The 6th month was quite leisurely for Claude. 1st Ranger Tribe was stationed at that piece of forgotten land and they didn't discover the slightest trace of the enemy. Even the mounted scouts they sent into the great plains for three days and nights weren't able to find a sign of enemy troop movement.
The 2nd, 3rd and 4th tribes, which had entered Askilin from its northern border, didn't discover anything either. They had already made their way across a third of the plains' area and didn't encounter any nomadic tribes, save for some scattered herder settlements.
After word got out, those at frontline command breathed a sigh of relief. Based on the current situation, it was likely that Canas had focused all its forces in Northbay with the intent on guarding the most economically productive area in the duchy.
Northbay was the largest natural bay in Canas, as well as all of Eastern Freia. It was the perfect naval and fishing port. There were four cities in near Northbay and the capital of Canpast was located there. It was the prime area of the duchy. It was incredibly likely that the gathered forces of Canas would be making a defensive stand there.
Ever since Skri's drunken and heartfelt talk with Claude, Claude felt a little awkward being around his superior officer. Skri, on the other hand, seemed completely normal, as if he had forgotten about the matter the night before completely. Nevertheless, he did come to Castle Landes to give Claude and the rest some good news. The duke of Askilin had surrendered. Askilin was the second nation to be wiped out during that war.
Duke Askilin had already ended up being Aueras' prisoner since the beginning of the war. The nation already suffered a huge setback in the very beginning and they were the biggest loser in the Alliance. When the Alliance's newly constructed corps' counterattack couldn't breach Aueran defences. Duke Askilin began to lose all hope and became delusional to some extent. He decided to go to the frontlines to boost the troops' morale and stoke their loyalty to the nation.
However, he realised the soldiers of the newly formed corps didn't have the slightest will to fight at all. Even the noble officers hadn't drilled their men in battle formations in a long time. While they managed to rely on their superior numbers to take two or three of the enemy's lines of defence, they suffered huge casualties. The soldiers weren't able to break through the last one.
After that, the path through Pikleit Mountains was fully repaired and reinforcements poured into the three southern prefectures. Duke Askilin had no choice but to give the order to switch to a defensive stance. They were to fortify their and prepare for a long, protracted battle to hold the enemy back. He, on the other hand, returned to Bravisosburg to oversee the situation.
What the duke didn't think would happen was the Auerans' attack two days after he left the frontlines. The corps over there crumbled in no time and the enemy breached deep into their territory. On the second day the duke returned to the ducal capital, Aueras' mounted scouts had already shown up at Bravisosburg. Just like that, the duke was trapped inside his city and didn't even have the time to pack up and escape.
Following that, the irregular corps arrived and completely encircled Bravisosburg, putting an end to the desire of the duke to break out and escape. It wasn't that he didn't have an opportunity to leave, but his family was there with him as well as the few warehouses of his wealth. It wouldn't be hard for him to escape alone, but that would mean abandoning his family and wealth and he would have to peddle around without his dignity to make a living. So, the duke made up his mind to fortify the walls of Bravisosburg for a stubborn resistance.
Surprisingly, however, the two irregular corps of Aueras didn't launch an attack immediately. Instead, they set up camp and continued their tight encirclement. Duke Askilin thought that the enemy was trying to win by waiting for the city to run out of food, but the duke wasn't panicked in the slightest. He had enough food stored up to last everyone within two whole years. He wasn't afraid of a standstill.
It was only until the end of the 6th month that the duke finally realised the enemy's plan. Two heavy-siege cannons were dragged by countless peasants and beasts of burden to the walls of Bravisosburg. What's more troubling for the duke was the cannons were produced by his duchy. After the war began, the three southern prefectures famed for their industrial prowess worked hard to forge those two cannons to show the might of the duchy and the Alliance.
However, they had to leave those two gigantic siege cannons in the three southern prefectures. They were far too heavy and difficult to move. People began to treat those cannons as statues and left it to the mercy of the elements. They were claimed as spoils of the Aueran army after Bluefeather took over the three southern prefectures.
After Prince Hansbach made his way to the area, he was quickly intrigued in the siege cannons and gathered his technicians to maintain and study them. He was informed that those cannons were still operational and were capable of unseen destructive power.
Just like that, the capital city of Askilin, Bravisosburg, was decided by the first prince to be the test target of the siege cannons. Moving those two cannons did present itself to be a humongous undertaking that consumed much manpower and resources, but the Aueran military simply didn't care. They were in enemy territory and had tons of free labour and beasts of burden to use. They didn't even have to spend much of the prince's extra funds. Not only that, dragging those two cannons across the road to Bravisosburg would only serve to flatten and toughen the road.
When the duke saw those two cannons, he almost had an immediate mental breakdown. He of all people was aware of how powerful they were. It fired a metal round that weighed a few hundred taels that was the size of a face washbasin. No matter how tough his castle walls, it wouldn't be able to withstand the bombardment of those two cannons. Bravisosburg would be no more in a few short days.
So, he hurriedly sent an envoy to reach out. After obtaining the guarantee personally signed by the first prince to ensure that Duke Askilin, his family and his personal wealth wouldn't be touched, Duke Askilin was quick to surrender. That was how the Duchy of Askilin ended.
The Askilin's extermination relieved the forces of the Alliance that were already stretched far too thin. Currently, the scales of war were tipped heavily in Aueras' favour. Two duchies had been exterminated and Rimodra, that was sandwiched on both fronts, seemed to near its end as well. That was especially considering the fact that their largest aid had been the four Askilinian corps. Now that Askilin was defunct, the forces they left in Rimodra became a greatly unstable element.
The Alliance wanted to keep the four corps under the control of the Alliance. They tried offering the high officers and nobles money and women and began talks about rebuilding Askilin after defeating Aueras. While those noble officers were by no means hot-blooded people, they agreed with the notion of rebuilding the duchy.
The problem was the surrendered Duke Askilin was extremely cooperative with the first prince's instructions. Very quickly, he ordered his aide to head to the camp of the four corps and announce the duke's surrender, as well as sentiments such as how the war was over and they could finally return home. They were instructed to discard their weapons and surrender to the Aueran army. That was how most of the men of the four corps left while the nobles were thinking of what to do. What remained numbered less than a corps.
With the soldiers ditching their posts, they handed the defence lines they manned to the Aueran army as well. That was how the strong defences suddenly had a hole opened in it. Enemy troops began to pour in. The top brass of Rimodra as well as the Alliance knew that the decisive moment was over and hurriedly ordered the Alliance's navy to help and keep the three port cities of Rimodra secured. That way, the Alliance's army would be able to escape their predicament through the sea.
Smooth as things were going on the frontlines, 1st Ranger Tribe was still faced with an inconvenient truth. Southern Mountain Crossing posed to be quite an obstacle to their supply route. While the road from the three prefectures to Squirrel Village was already repaired by the labourers Claude sent and a carriage could barely squeeze through, supplies could only be sent through the path stretching from Squirrel Village to the great plains using workhorses.
Frontline command's logistics staff made an estimation and came to a conclusion that they could no longer send any more people into the Land of the Free Nobles as there was no local manpower to make use of or supplies to appropriate. Their supplies wouldn't be able to keep up if so much as one more tribe had to be transferred there. As a result, the area was defended only by 1st Ranger Tribe.
However, the officers at frontline command weren't worried as 2nd Ranger Tribe would be able to meet up with the 1st if they continue onwards into the plains. There was also no need to worry about the remnant forces of Canas. The enemy had probably all gathered at Northbay, which was why none of them were spotted on the plains so far.
Currently, 1st Ranger Tribe relied fully on the slow supply route from the rear. The keepers that took over the tribe's defence assignment back there were also tasked with protecting their supply route. But soon, the keepers began to complain that they had lost seven soldiers and eleven workhorses as well as a large amount of food for the past month due to the horses falling off the ridge into the valley, bringing the food and soldiers down with them.
There were many reasons the accidents happened, but chief among them was how much 1st Ranger Tribe rushed them. Fortunately, the three supply trips each month was able to sustain the tribe's needs. They could reduce the trips to twice or once per month after that.
The resource the tribe lacked most was food. The land had been abandoned for nearly a year and weeds could be seen everywhere with not a single grain of crop in sight. There were 1356 people in 1st Ranger Tribe in total. Coupled with the thousand-odd elderly left behind in the area and the 400-odd youth labourers that would be moved there, there were more than three thousand people. Without being able to get food locally, they had no choice but to rely on the supply route.
Each horse could only transport some two hundred taels of food on the mountain path, while three thousand people required at least five thousand taels of food per day. While a single trip with more than a hundred workhorses could transport up to 50 thousand taels of food, it would only last half a month even if it was rationed tightly.
Skri had the captives cultivate farmland to plant potatoes and other crops with short harvest cycles in hopes that they would be able to relieve their food situation. Claude, on the other hand, got his soldiers to fish in rivers and lakes as well as hunt in the mountains. They were barely able to make up for the other half month's food requirement with that, as well as the herds of livestock they got when they arrived.
They didn't lack any ammunition, however. The tribe had enough with them to last them more than one month, but Claude wasn't too satisfied with that amount. He told Skri that they would at least need more than three months' worth of ammunition, food and other supplies. If the keepers weren't willing to keep the supply line going continuously, he was prepared to form his own transport convoy.
Skri was also greatly troubled by the lack of supplies. The main problem was the thousand plus elderly people who couldn't work for the food they were getting. They were a huge burden on the tribe, yet they couldn't just chase them away. After all, they would become subjects of the kingdom after the war.
"You still think the enemy will come?" Skri looked at Claude with shock. "Didn't frontline command say that the enemy is very possibly turtling up in Northbay?"
"I am not sure. I hope their guesses are right, but I have this feeling that they will come. The current situation is far too odd. I don't know for sure that the enemy is turtled up in Northbay. We need confirmation from our scouts to be sure. But so far, not a single trace of the enemy has been detected on the plains. This is far too suspicious.
"I have a feeling that the enemy is plotting a huge scheme. Otherwise they wouldn't let us enter the plains so easily. This is their territory and they ought to send out their light cavalry to wipe out our mounted scouts to blind us, whether they're preparing themselves to attack or defend. It's common military doctrine, yet that's not what they're doing. So, I suggest that we stock up on supplies while they haven't struck. It can't hurt to be prepared."
"You're right. We have to prepare well lest we come to regret it," Skri said with a nod.