The nobles of both duchies were incredibly troubled and frustrated. They had already lost up to 900 men during the attacks in the morning and were baited in by the two cannons during the afternoon and lost another 300 plus, who weren't normal peasants but the trained soldiers of the noble houses. One noble who sent all two tents of his private soldiers to run for the cannons watched as they were wiped out completely and spat blood from anger before fainting.
The most infuriating part was that the cannon bombardment on their camp caused less than ten casualties, but the chaos that ensued lasted all the way till evening. Had a few panicked peasants not been killed and made an example of, the commotion might've gone on even longer.
The furious nobles swore that if they could ever get their hands on the dastardly enemy, they'd definitely resort to the most horrible method of torture available to them to vent their hate. They had planned to mount an attack that night, but it seemed that they could no longer count on the peasants' assistance. The nobles had a fierce debate about whether to continue the attack as planned.
In the end, hate took the upper hand and the nobles resolved themselves to use all their private soldiers to pay back the enemy for their bombardment and trap that afternoon. They believed that the enemy would let their guard down, given that they had managed to gain such a huge edge and cause chaos within their camp. There's no way they would expect the nobles to attack after suffering those humongous setbacks. Given that they would be sending all their trained elites, the Aueran troops probably wouldn't be able to react quickly enough to an onslaught. Their attack would definitely be a success and the enemy would be wiped out completely.
After impatiently waiting until midnight, they got good news from the front. The troops they sent to attack managed to successfully take the enemy defense line. However, it was completely empty. The enemy had retreated before they knew it. Instead, the nobles' troops fell for a number of traps laid by the enemy that cost them another hundred-odd casualties.
Hole traps alone weren't a huge problem and would only harm a person or two. The issue was that the enemy had stakes and blades embedded within their trenches. Most of them were the weapons of the peasants they conscripted that were all gathered up and hidden in the trenches before they retreated. Above the blades, they placed a few scarecrows which looked like soldiers from afar. The first few soldiers at the front charged into the trenches without hesitating and prepared themselves to fight in close combat with the enemy, only to fall for the enemy's cunning. The soldiers behind who heard their comrades' cries thought they were being overwhelmed and charged in to help and ended up suffering quite a bit of casualties.
The nobles almost fainted from the news. In fact, one wouldn't be surprised to find them anemic after the proverbial blood they lost from the angered belching and coughing. Not only did their full force strike miss hitting anything, they even sprained their ankle in the process. The enemy was cunning to the utmost and managed to hurt more than a hundred of their men with an unmanned defence line. Most of the soldiers had hurt their calves, thighs or feet and couldn't walk. Even more men had to be sent there to rescue the injured.
"Where have the enemy soldiers gone?" one noble asked.
The soldier that returned with the report hesitantly replied, "They should be at Squirrel Village. After occupying the defence line, we wanted to head to Squirrel Village. But the tent of men we sent there were repelled."
"Why didn't you continue pressing on?!" roared a noble whose nostrils widened so much they seemed to flare, "Since you know the enemy's in Squirrel Village, charge in and annihilate them! How many enemies are there? We have so many men among us! Just go and kill them all!"
The poor soldier didn't know how he should respond. He couldn't just say that everyone was terrified that the enemy might've set even more traps in the village itself. Rushing in might be playing right into their hands and the soldiers were the ones who had to suffer the consequences. The nobles only ordered them to take the defence line at the slope, after all. No explicit order to attack Squirrel Village was given.
By then, the lord of Squirrel Village, Baron Frinslan, stood up to speak for the soldier. He told the other nobles that while Squirrel Village was poor, it had a good wall of stone and a wooden fence made with wooden logs and stones for defence against wild beasts. If the soldiers had charged for the village, they would've fallen for the enemy's trap and suffer unnecessary casualties. It would be best to set up camp at the slope and take a good look at the village from the higher vantage point the slope afforded to get a clear view of what the enemy was planning.
The nobles supported Baron Frinslan's suggestion and instructed their troops to defend the slope for the night.
The next day, the nobles woke up after a long slumber. After washing up and having breakfast their servants made, they congregated at the tent as they expressed how harsh travelling with their armies was. When everyone was there, they rode the palanquins their servants carried to the defence line at the slope.
The soldiers who had suffered the cold breeze during the night shivered as they got into line to welcome their lords. As nobody had been instructed to send food to them, the soldiers at the defence line had starved the whole night and a good part of the morning. The nobles however understood their needs and considerately ordered their servants to prepare a meal and some clean water for the troops.
Baron Frinslan turned out to be right. Squirrel Village below them was in clear view. Even though it was only a small place with less than a hundred households, the area of the village wasn't small. It was more or less the size of the nobles' camp. The buildings in it, however, were decrepit and rural. They looked like huts and shacks stacked up with rotten wood and roofed with thick straw. The only pleasant thing about the village was how it had quite a lot of empty and flat plots of land. The villagers used them to dry out the goods they collected from the mountains.
There was indeed a wall made from stone and a wooden log fence to repel beasts, especially during winter when they would turn to the village due to the lack of food. They even had a trench outside the fence.
Perhaps the beasts had ceased to trouble them for quite a long while, the villagers no longer cared much for the wall. It was in a state of disrepair and quite a number of locations had crumbled. The openings were covered in vines and mould. The wooden fence was the same. Some of the logs had been corroded by insects, revealing quite a lot of rotting weak points. The trench outside the fence also had shrubs growing within it.
The slope near the village was covered in farmland. There was around 13 hectares of farmland there, but it was mostly empty. The winter harvests had concluded and the stalks of the harvested plants were all that was left, along with a lot of stacked up dried wood to be used as fuel.
The baron was feeling rather frustrated. Had Aueras not invaded and attacked the three southern prefectures, he would've been able to collect the winter wheat. Even though it wasn't that expensive, it was still better than allowing the lowly peasants have all of what he owned by right. Even if their side won the war and he managed to take control of the village once more, the villagers would no longer be as easy to tame. They might even hide their harvests from him instead of paying their rightful tribute to their lord.
Not a single soul could be spotted in Squirrel Village. The villagers had probably been evacuated to somewhere else after word of the nobles' attack was spread.
"Look, there's the enemy!" a noble cried as he pointed at the northwestern corner of the village.
Baron Frinslan looked over there with his telescope. It was a tool all nobles had. They used it mainly for hunting or matters of war. Squirrel Village was within the baron's fief and he was extremely familiar with the terrain. The northwestern part of the village was the baron's lodging he used during his hunts. Every year, the villagers would send all sorts of goods into his stone warehouse, which he would then sell to large merchant companies once he gathered enough stock. It was a huge source of income for him, but alas, he wouldn't be able to get any this year.
The sight he saw through the telescope was completely different from the one he remembered. There used to only be a two-storeyed wooden building and a stone warehouse with a wooden fence surrounding it 50 metres away. But now, there was another long row of log houses built next to the stone warehouse down the cliff of the small hill. Behind the wooden fence was another row of large wooden sheds.
The wooden fence between the village and the lodging spot was separated by around 150 metres. That was a spot the baron had intentionally left out for his servants to herd his horses. He had even gotten his servants to take apart a few of the villagers' houses there and flatten the land so that his beloved horses would have a place to loiter around and graze.
Baron Frinslan had that kind of right given that he was the lord. He felt much more delighted whenever he woke up in the morning during his hunting trips to the sight of his beloved horses rather than the sight of the old houses of the villagers anyway.
However, that nice pasture had been ruined by the enemy's band. They built another wooden fence that encroached 60 metres into the pasture and dug a two-metre-wide trench outside of it. They didn't waste the earth they dug up and put them into vine sacks and stacked them up into large dirt piles they stacked up against the wooden fence.
While the wall less than 70 metres in length was only three metres in height, there was a drawbridge that stretched over the moat. Rain shelters had been installed on the old fence to cover the two log cannon platforms it supported. One of the cannons was mounted near a small rocky hill beside the fence and the other was mounted near a steep slope. The whole place had been converted into a seemingly impregnable fortress.
The enemies were obviously hiding within their little stronghold. The baron could see with his telescopes the outstretched musket barrels behind the dirt and wooden wall. Oddly, not many people walked about in the camp. Yet, the camp still gave off a menacing aura.
"Is... is there a water source in there?" a noble mumbled.
Baron Frinslan smiled bitterly. "There is a spring near the rocky mountain nearby that supplies water all-year-round."
The baron wouldn't have built his lodging there had it not been for the spring.
"T-then... can we circle around the rocky hill and scale it?" another noble asked.
"It's impossible. The other side of that hill his a 60-metre-tall cliff. It's only possible to ascend the hill from the front. While the hill is steep, it's possible to get all the way up to the peak." However, his words were for naught. To ascend the hill in the first place, they would have to go through the stronghold's entrance.
The nobles were aware that the only method to take the stronghold, given that they couldn't cut off the enemy's water source, was to encircle them for a long time. Only after the enemy ran out of food could they be forced into surrendering. The alternative was to continuously besiege the place to drain the enemy's strength and slowly break them down.
The first method had the advantage of reducing their casualties, but it required lots of logistics and supply support. The cost wasn't something those nobles could bear. They had gathered about five thousand men initially to raid the three southern prefectures and spent most of their funds on enough supplies to sustain their troops up to half a month. They were counting on the resources they could get in the three southern prefectures to sustain them the rest of the way.
They didn't expect that they would be held back so badly and lose so many men to a small enemy force that numbered less than two hundred. In a few short days, the nobles had lost nearly half their men. But the loss did stretch out their supply budget much longer. They had enough to last their men for a whole month.
However, the enemy numbered even fewer. They could last much longer within their stronghold, so the first method wasn't employable. The only other way was to constantly mount small attacks on the enemy. That would cost a lot of their men, but the nobles themselves didn't have to join the fray. As long as that was the case, they could accept any kind of casualty, even if it meant losing some more of their private soldiers.