The new corps formed by the draft in Sidins was completely unable to hold back the Aueran forces. Their defenses had practically crumbled to the touch. The six corps of Askilin, Rimodra, and Canas were also useless before the furious Aueran offense. They were beaten further and further back, losing one stronghold after another.
It was clear the first prince was going to try to repeat the strategy Bluefeather aimed to achieve before to take Efenasburg in one fell swoop and exterminate Sidins to seal the battle for good. At the very least, that was what the top brass of the Alliance believed.
According to information obtained from the frontlines, Aueras, with their royal guard as the vanguard, led four other irregular corps on an offense that allowed them to inch ever so closer to Efenasburg. Given that Aueras had seven corps and some thirty other combat tribes, they probably left two irregular corps to defend their flanks against Nasri's three corps. In other words, as long as they could stretch the Aueran troops thin, Nasri would be able to break through the defences of those two corps and once more surround the Aueran forces like before, being trapped by the Alliance on Amilia Plains once more.
So, Sidins redoubled efforts to fortify its capital and rallied all its citizens to defend against enemy invasion. The three other duchies' corps did naught but gradually give way and retreat to stretch the Aueran forces thin. They were trying to bait the Aueran vanguard forward so that Nasri's corps would have an opportunity to pierce their flanks.
Little did they expect that Aueras' target wasn't Efenasburg, but the three Nasrian corps instead. When the royal guard reached the run-down defence line set up by Bluefeather the last time, which was located some 20 kilometres away from Efenasburg, the Nasrian commanders at the flank believed that the time was right and launched their attack against the Aueran irregulars at the flank.
The plan went on as the Nasrian commanders planned. The defending irregulars weren't able to stop the advance of the two Nasrian standing corps and one irregular corps. The defense line was soon pierced and all three Nasrian corps began their march towards the tail of the kingdom's forces in an attempt to encircle the forces that were at the frontlines.
But after the Nasrian troops crossed the Aueran defense line, the irregular forces that they thought they had scattered reformed to full force once more and managed to retake the defence line with the help of the other irregular corps. They quickly fortified their defence lines once more, but they focused on defending from troops in the inside rather than out.
At the same time, the two irregular corps that were tailing the royal guard received an eagle message and ceased their slow march, blitzing towards the right flank of the line instead to conquer Sidins' travel chokepoint between Amilia Plains and Sidins' two port cities and set up a defence line there. After leaving one corps to stand guard, the remaining irregular corps teamed up with the royal guard and turned back towards the three Nasrian corps at their rear.
By the time the Nasrians found that they had been surrounded from their flanks and front, they felt that something was off. Urgently, they sent their forces to launch probing attacks on their enemies in all directions, only to find that the enemy had set up lines of defence. The hunter just turned into the hunted.
There was no way the Nasrians would be able to make it out alive. There wasn't a point in counting on their allies. While the four duchies could still hold up in defensive battles, it was impossible to get them to mount an attack on Aueran forces. Otherwise, the stalemate at Eimis wouldn't have lasted half a year.
The ranger tribe no longer received missions to set up ambushes after the battle began. They didn't have to go on the frontlines either, seeing as they weren't scouts. Instead, they were ordered to mobilise with the first prince's forces. Given that the first prince was remaining in Eimis, Claude had the time he needed to pick out the men to join his band.
But after the three Nasrian corps fell into Hansbach's trap, the prince ordered his cohort to advance and commanded some fifty tribes of troops to seal off the rear escape route of the Nasrians. His attendants advised him not to go forward with that mission, only for the first prince to smile bitterly. According to him, the combat tribes would be obedient as long as he was at the frontlines. It was hard to say the same if he had someone else take charge.
Even though the fifty tribes of men the prince had almost amounted to a corps' force, apart from the two combat tribes selected from each of the seven corps on the frontlines, the remaining 30-odd tribes comprised keepers from various parts of the kingdom. While those local forces were capable of defense and logistics, they required heavy supervision in an actual battle. Without the first prince's presence, they would prove hard to control.
Even though the three Nasrian corps were likely not to turn back to break out of encirclement as that amounted to suicide, since they would be overwhelmed from their flanks and what awaited at the back was the strongly fortified Eimis, Hansbach planned to keep the enemy forces in Amilia Plains instead of letting them reach the city. That would prevent the battle from being drawn out, which would cost the kingdom even more.
Aueras' goal in this battle was to wipe out the three Nasrian corps first. As long as that goal could be achieved, the three duchies' reinforcements coming to Sidins' aid would no longer be a worry. Nasri was the only nation among the five in the Alliance to sport some real combat power and the other four duchies wouldn't be able to stop Aueras' forces from advancing.
The ranger tribe arrived at the frontlines with the prince. The sides of Amilia Plains were rather hilly. There were many hills of differing heights and the first prince commanded the 50 tribes he brought with him to set up tight defences near those hills to prevent the three Nasrian corps from breaking through.
Claude was tasked to lead his band to wipe out hidden enemies in the northwest 15 kilometres away. That basically entailed searching through the hills in the northwest, which numbered less than ten. The so-called hidden enemies referred to deserters who fled into the hills or citizens of Sidins that went into hiding. His mission was to prevent such elements from approaching Hansbach's camp.
Claude split his band into four tents and let them fan out for the search. He remained at the center to give commands. They would scour the caves, water sources, valleys and woods in the hills. To survive in the wilderness, people could settle for anything for food, even moss. But a clean water source was always necessary for survival.
During the first day, Claude's band caught ten-odd deserters of Sidins. The orders from the top did make sense after all. The fifty tribes set up camp at the front while the first prince's cohort camped not far back and was guarded by only a tribe of guards. It was easy for enemies to approach from behind.
During the evening, Claude found an abandoned village near the foot of a rocky hill. Only six elderly and three young children remained there. After searching it and asking around, he was informed that the village was called Fenis and its inhabitants relied on planting herbs to make a living. After war broke out the previous year, most of the men in the village were drafted. Not long after Sidins' defeat, deserters soon arrived at the village and pillaged their food and took their women, leaving only the nine young and old behind to watch after one another.
There wasn't anything worth taking in the village. Those that were left behind relied on foraging vegetables in the wild and eating sweet potatoes from the abandoned farm not far away. Near the village was a small waterfall where two streams met. They had wanted to go there to fish for some food for the children, but they noticed some deserters there that had a few women with them and didn't dare to go there any longer.
Claude gave the elderly some of his salt, jerky and black bread in exchange for information on hiding spots near the waterfall. They also drew a simple map and gave a brief description of that area.
Before sleep, Berklin, Aboyev, and Dyavid sought Claude out and said they believed the old people were lying. Many of the deserters they caught told them to not trust the residents of an enemy nation. Any sign of friendliness could be a trap, and as invaders, they should know better. They said that Claude's men would never be regarded as friends.
Claude smiled and shook his head. While the deserters' words made sense, it depended on the context. It was one thing if the invaders conquered enemy territory and pillaged their wealth. They were no different from bandits or raiders in that sense.
But the elderly and children of this village only want their lives to go on in peace. Claude found their village, but he didn't rob them and even gave them food. While they didn't take Claude and the rest as friends, they also didn't see them as enemies. Instead, the deserters hiding in the hills were far more of a threat to them than Claude's men. They told Claude about their plight in hopes that they could help them with it.
And reality came to prove Claude right. During the week-long search, Claude located more than a hundred deserters from Sidins. He also rescued more than twenty women. Most of the deserters were caught at the hiding spots the villagers told them about. Had the terrain of the hills been better, Claude suspected that the deserters would've declared themselves the rulers of that area.
Many skirmishes broke out over the last week. Even so, the deserters were far from a threat and only managed to injured three men from Claude's band. Around thirty of their own were killed. Claude bemoaned the fact that deserters were dangerous to any nation. The villagers he found were the lucky survivors. The two other villages in the hills were completely exterminated thanks to the deserters.
By the time Claude returned with the deserters and rescued women, he heard some bad news. The three Nasrian corps were forced to retreat. Even though they were still heading down the path of doom, they didn't tone down their stubborn struggle at all. The problem was, the ten-odd tribes of local keepers at the first line of defence were quite inadequate for the job. The suicidal attacks of their enemy caused them to abandon their line not long after and allowed the Nasrian forces precious time to regroup and rest.
Prince Hansbach was filled with rage and had rushed to the second line of defence to take matters into his own hands. He gave the order for soldiers running without being given an order to retreat to be captured and given the death sentence. The cruel order managed to help contain the desperate Nasrian advance at the shaky second line of defence. Claude also received orders to report to the ranger tribe at the second defence line immediately.