"What did you say? The first prince went to the frontlines himself with his tribe of guards?" Claude said with an ashen face.
Right after his return to the ranger tribe, Claude heard something unbelievable from the mouth of Captain Lederfanc.
"He's the crown prince! How could you let him go to the frontlines? What if something happens to him? Everyone here will be responsible for it!" Claude thought that the officers were surely going crazy for daring to allow Hansbach to go to the frontlines.
A few stray bullets hitting the prince was all it took for it to end up an embarrassing failure for Aueras even if Sidins ended up defeated. Hansbach wasn't just the crown prince, but the commander-in-chief of the battle. Just because he was there to preside over the battle didn't mean that he had to face the enemy's fire at the frontlines personally.
"None of us were able to stop His Highness. His Highness was really mad that the three encircled Nasrian corps sent a line of forces to attack us. Those useless tribes weren't able to stop them at all and His Highness had no choice but to go to the frontlines to give the order for deserters to be killed to hold the line.
"But this morning, a Nasrian cavalry line breached the second defence line from here in a suicidal maneuver and occupied Wilf Stronghold. One keeper tribe defending the stronghold were completely wiped out and the first prince is now gathering a force to mount an attack to retake the stronghold. If we aren't able to do so, the four defence units at the hill won't be able to be reinforced and supplied. They won't last under enemy attack," Lederfanc explained.
There was a thick, curved line stretching across Amilia Plains. It marked the path between Eimis and Efenasburg. The wars in this era largely took place around these highways to ensure smooth transportation of supplies and troops. If the three Nasrian corps want to break out of encirclement, breaking out of the highway was the easiest way and that was why the defence lines were set up.
On the map, a few of the hills had been marked with a red cross, denoting the loss of the defence lines near the area. Four other hills on both sides of the central highway were still in Aueran hands, but there was a red cross on the rearmost oval which marked Wilf Stronghold.
There was another red line on the map which denoted the route the Nasrian cavalry took to Wilf. It was apparent that the Nasrian officers were no fools and understood the principle of striking at the weakest link. They weren't willing to fight a battle with the Aueran defences which would be costly in terms of casualties and time. They were still attacked on their flank and rear and extermination was a very real possibility.
As such, they took a leap of faith with their cavalry line and managed to conquer Wilf, cutting off the reinforcements and supplies for the defence lines at the four hills ahead. As long as the cavalry line could retain control over Wilf, the rest of their comrades would be able to take the four hills and they would no longer have any obstacles on their way to Eimis.
"Why didn't His Highness order the troops to retreat to Eimis? The defences there are fortified. Even if the Nasrian forces manage to break encirclement and attack Eimis, they still won't escape total annihilation," Claude said.
"That won't do. There's still someplace they can run to at the north of Eimis," the captain said.
"The north? That's the coast. Where else can they go?"
Lederfanc shook his head with a pained smile. "You forgot about the Alliance's navy. The waters there are still their territory. If they manage to reach Eimis, they can run to the coast and depart on the ships. Even if most of the forces won't be able to escape, the officers would definitely be the first to leave. That's why His Highness insisted on having the defence lines set up at the hills to prevent a single Nasrian high officer from escaping."
"Then what am I to do now?"
"What? Go to the frontlines. This is a chance for you to perform," Lederfanc said, "I heard about the war game you had in Bluefeather's 11th Tribe. You used a tent of men to occupy territory defended by a whole band. The first prince has launched four attacks on the stronghold since this morning and the casualties are huge. However, Wilf still remains in enemy hands. Go there and see if you have a way to take it back."
Claude handed Lederfanc the captives and injured, resupplied and rushed to the frontlines with his band. The closer he was to Wilf, the larger sense of foreboding he felt.
Less than a kilometre away from the rendezvous point, Claude saw a hill with piles of dead soldiers. Only half of the corpses were covered in white cloth. The rest were left on the hill in the open and made a ghastly sight. There were probably two to three thousand corpses in total.
When he finally found the rendezvous point of the rangers, he noticed that morale was incredibly low. He asked a familiar sergeant-major about it and found that the first prince's men had launched five attacks in total, but all of them ended in failure and more than half ended up as casualties. Even the rangers were dragged into two of the attacks and less than three hundred of them still survived.
"How was the attack made?" Claude asked in shock. While the ranger tribe wasn't fully staffed, there were at least seven hundred of them. How could the casualty rate be that high?
The sergeant-major bit his lip and said, "That darned Lieutenant-Colonel Rosley volunteered to have our tribe join the battle. We marched forward in neat lines. He wanted us to march all the way to the enemy base before firing, but we were sent flying back nonstop by the four cannons of the enemy. Not a single one of the men lined up in front could be saved.
"What's ironic about this is that those cannons were installed by us. The enemy managed to take the base and use it against us. We are unable to approach a hundred metres of the stronghold. The scatter shot covers the whole area and the darned lieutenant-colonel is only asking us to march to our deaths. He wants us to fire only when we're fifty metres away before charging in with our bayonets."
Rosley's manoeuvre would be the correct one if the enemy didn't have cannons and were only armed with muskets. Taking the casualties and only firing fifty metres away before charging in for a melee would terrify the enemy until they were no longer able to resist. But the issue was that they had four cannons and scatter shots could cover the whole area a hundred metres away. It was indeed nothing but a death march.
Claude turned to look at Wilf. The distant stronghold wasn't that high up. The elevation was around forty to fifty metres and the slope was a gentle one. On the two sides of the hill were steep cliffs, so attacking from those directions were impossible. There was still a large pile of Aueran corpses on the middle part of the slope, but most of the corpses near the bottom had been taken care of. There were also a few cannons tipped over on the ground.
"What's with those cannons?"
"The first prince had them brought over. However, the elevation isn't high enough and they can't hit the stronghold, so they had to be moved forward. However, the enemy has four cannons and a great artilleryman, not to mention, higher elevation. It didn't take long for our cannons to be completely destroyed," the sergeant-major replied.
"How many enemies are there left on the hill?"
"I'm not too sure. An estimate of four to five hundred, perhaps--" The sergeant-major shook his head. "--I heard there were around a thousand this morning, but after our attacks, the first prince's guard tribe managed to fire around twenty volleys. I bet they lost at least half their men."
Cannons couldn't be deployed as the enemy could see far from the top. An attack could only be mounted from one side of a slope. Perhaps, he could sneak there with his band and first neutralise the cannoneers. Without the threat of the cannons, the other troops at the rear might be able to charge in and the occupation would succeed.
The sharp sound of a bronze whistle derailed Claude's train of thought. He looked up and saw Lieutenant-Colonel Rosley marching towards him. When he was near, he roared, "Rangers, sortie!"
"Damn it all... We're going to attack again. I don't know if I'll survive," the sergeant-major lamented.
Claude grabbed him.
"Is our tribe still going to attack with what few men we have?"
"Sheesh, I doubt that darned Rosley will rest until all of us die off. That pisspot managed to survive the last two times... I hope he dies this time for good." The sergeant-major no longer cared for the hierarchy and didn't bother to refer to Rosley with his proper title.
Rosley saw Claude and marched over.
"Claude, you're finally here. Have your men get in line. We're going to attack."
Claude clicked his heels and stood at attention.
"Sir, can you let me lead the ranger tribe for a probe first? I might have a way we can take the base."
"Claude, get in line immediately! You're going to be right in front! Forget about using your little tricks to bluff me! I won't let you beguile me like before! I don't have the luxury to bother with you before battle. The enemy just conquered another base at the frontlines. If we don't take Wilf immediately and send reinforcements, the enemy will break through!
"Do you understand the urgency of the situation? We don't have time to waste! Don't play smartass with me and get your band of troops into line. You will stand at the very center! If you don't follow orders, I'll have the enforcers deal with you as a deserter! Right now, this instant! Get in line!"
Claude really wanted to swear out loud, but he forced it down at the sight of Rosley's bloodshot eyes. That blockhead wasn't even trying to be reasonable. He was asking the troops to die per his usual habit. If he had really bothered to argue, he would be made an example as a deserter as a warning for the other soldiers.
He had no choice and stood at the front. He had his band of men spread out single file on both sides, all fifty-odd men. The survivors lined up behind him. Behind them were troops from other units. It didn't take long for another line to form to Claude's left. It had forty-odd men. The slope of Wilf could only accommodate two rows side-by-side.
After half an hour, the troops were neatly lined up and the anxious Hansbach told the troops with his brass trumpet in hand that the prosperity of the kingdom depended on whether they could exterminate the enemies on the hill. He tried his best to build morale and even offered grand rewards to the soldiers, but that didn't help one bit. Nobody believed that they would be able to take the stronghold with this attack.
Claude estimated that there were around two thousand soldiers participating in this attack based on the number of rows. The first prince's guard tribe was lined up at the very end. They weren't going to partake in the attack, but were instead going to kill off soldiers that ran away from the enemy.
Rosley stood at the left corner of the lines some three metres away and blew his bronze whistle hard. He waved the sword in his right hand and roared, "Attack! Forward march!"