Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 517
Good News and Lies
The Union Army had 550 thousand men when they arrived in Polyvisia. After the battle, they were left with the 80 thousand that had escaped with Pillag. The rest were now either dead or captured.
The city itself was covered in 180 thousand corpses. Only about two-thirds of those bodies were moderately intact, however. About 60 thousand, as the estimate went, were scattered bits and pieces of the poor souls who'd been in the royal plaza during the bombardment. The captured, both injured and surrendered, counted up to just 130 thousand. Though not unheard of, this was one of those rare battles where the dead outnumbered the other losses such as injured, captured, and deserted.
The attackers had outnumbered the defenders more than four against one and had still been defeated even after taking the city's outer walls, and defeated with such horrific losses. No other comparable loss was recorded in any history book about Faslan's long and storied history. Claude would come to be highly praised by many a historian for his stellar performance during the battle. Of especial praise would be his use of treasure to distract and blind the enemy with greed. He'd lured them into his trap so perfectly they didn't suspect a thing until they walked into the afterlife.
The Union's only saving grace was Pillag's swift retreat in the immediate aftermath. He'd had the presence of mind to take with him all their supplies and, most importantly, all the Canasian horses left in their camp before the attack. Thanks to his swift thinking, the enemy had been deprived of further plunder the Union could not afford to relinquish.
All the remaining troops surrendered almost at the same time Pillag withdrew. Claude's men found about 100 thousand Nasrian and Canasian injured in the camp. Their victory was thus instead a burden adder because they now had a mass of temporary invalids to feed, clothe, house, and guard.
At least Pillag had thought of the injured he was forced to leave behind and didn't set fire to the
food stores he couldn't take with him.
Eiblont set out after Pillag's force as soon as their base had been occupied, but could not catch up and was forced to turn back empty-handed. Claude sent him off on another mission as soon as he returned. He was to take Thundercrash's 2nd, 3rd, and 7th lines and any scattered remains of shattered units and form a new temporary folk. He was to march this new band of men to Beaumarisburg and take it.
Monolith's 2nd Folk had just sixteen thousand men left and Thundercrash just 6 thousand. The just-over-20-thousand men had to watch over 200 thousand captives and care for the wounded, an almost impossible task. Fortunately, the captives were broken. The sight of their mutilated and scattered dead had destroyed their fighting spirits. They had no will left to resist even if they could literally bury their captures in corpses and still have ample men to spare. Few even bothered running away when those able were ordered to clean the city and surrounding plains of their dead comrades.
Claude's hope with the immediate deployment of the temporary folk was to catch Canas' duke off guard. Every uncaptured Union soldier had left with Pillag, which left him in a very vulnerable position. They would no doubt send a messenger to the duke as soon as they realised they were no longer being chased. He couldn't afford to let the duke escape again. Aueras could even less afford loose strings from this war. One temporary folk was enough to erase Canas from the map. Duke Canas had supplied just three light-cavalry corps to the Union's army. Had it not been for Shiksan support, he wouldn't have been able to raise even that much. Currently, only one guard folk and a haphazard garrison were left defending Beaumarisburg and they couldn't hold against even a temporary folk.
While it would spread Polyvisia's defences thin, most of those injured a few months earlier had recovered and been discharged from the field hospital. They were just enough for two peacekeeping lines. Bolonik also sent a line from Thundercrash's 3rd Folk. They would arrive in six more days.
The Union laid siege to Polyvisia from the 7th to the 29th of the 11th month, after which Monolith and Thundercrash reclaimed the western sector. It ended when the last of the Shiksan deserters were found. Nasri was done for good and would never appear on another map of the region ever again. Aueras had finally conquered its centuries-long rival.
Official news of the victory made it to the capital on the 5th of the 12th month but the signaller who received the message didn't believe it. He could not believe the severely undermanned colonial forces had defeated a force four times their size, so he left the message in his drawer. It took another fortnight before news made its way down the grapevine to the merchants. They blathered about it to anyone and everyone who'd listen, and many were more than willing to.
The stories eventually reached Fredrey I's ears when he noticed the merchants scrambling to set out for the kingdom's new territory. He immediately interrogated his ministers.
His ministers had, of course, not heard anything through official channels, so they told him it was just a fool's rumour, perhaps even a ploy by the autonomous region to embarrass them or otherwise increase their influence with the court.
The ministers were just busy unrolling a map of the region to begin a thorough debunking when the prime minister, Marquis Blancarte, charged into the council chambers, excitedly waving a letter above his head.
"Your Majesty! Your Majesty! Nasri is conquered! Long live Thundercrash and Monolith!"
The king and the rest of his council gaped.
Fredrey I recomposed himself with considerable effort, however, and spoke.
"Blancarte, what on earth are you celebrating?"
"Nasri's conquest, Your Majesty. I just confirmed it. The Union was completely crushed at Polyvisia. They lost over 400 thousand men. Duke Pillag Xi Feriot only barely managed to escape and ran back to the Union with his tail between his legs and just 80 thousand soldiers. The forces in Polyvisia immediately marched a contingent to the remaining stronghold and took the duke. Nasri is officially done for!"
Blancarte stared at the room once he finished speaking, finally noticing the king had company.
"What are you doing here? You should be the first to hear of this! And why are you looking at me like that? Didn't you get the message from our forces in the region yet?"
"Lord Prime Minister, where did you get that letter?" one officer asked after clearing his throat.
Blancarte handed him the letter.
"Read for yourself. General Bolonik sent it. Wrote it himself, even. He says he sent a report a fortnight ago. I couldn't believe I'd not heard about this yet when I read the letter so I came rushing over. I find it really strange the merchants learnt of this before I did. I sent a missive to him by eagle and he confirmed it to me personally."
Indeed, their missives confirmed the rumours. Bolonik had not described the battle in his letters, however, saying that was all in the report he'd sent a fortnight earlier. He gave just the crucial details, specifically, he wrote that Thundercrash and Monolith, under Claude, Birkin, and Eiblont's leadership, had defeated the Union and taken over 400 thousand captives, and had finally fully conquered Nasri.
And so, Fredrey I, Blancarte and the rest of the ministry of the army dug through the pile of trash documents for half an hour before finally finding the discarded report. The report detailed the trap set in the city, the casualties, and the actions taken after the battle to finally rid them of Nasri.
The casualty report made special mention of well-known officers and generals who'd fallen during the battle, and contained a comprehensive inventory of the spoils taken from the enemy's base. It only mentioned treasure worth two million crowns taken from the Nasrian treasury. It failed to discuss the wealth looted from the city itself and the royal family's treasury.
Bolonik had also included Claude's request for immediate relief. Claude couldn't hold onto their gains with the men he had left. They were exhausted and had over 400 thousand captives to guard, an impossible task for the men he had left. He also slyly included mention that it would not be appropriate for a Nubissian force to be administering parts of the mainland, even if only temporarily under wartime conditions.
The ministry's officials were beet red by the time they finished the report -- as if they'd been physically slapped across the face. Just an hour earlier they'd been confidently educating the king on the baselessness and impossibility of the rumours. It would have been at least a month more before they'd have learnt the truth if not for the prime minister's initiative in confirming things with Bolonik.
The gaze Fredrey I shot them was already filled with suspicion. Had it taken them a month to realise the truth of things, they'd have been utterly ruined. That said, this was not much better. The king now doubted them, if only by the tiniest amount, and that doubt could only grow as time passed. Since the start of the debt war, their predictions and analyses had gotten almost everything wrong. They'd even distrusted their victory.
They immediately went looking for a scapegoat, but the signaller who'd tossed the report was unrepentant. He insisted he'd done nothing wrong. He'd assumed the report must be a false one since he'd heard nothing but bad things about the units in question from his superiors.
The ministry had indeed done much to discredit the region's forces. They'd run countless sandtable simulations in support of their low estimation of their forces. They all showed the two corps would lose the fight and be forced to retreat. Reddragon and Griffon would have to hold the frontlines while they licked their wounds and the kingdom would be forced to negotiate another peace deal.
Their constant propaganda had so poisoned the opinions of their subordinates that even the truth had been disregarded as false boasting.
Fredrey I couldn't believe his ears.
"Do you have no opinions of your own?" the king asked the signaller, "Soldiers should think for themselves. What use is a mindless animal on the battlefield? Surely no military unit would forge such a blatantly unbelievable report if they were making things up. Wouldn't they want to make it as believable as possible? Were you taught no common sense in school or college?"
The major's frank reply startled the king.
"I never attended college, Your Majesty. I am from House Adlersino. I was forced into the army by my father. He said I'd learn all I needed to know from my superiors, so there was no point in sending me to college. My current position was prepared for me before I joined."
House Adlersino was one of the old nobility. They ran the Telenas Fabrication Complex, one of the kingdom's four main complexes.
Fredrey I's expression darkened at the man's words. What a joke! How could a completely uneducated man become a major? He didn't even know the most basic of army regulations and protocols. No wonder he'd done something so stupid. No wonder he'd not heard a single good prediction from the ministry in the entire war.
"Your Majesty," one of the ministers quickly jumped in, "while Major Adlersino isn't a college graduate, he was a stellar literature student in Cleffrey Academy. Signaller posts require good writing and reading ability, but little else. He has an exemplary disciplinary record."
"Why was he made a major, then? Aren't even the most senior of signallers supposed to be just captains?"
The king left the council chambers with those words and a cold glare.
Blancarte couldn't say anything, so he just sighed and ran after the king.
An eagle message reached Polyvisia on the 28th of the 12th month. It appointed Claude the temporary governor of what had once been the Kingdom of Nasri. He was put in charge of all administrative matters. The royal court held a session of the council on the 15th of the 1st month to discuss a permanent replacement. Following the meeting, they announced the merits and rewards Claude and his men were to receive in recognition of their efforts and successes.
Eiblont's letter made it to Claude first, however. They'd force-marched for 17 days, but had not caught the Duke of Canas. He'd already left with all his wealth when they arrived. He'd also taken his family and all his loyal subjects with him. Eiblont believed they'd made for asylum in Shiks.
At the very least, however, Canas had fallen into their hands as well.