Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 563

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"Our scouts report that the Shiksan corps Clyde and Jeska are working together with the nobles, local garrison forces and officials of the coastal prefectures of Bengla and Fedkans. They are currently evacuating everyone there to the western prefecture of Kelwok." Borkal drew a red line on the map to mark the evacuation route.

"How many men do they have in total?" Avitelli I asked.

Borkal glanced at the folder in his hand. "The two corps have 136 thousand men and the local forces are four lines of 20 thousand strong. The families of the nobles and officials that are evacuating and others accompanying them number around 20 thousand. We believe they're heading for the northwestern highland prefectures. That area is the territory of Duke Pillag Xi Feriot of the northern lands."

"Duke Pillag Xi Feriot? This name sounds familiar," Claude mused, "Does the duke's territory encompass all four of those prefectures? He must be quite a powerful one in Shiks then."

"Lord Militant, Duke Pillag Xi Feriot is indeed someone you know," Borkal said, "During the Second Great Eastern Freian War, he was the commander-in-chief of the Union's army. When he saw that things were turning south in the Battle of Polyvisia, he took the mounts of the three Canasian light-cavalry folks from their camp and fled with some 100 thousand injured Shiksan soldiers and remnants back to Shiks. He was relieved of his position of Lord Militant by Majid III due to retreating without a fight.

"The duke has a great reputation in Shiks. Of the four northwestern highland prefectures, the three apart from Welmouth were conquered and taken from the highland barbarians thanks to the duke's efforts. As those three prefectures are often pillaged by barbarians, the royal court couldn't enfeoff the lands there to other nobles. So, they had no choice but to put them in the care of the duke. All four of those prefectures are within the duke's sphere of influence.

"Clyde and Jesca's corpsmen, General Hamons and General Tolmak, served under Duke Feriot during the war. During their retreat, one of the two generals was injured and the other took care of logistics.

"As Duke Feriot bore all responsibility for the retreat, his subordinates weren't punished. The two generals are really thankful to the duke for that. That is the reason our department of intelligence came to the conclusion that the two corps are heading for those four prefectures."

"Can we stop them?" Avitelli I asked.

Borkal gave the king a troubled look. "It's not like we can't. If we have Thundercrash pursue them, we can delay their journey and force them to stop and defend their ground. Then, we can send Bleyotte's three corps to encircle them before launching our attack. As long as we take a certain number of casualties, we'll be able to defeat those two corps and capture the ones they're escorting.

"The issue is if we pursue them, we'll give the other four Shiksan corps a chance. If those four corps get to know that we're pursuing Jesca and Clyde, they'll definitely come to attack the capital."

"Let them go, then," Claude said with his eyes on the map, "Since they've left the battlefield, we can ignore them for now. Their departure greatly cuts down on the number of enemies we have to face. I have to admit that Clyde and Jesca's corpsmen are really smart and chose a path to life.

"Backle and Blus are currently stationed in Skovia, a prefecture neighbouring Dademoss. They are two days slower than Soram. I believe those two corps received an urgent call for help from the royal capital and rushed back immediately, only to find Soram completely eliminated when they reached Skovia and heard about the death of their king, falling into a dilemma as a result.

"Backle's corpsman is the third son of Majid III, Lieutenant-General Mondocarlo Dar Shiks. He's the one with most military talent among the king's 19 sons and daughters and had suppressed many a noble revolt. Being a cruel sadist, he loves to cook captives alive in boiling oil. That's why he has the worst reputation among the military of the kingdom. Quite a number of officers believe he doesn't have the bearing fit for a king.

"The corpsman of Blus is Marquis Vincebard, a major-general. He's a distant relative of the Shiksan royal family, with his aunt marrying Prince Sriheim, Majid III's younger brother. Marquis Vincebard used that connection to shoot up the ranks in the military and eventually became major-general and corpsman of Blus. His performance is nothing out of the ordinary, and his only good point is his obedience. He follows his superiors' orders to the letter.

"Currently, Backle and Blus are defending Skovia and rallying the reserve corps in the neighbouring prefectures. They are also expropriating supplies. Three reserve corps have already reached their camp and they have a combined force of around 350 thousand. According to captive testimonies, Mondocarlo requested Clyde and Jesca and the two standing corps stationed in Manori Plains to group together."

Borkal pointed at the path travelled by Clyde and Jesca. "It's obvious that these two corps refused to obey Mondocarlo's orders. Instead, they found a path to escape for themselves and chose to avoid conflict with us. As for Manori Plains' two standing corps, Dakhli and Farklin, they didn't obey the prince's orders either and started building defences at the entrance of the mountain pass towards Port Patkara. It seems like they're going to defend their ground--"

Avitelli I interrupted, "Dakhli is a corps local to the three prefectures of Manori Plains, with most of their soldiers being recruited there. Strictly speaking, they are Bleyotteans. But the three prefectures in Manori have been ceded to Shiks for more than three decades. I'm not sure if the people there still consider themselves one of us."

Claude looked at the crestfallen king and consoled, "I believe the older ones will remember the past. You mentioned the people there were really resistant to the idea of being ceded over, and the Shiksan occupying forces killed many locals back then. It's not a grudge that will easily be forgotten.

"The fact that they didn't heed the prince's rallying cry and started to build defences at the pass instead shows that they don't want to fight for Shiks. Instead, they're just trying to defend their homes. Perhaps you can send an ambassador to get in touch with them. They might love the chance to return to being Bleyotteans."

The king nodded slowly. "Alright. I'll send someone to negotiate with them. If they are willing to return and accept peace, it would be ideal."

"Then, we only have to deal with the troops gathered in Skovia, then. There are 350 thousand men that make up the two Shiksan standing corps and three reserve corps," Claude said, "Borkal, tell me about the state of the prefecture."

"Yes, Lord Militant." Borkal got his subordinates to hang up a detailed map of Skovia. "Skovia is a prefecture with mountains and plains with two main rivers. There are three cities, eight towns and 68 villages there in total. It is a territory ruled directly by the Shiksan royal family and their population number 740 thousand in total. The capital city, Scannamo, is located at Glow River. That is where Prince Mondocarlo's main camp is located.

"The prince has Backle stationed at Scannamo and set up a defence line along Glow River. Marquis Vincebard's Blus, on the other hand, is stationed at the mountain city of Sidbos in Tenor Forests, which is in line with Glow River. Between those two locations is where the town of Cepol is located. That's where the reserve corps from the prefecture of Cadmus is stationed.

"There are four other towns ahead of the defence line. The reserve corps from Ridleys split four ways to guard those towns. Prince Mondocarlo probably wants to use them as vanguard and alarm bases. However, the other four standing corps didn't respond to his order to rally up, so he had no choice but to switch to defence instead of marching towards Dademoss to attack Thundercrash.

"Behind the prince's defence line is the city of Langlis that's being used as the main supply base for all those troops. The reserve corps from the prefecture of Sadkobo is stationed to guard the supplies there. According to more captive testimonies, two more reserve corps from Lonwayork and Drizink will be going there to reinforce them."

After Borkal's briefing, he had his subordinates mark the towns mentioned in the testimonies. Claude looked at the map and shook his head with a smile. He turned to the high-ranking officers in the tent. "We can conclude based on their troop layout that Prince Mondocarlo isn't a very experienced military leader at all."

He pointed at Scannamo and continued, "General Berklin, if you're on defence, how would you handle deployment in the area from Scannamo to Sidbos?"

General Beck of the two Bleyottean mountain corps was none other than the disguised Berklin. He had successfully fooled the Shiksan officials that came to escort him, the two Bleyottean corps and Thundercrash 1st and 2nd Folks into Dademoss. There, they expropriated supplies and hung the Shiksan officials that escorted them, sending the prefecture into chaos.

Thanks to his magnificent performance, Shiks' kingdom officials didn't notice anything amiss at all. They only declared the Bleyottean troops traitor after all resources were expropriated and hurriedly sent Soram to kill off all the mountain monkeys that dared mess with them.

The troops of Soram were in such a rush that they didn't bother to send scouts, only to run into a trap. It was only after suffering heavy losses that they noticed something amiss, but there was no longer a chance for regret. Berklin led Thundercrash's two folks to bombard their flanks the next morning, eliminating the Shiksan corps before they even managed to set up camp and take cover.

Berklin knew Claude was trying to test his military acuity. He went to the map to give a careful look to the layout of the defences, before confidently saying, "If I were the commander, I would focus my troops at the town of Cenpal, as that is the centre of the defence line. I don't understand why the prince stationed his standing corps at Scannamo instead. If Cenpal is conquered, Backle would have nowhere else to escape unless they can retreat across Glow River.

Borkal took out his file on Glow Lake. "The river has an average width of 60 metres, with the widest point stretching up to 200 metres. Its depth is around 12 metres, making it the largest river in Skovia. Scannamo is located near the widest part of the river that ranges from 100 to 200 metres wide. It's so large the part is known as Glow Lake. That part of the river is calm as a mirror. The scenery there is magnificent to behold, especially during sunrise and sunset.

"Glow River can basically only be crossed with a ferry. There are no bridges built across it, with there being only two crossing docks at Scannamo, each able to accommodate up to two man-powered ferries. It takes half an hour or so to cross one time and each ferry can only hold up to 50 passengers per trip. Additionally, there are 32 fishing boats that can carry five to eight men at most."

Berklin nodded to Borkal. "Backle didn't build any bridges across the river near Scannamo either. In other words, as long as we take Cenpal and cut off the land route towards Scannamo and send a line of troops to the other side of Glow River, that prince will have nowhere to run.

"If I were in charge of deployment, I would focus my defences at Cenpal. Scannamo and Sidbos each only have to be defended by a reserve corps. The two standing corps will be stationed at the front and back of Cenpal instead to facilitate quick reinforcements. That way, they'd be able to hold us off for more than a month."

"What about the four towns ahead of the defence line?" Claude asked.

"There's no need to station any troops there. I would evacuate all the residents, including the villagers in nearby areas. Then, I'd burn the towns and villages down so the enemy doesn't get to take advantage of them. They'd only be able to find rest by setting up camp in the wilderness."

A smile surfaced on Claude's face. "A rather decent answer. Our enemy hasn't undertaken scorched earth because they still hold the delusion of reclaiming Saint Cyprean. That's why they stationed garrison troops at the four towns. That way, they'd be able to supply their troops once enough of them gather for a counterattack. Since you've already understood the weaknesses of their defence, I'll leave Thundercrash's attack to you.

"You and Dyavid will take the four folks of Thundercrash to sweep the four towns in front, Cenpal and Langlis clean. As for Blus at Sidbos and Backle at Scannamo, you only have to hold them there. Don't take the initiative to attack them to prevent unnecessary casualties, understood?"

Berklin and Dyavid saluted. "Yes, Lord Militant. We know what to do."

Seeing the two leave excitedly with the officers of the four folks, Avitelli I got anxious. "Lord Militant, you have to give the three corps of Bleyotte something to do. You can't expect them to watch Thundercrash steal all the glory, right?"

Claude laughed as he waved. "My friend, don't worry. Your Bleyottean warriors will have a chance to shine. Thundercrash is a light-cavalry corps, so their specialty is speed and penetration. Just look. Sidbos, where Blus is stationed, is very mountainous. It's perfect for your mountain corps. I will leave you to besiege this city. I trust you'll be able to take it swiftly."

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