Claude poked his head out of the muddy trench and looked around. After making sure nothing was amiss, he breathed a sigh of relief and turned to Myjack and Gum.
"Right here will do. Rest for a while and keep your musket properly. Make sure you hide yourself well. I don't want anyone finding out where you are. Myjack, go to the rear and tell Mod and Berk to hide themselves in our flanks. We'll set up our ambush here."
Claude had been transferred to the ranger tribe two months earlier. The unit used only Aubass Mark 3s. They were essentially a scout and skirmish unit intended to blind the enemy before battle by taking out their scouts, and doing some scouting themselves in the places ordinary scouts couldn't go.
Scouts used to be light cavalry. They'd scour the terrain ahead of armies as they marched to detect any ambushes, scout enemy movements, and find the best routes through difficult terrain. Some armies used scouts purely in a scouting role, having them run away whenever they encountered the enemy. Others thought of scouts as light combat units instead, using them as screening forces in the early stages of battle. Aueras had both. Non-dedicated scouts were usually just random picks from units that served basic scouting duties as needed, and dedicated units specialised in scouting and counter-scouting. All they did was ride out ahead of the main formations, scout out the terrain and clear it of enemy scouts. On occasion they'd also be employed in battles themselves, though what exactly they did in the battles varied greatly from battle to battle.
They had their greatest impact when it came time to blind the enemy before major moves such as offensives or repositionings. The basic scout unit was a three- or four-man team. Typical tens had three to four such teams. Scouts were usually deployed by tent, and would split into their teams on their own to achieve their objectives.
Fighting enemy scouting elements was very difficult. They usually shed everything but the most essential equipment to maximise their mobility and stealth. So catching them once they knew you were coming for them was almost impossible. The ideal way of combating mounted scouts was to counter them with one's own in mounted melee combat, since firearms weren't effective thanks to their mobility.
It didn't help that the Alliance generally had scouts superior to Aueras'. They'd fought many wars and had a long tradition and excellent doctrine. Despite the rarity of serious scout skirmishes, Aueras had lost five hundred mounted scouts in the five months since the stalemate had settled in, and that was just in this particular front.
Prince Hansbach stopped all scouting activities the moment he arrived. There was no point to fighting this war of attrition if there was no imminent reason to. They weren't planning any immediate offensives, so there was no point in sending their mounted scouts out to die.
"We cannot match Canas' light cavalry in either horsemanship or mounted combat. They're natural-born riders. Stellin IX said we can't match them man for man until the numbers are ridiculously large for scouting operations."
Hansbach spoke in his office to a collection of junior and senior officers.
The Duchy of Canas stood on the only plains in Eastern Freia, the Great Plains of Canas. The youth there were natural riders. Aueran troops had heavy-armored riders which specialized in keeping tight formations and interception charges. They were known for their iron-wall-like defence. However, they weren't as good at mounted combat as the Canasian light cavalry.
The prince had long thought of setting up a unit of rangers specifically trained to go against this enemy. Since at least as far back as his first time fighting them with Reddragon and Griffon. The Mark 3 was a golden opportunity to push Aueras' own scouting elements to the match of Canas', but only a few veterans appreciated the firearm's advantage over the older models.
That said, those veterans were beyond deadly. One of them in Reddragon used his Mark 3 to take down an entire cannon battery on his own.
His thoughts were brought to the accurate keeper band in the pass when he arrived. Having seen their prowess, and especially after learning that it had been gained with sub-par individuals, he couldn't stop himself from forming an experimental unit right then and there.
Claude wanted to buy a pill for regret, if such a thing existed, after hearing that he was so spontaneously transferred to the new unit. Why did he always have to be training his men? Couldn't he, just that one time, have let them be? But no, he just had to use every chance he had to train his men, and now he'd been pegged by the first prince.
During his first day in the new unit, Claude heard from the flat-faced lieutenant-colonel that the ranger tribe's mission was to ambush enemy scouts to prevent information about their troops from being discovered. They couldn't afford to let them find out about their movements or troop placements.
While it sounded easy, it was incredibly hard for infantrymen to deal with cavalry. The Aubass Mark 3 was the only gun in the kingdom that could fire accurately and reliably, but it was only accurate up to a hundred meters, a distance which mounted troops only required a few short seconds to cover. There was only one opportunity to shoot before the riders would be on them.
Claude suspected whether the first prince was trying to trade in the lives of infantry to take out cavalry. Even if a foot soldier managed to kill a mounted scout, the rest would mow him down not long after. In a sense, that was a worthwhile trade for the kingdom. Aiming with the Aubass Mark 3 was rather simple after all and the troops only had to hide and wait for the enemy to come. Training a mounted scout on the other hand was much costlier and difficult.
Nevertheless, there was nothing he could do about it. Fortunately for him, the rainy season that would span the first three months of the year was soon coming. Claude still had some time for some simple preparation work to increase the difficulty of his keeper band's training routine and drilling the key points of hiding and retreating on the battlefield to his men. The commanding officer of the ranger tribe, Lieutenant-Colonel Rosley, had the irregulars compete with each other and picked the ones with better shooting accuracy to join the new unit. They would be sent to struggle against the enemy's mounted scouts after the rainy season.
In terms of combat effectiveness, Prince Hansbach's goals were achieved. The enemy scouts were forced to stay in their own zone and could no longer afford to charge carelessly to the back of the lines to inspect troop layouts. They feared the sudden gunshots which meant that the enemy had their eye on them. The subsequent gunshots might mean the sudden loss of another brother or comrade.
But in certain ways, the ranger unit was also a failure. Hansbach had appointed an unqualified officer who wasn't able to bring out the tribe's full potential to command it. He even turned the ranger tribe into a kind of punishment unit. Soldiers who did wrong would be forced to go to the battlefield with the Aubass Mark 3 and only allowed to return to their former unit after killing three enemies and claiming their dog tags.
As a result, the casualty rate of the ranger tribe began to soar as Claude had worried. There was no proper training regime or placement. When the 4th month came and marked the end of the rainy season, Rosley couldn't wait to send the rangers to ambush enemy scouts. During the 4th month alone, the tribe lost a third of its troops. Even though the treatment in the tribe was decent, people no longer volunteered to join it, causing Rosley to have to fill the empty ranks with soldiers who committed mistakes.
Claude's keeper band also lost nearly half its men. Only 27 out of the original 60 were left. Eight of them were bedridden and being treated in Eimis, three among which were crippled. They had their limbs cut off by the enemy scouts and it was already half a miracle that they were still alive at all.
The lucky four nobles were without a scratch, mainly because they obeyed Claude's orders and were also quite sharp-witted themselves. Claude was the ace shooter of his unit and the one who was the easiest to talk to in the tribe. No matter who asked him what they ought to do on the battlefield, he would patiently give them an explanation. Many of the soldiers who made it back to the safety of the camp from the battlefield had heeded his advice, which also caused his reputation to soar. He was the most famous sergeant-major in the ranger tribe.
However, he ended up becoming an eyesore to Rosley. Claude had gotten into conflict with the lieutenant-colonel on three separate occasions. Had he not been the most accomplished shooter in the tribe, Rosley would've ordered the other troops to arrest Claude and have him tried and punished. Perhaps he might even have him killed and made an example out of.
The first conflict had to do with the uniform. Claude believed the bright red uniform and straight army caps were unfit for ambush operations on the battlefield as it would signal danger to the enemy scouts from afar. Ideally, green or a camouflage pattern would be better for their uniforms. He suggested that the lieutenant-colonel submit the proposal to Prince Hansbach for the change.
It sounded like a reasonable request to Claude, since it concerned the safety of his fellow soldiers. He didn't expect that Rosley would explode with rage, however, citing the uniform colours being set since the founding of the kingdom as the reason. Red, according to him, symbolised courage and spirit. Since when did a minor officer like Claude have the right to change the colour of the army's uniforms? He said it almost amounted to treason!
The second conflict was when Claude made a suggestion for the troops to be deployed in small groups, with everyone taking an extra gun along. That way, they would be able to fire twice in succession. By then, Rosley already developed a bias against Claude and saw the suggestion as attempting to supply the enemy with more firearms, since one killed ranger meant giving the enemy two muskets instead of one.
The third argument spawned as a result of the lieutenant-colonel accusing the rangers for slacking off by camping and hiding all day to ambush enemies and returning to camp late at night. He demanded the rangers to return with at least one enemy's dog tag to be allowed to rest for two days or they would have to continue waiting on the battlefield in ambush.
Claude believed it impractical since retrieving the dog tags posed a lot of unnecessary risk for the soldiers. There were situations in which an immediate retreat was necessary after an attack. Claiming the dog tags was out of the question.
Rosley fumed again and ordered Claude to claim at least ten enemy dog tags in the next week or not be allowed any rest at all.