As much as Claude wanted to slack off until the end of the war, that didn't mean he didn't have a sense of danger. While the nobles had given up on their fiefs in Canas on their own accord, given how relatively rural a place it was among the great plains, that didn't mean the peaceful times would continue.
He constantly had the hunch that the Canasian nobles would return with the army of their nation. It would be an all-out battle sooner or later. Because of the constant nagging feeling, Claude had Skri prepare as many supplies as he could in anticipation of a huge battle. He also had his men fortify Castle Landes properly.
Fortunately, Skri supported Claude's stance on the matter and did whatever he could to help. They were, after all, a lone unit in enemy territory, and they occupied such a large area to boot. Coupled with their difficult supply situation due to the less than ideal route, any officer of sound mind would feel a little anxious.
Given the terrain of the area, all the enemy needed was one line of light-cavalry troops to surround 1st Ranger Tribe in their four castles, as well as cut off the supply route linking the castles together. So, nobody was against Claude's suggestion to hurry the transportation of supplies up. They knew that once the castles they defended ran out of food and ammunition, their only options were surrender or death.
During the 7th month, all the attention of the Aueran army was turned to Rimodra. Frontline command decided to exterminate that duchy for good by the 8th month. They had the royal guard lead four to five irregular corps to launch incessant and intense attacks on the army of the Alliance. That way, the royal guard could get the merits for exterminating Rimodra.
As for Bluefeather that had been defending the borders of the three southern prefectures, they were transferred to the capital of Askilin, Bravisosburg, for reorganisation. Once the battles in Rimodra concluded, Bluefeather would head to the Great Plains of Canas on their way to Northbay.
The tides of war were in Aueras' favour. Everyone knew that the Alliance was practically done for after the fall of Sidins, Askilin and Rimodra, that was soon to follow. Canas and Nasri alone wouldn't be able to resist Aueras' might. The war had raged on in Eastern Freia for nearly four years and the participating nations were more or less spent. The only difference between the sides was that Aueras had the upper hand. They could press on more easily and stood a chance for final victory.
"We've already stockpiled enough food for a month and a half, as well as ammunition for three months. The soldiers running the supply line are complaining about being driven like slaves. Now that our crops are ready to harvest, our need for food is greatly relieved. Do you think we should take a break and let our men rest?" Skri asked Claude.
Claude had come to tribe headquarters because he wanted news of the developments on the frontlines. Skri was Prince Hansbach's personal aide, so he had many contacts there. He could easily get the information he needed through carrier eagles, and that was the perfect opportunity for Claude to grasp the outlook of the war as a whole.
After reading half a month's worth of information digests, Claude shook his head. "We still have to stock up however we can. We need at the very least food to last us three months. Don't you find it weird after reading these reports? Even though all we hear is word of victory, the targets our army's been fighting have only been the new Rimodran corps. Not a single soldier of the Alliance showed up on the battlefield."
Skri did indeed fail to notice that detail. He read the reports again and it was clear to him now. "That's true... I recall there was a standing corps of Nasri, three Canasian light-cavalry corps and four Askilinian corps among those that fled to Rimodra. The rest of the forces were the newly formed ones of Rimodra...
"Nasri's standing corps plays the role of home defence in the Alliance's army and doesn't get deployed on the frontlines for no good reason. The three Canasian light-cavalry corps had been quite active on the frontlines, but they only have about two corps' of men left after their casualties. As for the four Askilinian corps, they're the main force on the frontlines and suffered the most casualties. While they do have enough men for four corps, they're only as good as two. Since Duke Askilin's surrender, most of the four corps surrendered to us and I heard they have less than a corps' worth of men remaining.
"While Duke Rimodra managed to cobble together some ten plus corps, they comprise mostly conscripted soldiers who are poor at fighting and treated badly. They're often used as labourers and cannon fodder on the frontlines and have never been a match for our irregulars. Usually, the Rimodran forces only take up defensive posts. Yet most of the reports only focus on defeated Rimodran forces without the slightest mention of the troops of other nations. It looks like the enemy is beginning to shift their focus. I have to write a letter to remind frontline command immediately."
The mere look was enough to gather that the only target the enemy could shift their focus to was the sea route. Their goal was clear: it could be none other than Northbay in Canas. That was the nearest port that belonged to the Alliance. As long as they travelled near the Askilinian coast, they would be able to reach Northbay in three days and nights.
"Let me deal with the logistics," Claude offered. He wanted to use this chance to meet his lover in the witch's forest. The transport unit had to rest a night at Squirrel Village first anyway before leaving during the next day, which was just enough time for a rendezvous. "We can also switch out the soldiers from the transport unit in shifts. That way, the others can let loose in Squirrel's tavern as well."
"Alright, you call the shots," Skri agreed without hesitation.
But when Claude returned with the transport unit from Squirrel Village, he noticed Skri's mood was rather down.
"What's going on?"
He soon found out about the root of his troubles. The staff officers in frontline command also noticed the pattern and came to the same conclusion. However, they had no way of stopping the enemy from doing so. On land, they needed to slowly expand their defence line and occupy more territory to encroach upon the three port cities near Rimodra. The Alliance's commanders were knowingly using the Rimodran corps as cannon fodder to slow Aueras' advance.
Since Rimodra was about to fall anyway, they might as well use up their soldiers and let them die on the battlefield or end up as Aueras' captives. The Alliance didn't hold high hopes for being able to hold their defence lines. All that mattered was the Aueran units would suffer as many casualties as possible with each occupation. The reasoning behind that was simple: the more casualties the Aueran army suffered in their conquests, the more they would have to pay to administer their occupied territory and the more time they needed to advance.
It wasn't so much as a scheme as pure textbook strategy. Even if the enemy figured it out, it would be hard for them to thwart those plans. During the past half month, the Aueran troops used heavy bombardment and aggressive infantry attacks to breach one enemy defence line after another and deal huge casualties to the Rimodrans. While frontline command tried their best to goad the enemy into surrender to minimise casualties, that required time. But every second they dallied, the Alliance's army would be closer to their goal.
It was said that countless ships were sailing near the coast of Askilin in the direction of Northbay. The escort ships of the Alliance's navy defended the merchant and transport vessels that ferried the Alliance's troops from Rimodra to Canas.
The reason Skri was feeling down was he heard from his friends in frontline command that Prince Hansbach had completely exploded with anger, cursing the kingdom's navy for being spineless in front of everyone for allowing the huge opportunity to exterminate the army of the Alliance to slip by. If Fearless had sailed near the coasts of Rimodra, the enemy would definitely not attempt such a daring endeavour! In his fit of rage, the prince smashed his office completely. The new aide didn't tell the prince off from throwing a temper tantrum like Skri usually would.
Skri said that if he were by the prince's side, he would definitely stop him from freaking out. As the first in line to the throne, he shouldn't show that side of him to the rest lest others found a way to exploit it. Additionally, the views the first prince held on the navy might affect his ascension to the throne. While Prince Hansbach did have the support of the army, the navy held a huge influence in the kingdom. They built up a wide network of benefits and contacts through the profits from smuggling goods between the two continents.
That was the first time Claude had heard about any internal conflict among the top brass, though Skri didn't go deep into the details. Having worked six years by the first prince's side, Skri had seen all too clearly the beneficial relationships the upper class had, so he was worried that the first prince's tantrum would bring some ill effects.
"Worrying about the first prince should be his aide's job, not yours. If you're so worried, why not return to his side?" Claude said cursorily.
Rimodra was completely exterminated during the end of the 8th month, but the Alliance left a huge mess for Aueras to clean up before they left. The Rimodran nobles left with their families and wealth as well as their armies. The Alliance's navy also reduced the three port cities to rubble. All Aueras' army got was scorched land as well as three hundred war refugees. Most of them were elderly and the youths that remained were injured or crippled from the war.
Prince Hansbach now felt that it would've been better if they didn't attack Rimodra. Exterminating the duchy did sound good on paper, but it didn't bring Aueras much benefit. Instead, the kingdom was forced to uphold a huge burden. Who knew how much manpower and funds it had to invest in the war-torn lands to restore some semblance of daily life to the citizens there.
Almost all the plans they set up in advance had been delayed by the occupation of Rimodra. As for 1st Ranger Tribe, which was stationed in the Great Plains of Canas, they had been completely forgotten. Frontline command was busy putting out the flames of war and restoring order and civilian life rather than planning for an attack on Canas. Rimodra was now Aueran territory, after all. If they didn't offer aid, countless refugees would die during the winter. It was a responsibility the kingdom was not willing to shrug off.
After the Alliance's army was transferred to Northbay, they quickly resumed their scouting activities on the Great Plains. During the end of the 8th month, he received reports of sightings of enemy mounted scouts from his own. There were even a few small-scale conflicts. Within one short week, 9 of his 24 mounted scouts were lost. There were three that managed to return injured. The casualties numbered up to a tent's men.
"One week ago, our scouts reported sightings of enemy scouts in this area--" Claude pointed at a small red flag on the map. "--One week later, we discovered enemy scouts in this place. It's only a day away on horseback from us. The enemy must be widening their survey scope. Their mounted scout tents are approaching us. I estimate that they'll start scouting in our turf in less than three days. The moment we discover a tribe of enemy forces setting up camp near us, we can almost be sure than an attack is about to ensue."
Major Skri looked worriedly at the locations on the map with the red flags. They represented the approaching enemy scouts. "How do you think we should deal with these scouts?"
Claude smiled. "Did you forget the reason the ranger tribe was formed in the first place? The first prince formed us to ambush and counter enemy mounted scouts. Let's dig up some of our old tricks and show our foes such good hospitality that they'll never be able to leave, shall we?"