After receiving word about the peasants being lured into an ambush and wiped out, the nobles of both countries wisely chose to stop their march and set up camp. They received the few peasants that managed to escape and were soon made aware of the situation.
The mountain path from Askilin leading to the three-pronged path beside Squirrel Village was unlike the mountain path from Canas. The latter was built on the halfway height of a mountain itself and led down to a valley. The former on the other hand was sandwiched between a valley, surrounded by hills and mountains from both sides.
Apart from the path that led to the three-pronged path, there were four other locations through the mountains which eventually circled to Squirrel Village. If the paths were labelled A through D, A would be where Moriad began his bait tactic. He led the peasants to location D where Claude had fortified. That slope was the closest one to Squirrel Village.
Currently, the nobles' forces were situated at location A in the forested hills. They had sent a few bands to scout ahead and also located the enemy's base at location D. Many of the nobles began to argue over that revelation.
A number of nobles believed that since the enemy had stationed around a hundred men at location D, Squirrel Village was definitely barely defended. All they had to do was to send a unit to hold off the enemies defending location D and send another unit along the other mountain paths to Squirrel Village. So long as they occupied the village, the enemy's escape route would be sealed off and they would be attacked from both sides. They wouldn't be able to escape even if they wanted to.
Another group of nobles believed that there was no way the Auerans would be so foolish to leave that loophole given how cunning they had shown themselves to be. There were definitely more traps waiting for them to delay their advance along the alternate path to Squirrel Village. Since the enemy had moved most of their defences to the slope, that meant that it was a crucial spot to defend and they couldn't keep the nobles' forces away with just some petty tricks and traps like before. The nobles could still use their numerical superiority to attack the enemy's base at the slope before conquering Squirrel Village.
However, that wasn't without its drawbacks. If they took the alternate detour around the enemy's defences, they would save time and could avoid a head-on clash and decrease casualties suffered. But attacking the enemy's defence line would cost them far more casualties, even though the enemy numbered only a hundred plus. It would also cost them time and much-needed rations and ammunition. It was far from the ideal choice.
In the end, they decided to try using the detour to take Squirrel Village swiftly. This time around, they sent two tribes out, one to head to Squirrel Village using the alternate path and the other to keep the enemy at the slope busy so that they wouldn't be able to return to defend Squirrel Village.
Naturally, the ones taking the alternate path didn't forget to let two workhorses lead the way. It was a shame that when they were not far from location D, a few Aueran soldiers sniped the two workhorses from a distance.
The troops of the nobles were put in a really awkward predicament. The soldiers on the alternate path could turn back tens of metres to reach location D and chase the enemies down. But if they sent their own in pursuit, they would be entering the enemy's firing range and end up losing their lives all the same.
But without their horses, how could they be sure that no traps lay ahead of them? They couldn't have their own men testing the waters, after all. The nobles who received reports about the situation soon came up with an idea. They gathered up all the work-horses in the camp and sorted them into groups of two. After that, they pierced their rear with a blade and let the horses run up the path.
As expected, a fast-running horse was far harder to aim at. Even if shot, the horses could still survive a few more paces. Soon, a loud boom could be heard a large trap appeared on the path. Two of the work-horses fell straight into the hole. Their neighs lasted for but a moment before all quieted down.
Claude had used three large jars of gunpowder to set that trap up. The soldiers spent a whole day digging the place up to set it. Claude could only shake his head with a bitter smile now that the enemy had discovered it. However, it was fine that none of the enemies actually fell for the trap. The main purpose he set those up was to prevent them from advancing in the first place. He just didn't know how many men the nobles were willing to sacrifice to trigger those traps.
The trap was located in the narrow space between two mountains. On the other side was a cliff tens of metres in height which the enemy had no way of climbing up. Claude, on the other hand, was on a small hill around thirty metres in height, and if the enemy wanted to scale it, they would have to go through his defence line first.
The enemy still had the other option to fill up the hole left behind from the explosion. However, Claude had a cannon prepared on the hill. It was part of the spoils obtained in the three southern prefectures which Lederfanc sent Claude -- a light-infantry cannon of Askilin make. It couldn't use scattershot and could only shoot around 300 metres away and could be considered obsolete. However, these cannons were still commonly used by the army of Askilin.
If the path was a little bit wider, Claude would've liked to have another cannon set up there. Initially, he wanted to put his own cannon on the hill, but when it occurred to him that he needed its scattershot capabilities to defend the slope he was on, he recalled the sad excuse of a cannon left within the storehouse. He asked Moriad and a tent of men to set it up at the top of the small hill to prevent the enemy from filling the trap hole up.
The nobles did intend to fill it up, so they had their peasants fell trees and dig up earth immediately. What they didn't think was that the trap was laid out in a spot where the enemy could take aim at from the slope they defended. Not only that, the enemy had perfect cover when they shot. The poor peasants carrying sacks and logs upwards the path were shot down one after another without being able to approach the hole at all.
By the time the nobles had some shield carts constructed to defend against musket shots, the cannon on the small hill began to fire. The path was narrow and only allowed for one shield cart to go up at a time, so the slow pace the peasants travelled at gave the cannons ample time to take aim. The uneven state of the path and the higher placement of the cannon allowed the cannon to easily shoot at the undefended cart pushers at the back. When there weren't enough people remaining, the carts could no longer be pushed up and the muskets began to fire again. If they did somehow manage to get eighty metres within the trap hole, the cannon could just shoot through the carts straight away.
The efforts of the nobles throughout the whole afternoon ended in futility. The angered Askilinian nobles brought out their four light-infantry cannons and prepared to face them off against the one on the hill. While they were of the same design, the one on the hill had high ground and could easily shoot much further.
The nobles had no choice but to let their cannoneers push the cannons forward, believing they would win given they had four times the firepower. They didn't think that moving the cannons forward was exactly what Claude wanted them to do. He ordered the two light-infantry cannons at the camp further up the hill to fire at the nobles' cannons once they were within range and destroyed three of them. The enemy troops that gathered around their cannons to see the spectacle were heavily blasted and hurt as well.
The nobles had incurred more than 200 casualties just in their attempt to fill up the hole and destroy the cannon on the hill alone. During the morning, they already lost up to 500 peasants. Their morale was at an all-time low and there was no way for them to make a killing in the three southern prefectures.
After dinner, the nobles gathered once more and discussed their options. Their only choice now was to attack the enemy defence line on the slope. They all knew that it meant they would have to pay a huge price for it, however. While there weren't many enemy soldiers, their training and equipment far exceeded those of the nobles' own troops'.
While the nobles could boast about how powerful their personal forces were to the peasants, they knew how inept they were compared to proper Aueran soldiers. In terms of muskets alone, they were still using models that their countries had already phased out. They only used them to suppress peasant revolts, after all, not repel foreign invaders.
Additionally, if their private forces were armed with good equipment, the dukes of the two duchies would begin to suspect them. Getting the best equipment also cost money, and given the standards of living in those two duchies, spending too much on their private forces would affect the nobles' own quality of life. They wouldn't be able to enjoy the luxuries they did, given how poor their dominions were. There was only so much taxing their subjects could get them, and they weren't that willing to spend unnecessarily in the military aspect either.
Regardless, the nobles still had most of their household forces intact. Most of the casualties lately had been their drafted peasants who weren't the bulk of their power. The nobles still had enough capability to raid the three prefectures. But in their discussion on attacking the defence line, not a single noble brought up sending their own troops in. They turned their sights on the peasants the Canasian nobles brought with them instead.
The Canasian nobles couldn't readily oblige either. Even though they had a force of four thousand, a whole line of troops, less than a thousand were properly trained soldiers. The rest were untrained, conscripted peasants. When they were stuck at the turn for four days, they lost up to 800 of them, and when they took the path from Askilin and offered a high bounty for every Aueran soldier killed, they lost near a hundred of them in exchange for killing around ten enemy soldiers.
And just today, they lost another 500 plus from the trap. In total, they had lost up to 1300 men, more than a third of their forces, and the remaining 2000-odd men who could still fight were already dispirited and thought that the nobles only wanted to use them as cannon fodder. It wouldn't be out of the question for the peasants to rise up if they were forced to attack the heavily defended enemy line.
Some nobles suggested a night attack, but the other nobles pointed to the bonfires laid across the slope of the hill which could burn for the whole night. All movement on the slope and the mountain path could be seen clearly and the time of day wouldn't make a difference. Even if they wanted to send people to put the fires out, someone would still have to risk being shot. The fires were within the firing range of the enemy, after all, and that would only serve to alert the enemy of their intentions.
After a long back-and-forth, the nobles of the two duchies finally agreed to let their men and subjects rest for the night and mount an attack on the defence line the next morning. They would select their personal troops from each household to form two clans along with another thousand peasants to try to take the defence line with their numbers.
The night was a peaceful one. The moment Claude saw the enemies marching his way spiritedly the next morning, he knew that a bloody battle couldn't be avoided. When they were around five hundred metres away, Claude ordered his cannons to fire round shots. However, the enemy troops weren't in any arranged formation. Instead, they charged like maniacs towards the defence line with melee weapons in hand after the cannonballs struck.
"Muskets, fire at will when they're within 200 metres! Cannons, change to scattershot immediately! Don't fire unless they're within 50 metres of us!" Claude coldly ordered.
That morning, the nobles launched three attacks on Claude's defence line, but were beaten back every time. Twice did tens of frenzied soldiers make it to the defence line, but they were soon finished off by the defenders' bayonets. The attackers lost nearly half their men and their corpses lined the hills. Blood and mud mixed into a nose-curling sludge that stained the feet of any who dared tread on it.