The next two days were uneventful. The enemy kept themselves busy in their camp; felling trees and bringing them to camp. Claude guessed they were building siege engines. Their next attack was likely to be the final push. The next battle definitely won't be nearly as easy.
Claude's suggestion to deal with the two grassland goldeagles in the sky had been implemented. A fine net was hung above the balcony with some tens of lambs, wild chickens, and ducks beneath them. The birds were reared in the garden behind the castle and were also used as bait for the goldeagles.
The lambs and birds were quite uneasy at first, but quickly settled down. The next day, they seemed to be in better condition and occasionally moved about on the balcony. Either it was the goldeagles' indifference or the sense of security afforded by the net, the animals on the balcony soon became more active and ate the feed scattered all over.
The two goldeagles eventually noticed the prey. They circled the whole time, though they were still too high up. They were also really cautious and didn't carelessly dive. Skri picked a tent of marksmen and had them lay in hiding around the walls to wait for an opportunity to shoot the goldeagles.
But the enemy launched their attack before the birds fell for the trap.
"What is that?"
The soldier on duty in the sentry outpost hurriedly struck a metal plate. The loud clanging signalled the urgency of the enemy's imminent arrival.
"Wargod above, they actually built three siege towers..." Hamocklin watched with his mouth agape. Not only him, everyone on the walls was dumbstruck.
Some distance away from the abandoned settlement, three colossal objects were slowly approaching the castle. Claude spied with his telescope and saw the true form of the three siege towers. They looked more like cone-shaped projections made from wood. The lower sections were the largest parts. Using the people and beasts of burden as reference, Claude estimated the base to be about six metres wide and roughly five metres in height. The middle section was some three metres wide and four metres tall, while the topmost part was only two metres in both height and width.
The base had two rows of wooden wheels. Even with the ten plus oxen pulling it, the tower still travelled excruciatingly slowly; it was probably due to how tightly the logs that made up the many sections were bound together tightly.
"Ready the cannons and aim for the frontmost tower. Fire at will!"
Skri stopped worrying about second opinions. And sprung into action.
Claude had to find a place that wasn't covered to continue his observation on the frontmost tower with his telescope. Of the 12 cannons that fired in the first volley, only around eight rounds hit. The tower stopped moving, however, it wasn't destroyed by the cannonballs. Claude could see clearly that all the round shots did was shake the tower, before some 'bark-like' pieces fell off the structure. Only a few white marks were left on the mud-covered walls.
The reason the tower stopped was the rain of cannonballs that startled the oxen and started flailing around wildly. A few soldiers working the oxen pulled the dead oxen away with the ropes they tied on beforehand to prevent them from blocking the way.
The cannons on the walls fired three volleys in total and had to stop due to the accumulated smoke which obscured their vision. They had to wait for the wind to carry the smoke away. But when the smoke subsided, those on the walls saw that only a few more white marks were made on the tower, but it otherwise looked undamaged.
It was useless. While the cannons could fire up to seven hundred metres away, the fist-sized round shots weighed less than five catties. They didn't carry enough momentum to blow away the gigantic siege castles.
"Fire at the oxen in front! Don't let them approach the walls!" Claude shouted. If they couldn't destroy the towers, all they had to do was stop them in their tracks.
The cannons fired once more. More than half of the oxen pulling the frontmost tower collapsed from the volley, leaving the rest running into all directions in fear. One ox-herding soldier was killed and another injured. The rest hurriedly got on the ground and crawled for cover.
The cannons fired two more volleys before stopping. Not a single ox was left pulling the frontmost tower. They either died or snapped the ropes binding them and escaped.
Skri was satisfied with Claude's quick-witted order. If the towers weren't able to approach the walls, they would pose them no threat. "Alright, stop firing and be on standby. Fire at the oxen if the enemy starts moving the towers aga--"
Before he finished, a thunderous boom could be heard from far away. With a high-pitched whoosh, a cannonball shot past the front wall and crashed into the rear wall of the castle, dislodging two bricks in the process.
They turned around and saw some white smoke on the second floor of the siege tower. The enemy had some cannons and men situated in the middle section of the tower and fired through gunports.
"Take cover and watch for enemy cannon fire!" Hamocklin ordered, and crouched.
The soldiers cleared the wall soon after, then hid themselves well.
The enemy began firing from the three castles, but it was just as useless. They used the same light-infantry cannons and the most their shots did was leave a dent in the walls. Each tower had two cannons, and after five or six volleys and noticing no effect, they ceased firing.
Following that, they tried to get fresh oxen to pull the siege towers once more, only for them to be blasted away by the cannons on the walls.
Gum watched enviously with his mouth wide open. "They'll definitely get to eat lots of beef for lunch..."
The enemy experimented two times that morning and failed to get oxen to pull their towers to the walls thanks to the cannon fire. After that, they pushed a few shield carts in front in an attempt for protection, but the cannons higher up on the walls were still able to harm the oxen without much effort. The battle turned into a stalemate just like that and the siege towers were stuck on the entrance street of the settlement.
Afternoon at two, the Askilinian infantry launched a large-scale attack. They mobilised a tribe of men and pushed out more than 40 newly constructed shield carts, lining up into rows about a hundred metres away from the castle. There were around sixteen shield carts lined up right in front of the trench and the area 50 metres away from the main doors were within their firing range. Some of the shield carts they pushed to the front also had roof coverings that effectively shielded them from shots from the walls above.
The moment they launched the attack, the enemies in the settlement hurried some oxen to pull on the frontmost tower. They were clearly trying to spread out the firepower from the walls as far as they possibly could. They also hid behind their shield carts to cast suppression on the walls and wipe out the cannoneers as well.
The men in charge of guarding the front gate that day was 2nd Clan. Hamocklin was really used to defensive fights like this and directed his men calmly and orderly. First, he ordered the four light-infantry cannons in the sentry towers on both sides to continue firing at the oxen within the settlement and made sure the enemies wouldn't be able to move their siege towers. Then, he got six of the eight light-infantry cannons on the walls to fire round shots at the shield carts in an attempt to blow their top covers away.
The last two cannons continued on with steady barrages of scattershot; a nightmare for the soldiers hiding behind the shield carts. They were able to take cover from shots coming from above and the front, but not from those from the sides, and suffered badly from it.
The other soldiers of 2nd Clan didn't have many opportunities to shoot. Most of them hid behind the battlements and awaited orders. It wasn't that they didn't want to shoot; the walls were so smoky that they couldn't see anything. Same went for the enemy, who were firing blindly without regard for accuracy at all. The 12 cannons of the defenders fired nonstop, maintaining the veil of smoke. Even the cannoneers had to guess the rough location of the shield carts based on memory.
After some six volleys of fire, Hamocklin ordered them to stop. First, the cannons had to be allowed to cool down, and he wanted the smoke to subside so he could get a grasp on the enemy's situation. That would also allow the idle soldiers to shower the enemy with suppression sniping.
As the four cannons in the sentry towers fired nonstop on the enemies in the settlement to prevent them from using oxen to pull the towers forward, the enemy eventually gave up on the idea and switched to using the cannons in the towers to attack the castle. The cannons in the sentry towers on the castle didn't need to counterattack either since they couldn't damage the siege towers, so they turned their barrels down to the shield carts near the foot of the walls while keeping an eye out to the settlement. If the enemy tried the oxen trick once more, they would change their target to the settlement.
All in all, the heated exchange during the afternoon was exciting, but the cannons stole all the flair. As the skies turned dark, the enemy retreated after losing more than a hundred men and more than 20 shield carts. The 2nd Clan defending the walls, on the other hand, suffered 20-odd casualties, most of them caused by the shooters hiding under their shield carts. The cannoneers were hit the worst as they often had to get out of cover to aim at their enemies.
The unluckiest cannoneer squad was one of those posted on the walls. The enemy had fired at the six cannons there with more than ten volleys over the course of one hour. Even though most of the shots missed or hit the walls, the last three volleys struck one squad squarely at the last moment on the barrel of the cannon, wounding two cannoneers in the process. That was the largest loss for 1st Ranger Tribe so far; they lost the cannon as well.
If one judged based on numbers, 1st Ranger Tribe did indeed obtain a landslide victory. The 100-odd corpses the enemy left behind were proof; they were killed in action and the injured ones had evacuated to their camp. All in all, 1st Ranger Tribe suffered one casualty for every 20 enemy casualties. However, the officers of the tribe didn't have a promising look on their faces as the skies got dark. The enemy would definitely use the shroud of night to try to move the towers forward some more.
At around 300 metres away, the six cannons on those siege towers already posed quite a substantial threat to the defenders. If they were allowed to close that distance to 80 metres, the enemy could use scattershot to obliterate the defenders on the walls.
The moment the walls were undefended, the enemy would swarm into the walls and take it over. After that, they could use their numerical superiority to swarm the rest of the defenders from the front entrance or take the other walls and trap 1st Ranger Tribe inside the keep.
The largest threat the tribe faced was the three siege towers. The light-infantry cannons couldn't damage them in the slightest and the enemy's cannons were installed in the middle section of the towers, which was at the same height as the cannons on the walls, nullifying the advantage a higher firing position granted. And with the shielding of the siege tower walls, the cannons couldn't be destroyed. The exposed Aueran cannoneers, on the other hand, were at great risk. The destroyed cannon was proof of that.
They had a discussion and some suggested for log houses to be built on the walls to shield the cannoneers. The problem with that, however, was that logs couldn't be sourced from within the castles. So, some of them wanted to head out during the night to collect the destroyed shield carts to use as materials, but Skri was worried the enemy would discover them and launch a night attack. The decision rested on Claude's shoulders.
Claude sighed. "We'll send some men out from the side doors and have them travel along the trench to gather the shield carts right in front of the front wall. Then, we'll pull them up the walls with ropes. That way, we won't have to open the front entrance. Other than that, I'll lead another team to infiltrate the settlement and see whether we have an opportunity to burn the three siege towers down."