them that the escaped prince joined up with the Union's army. What was shocking was how he managed to gain control of the three Nasrian standing corps so quickly.