Skri's expression didn't look good. Not only did Claude's sneak attack on the three siege towers during the night failed, the enemy completely dominated nighttime. They launched sneak attack teams and sent out a tent of men to attempt to sneak over to attack the castle. The two sides engaged each other outside the castle for most of the night and 1st Ranger Tribe incurred more than 30 casualties as a result.
The only good news was they managed to collect quite a lot of wood from the destroyed shield carts and also managed to get a few complete ones up the walls. They had enough to build a wooden shielding on the walls. Fortunately, they heeded Claude's suggestion last night and didn't open the main gates to collect the wood and used rope to get them up instead. Otherwise, the enemy clan sneakily approaching would've entered the castle and it would've ended up far worse.
The bad news was the three siege towers were approaching the castle closer and closer. Though they were stuck at the rear of the settlement during the day, they noticed that the towers were now at the front entrance of the settlement facing the castle. If they were allowed to come some thirty meters closer, the cannons on the towers would be able to use scattershot on the soldiers on the walls. Skri decided that they had to get the wooden shielding up the next day so that the troops would have cover to hide behind.
It was truly surprising that Askilin would still be able to muster a line of elite infantry troops despite the extermination of their duchy. Though they lost some three hundred men throughout the clashes over the past few days, which numbered up to a whole clan, that was only one-sixteenth of their total forces, far from what it would take to bring them down. With the three siege towers inching ever so close to the castle, the soldiers of 1st Ranger Tribe had long and harsh days to look forward to.
Last night, Claude took Dyavid's band of 1st Clan to attack the three siege towers. Had Claude not detected breathing in the village during the night and called for an urgent retreat, they might've fallen straight into a trap. Even so, Dyavid's band was still pestered by the enemy troops and they only found that they lost a tent of men after returning to the trench.
Fortunately, Claude and the rest did turn back and ran into the enemy clan that was sneaking towards the castle. They fired shots to alert their allies on the walls. That was when 4th Clan, that was collecting wood at the foot of the walls, realised that they were almost obliterated by the enemy. So, they quickly got down to the ground and fired. The soldiers on the walls threw some lit torches down for illumination while firing at the enemies. The shootout lasted through the night and the enemy left after leaving behind some fifty corpses.
Claude, Myjack and Dyavid were all fine. Gum, on the other hand, had his left arm grazed by a bullet, losing a chunk of flesh with it. He could already be considered quite lucky. Had the bullet crushed his bone or embedded itself in his joint, Gum might stand to lose a whole arm. That kind of injury would definitely get an amputation recommendation from the healers in the infirmary and it wasn't something that could simply be healed with a cast and a concoction.
When they took a good look in the morning, they came to understand how the enemies moved the three siege towers to the head of the settlement. They had given up on using oxen and instead fastened some wooden support struts to the sides and back of the three towers and had the soldiers slowly pull them forward while others pushed from behind. Little by little, they managed to get the towers to the front of the settlement. With the shield carts protecting the soldiers pushing from the side and the towers themselves shielding those behind them, there was no need to fear being shot at by the cannons.
It might've been because last night's activities worn them out too much, both sides were quite idle during the morning. The enemy only reappeared in the settlement during four in the afternoon. They pushed more than twenty shield carts to the front of the towers and formed a line of defences. The officers then ordered for the men to prepare to push the frontmost tower forward.
The 2nd Clan soldiers defending the walls began their bombardment with all eleven of their cannons. Five of them targeted the shield carts while the other six focused their attacks on the siege tower at the front. The enemy soldiers, in contrast, hid behind whatever buildings they could find while the cannons on the three towers themselves launched their counterattack.
After around 20 minutes, the bombardment ceased. Some eight shield carts had been destroyed, but the three siege towers were unharmed as usual. The spots the cannons struck left only slightly larger white marks than before. The enemy destroyed two wooden shieldings for the cannoneers without causing the defenders much harm.
The enemy was moving the destroyed shield carts away and replacing them with new ones. At the distance of some eighty meters away, they were within the effective firing range of the Aubass Mark 3. The troops of 2nd Clan began to snipe away at the soldiers clearing out the shield carts and soon, a large number of enemy troops got behind cover of their carts and began firing towards the walls.
While the enemy's muskets couldn't fire as far as the Aubass Mark 3, their muskets were still more than sufficient to cover that kind of range. Countless bullets rained down on the wooden shielding. A few soldiers even got wounded by stray shots. However, the shootout soon ended when the broken shield carts were replaced.
Claude and Skri were checking on the wooden shielding destroyed by enemy cannon fire. The construction of the shielding was actually rather simple. They erected a row of logs in front and supported it with two rear beams and constructed two triangular frames to support it from the sides. The ones destroyed by the enemy cannons had a few logs from the center pierced through as a result of the hollow rear, which couldn't endure the momentum of the cannonballs. The cannonballs snapped the logs and left holes in their wake.
The enemy siege towers were still located at the settlement entrance. If they were allowed to close the distance even more, the heavy bombardment from their cannons would no doubt wipe out what little shielding they had for their own cannoneers, exposing them to scattershot. They would no longer be able to mount an effective resistance and the enemy could take the walls and open the front doors to let the rest of them in.
"I think I have a way to prevent the shielding from being destroyed," Claude said. His suggestion was simple: filling the emptied linen sacks used to store food and stacking them behind the logs. That way, even if the logs were destroyed, the sandbags behind could still provide an adequate defence.
"Since this works, let's go make some immediately. Captain Kurdwak, we'll leave this to 4th Clan." Skri took the suggestion without hesitation. But even though they already had some semblance of defence for the walls, Skri's expression was still filled with worry.
"We have to find a way to get rid of those three siege towers for good." Claude knew what he was worried about. 1st Ranger Tribe should've been easily able to keep the castle defended, yet they didn't expect they would be facing elite soldiers that managed to build those three impressive structures. With their weaker numbers and firepower, Skri was worried they wouldn't be able to hold on.
"How?" Skri said with a bitter smile, "Our enemies are no fools. They're well aware that the key to conquering this castle is their three siege towers and definitely have them heavily defended. They might even set traps for us in anticipation of our troops trying to sabotage their towers like last night. I'm sure they would be more than happy if we choose of our own accord to attack the towers, since they can use them to crush us like rats falling for a cheese trap.
"They already understand the extent of forces we have. They have a whole line of troops. Coupled with the other three tribes they sent to watch the other three sides of the castle, they outnumber us absolutely. And we're trapped in the castle and those two goldeagles in the sky are sealing off our communication. The only option we have now is to hold on and wait for the first snow during the 12th month. Maybe the enemy will retreat because of the cold."
Pointing at the three siege towers, Skri's expression worsened. "I'm certain that the enemy commanding officer is someone with rich battle experience. He understands the key to winning this battle. That was why he only launched two attacks over the past week, losing only some 400 men. That little number isn't even significant for them. They managed to find out about our defences and numbers in exchange.
"He knows well what we are looking forward to, yet, he isn't in a rush in with wave after wave of attacks against us. Instead, he patiently spent three days to construct those siege towers. That means he's confident that he'll be able to take the castle in one go. No matter what happens, our defences will be nullified if the towers come close enough.
"I suspect the enemy is trying to see how long we can last. The three siege towers alone can suppress all our defences on the walls. If they let their troops attack at the same time, we would no longer be able to fight without losing men. Even if the enemy suffers a tribe of casualties, it'd still be worth it if they manage to take the front walls."
If the enemy suffered a tribe's casualties to take over the front walls, 1st Ranger Tribe would no doubt fare far worse. They would no longer have enough men to defend the other parts of the castle from the enemies that had taken the front wall. The moment the enemy set foot in the castle would spell their end.
Claude stared at the three siege towers without saying a word.
As Skri had said, the enemy would be moving their towers into position during the night. In the coming four days, apart from applying suppression fire to the walls, the enemy launched a large-scale attack and didn't stop even when it was late into the night. A few times, some enemy troops managed to get on the walls and had to be chased down in close combat, causing the tribe even more casualties.
"How many casualties did the enemy get today?" Skri was injured and wore an armband cast. He was currently leading 3rd Clan in place of its clansman, Captain Heickham, who had been injured when they were still ambushing the mounted scouts and was moved to the rear long ago.
"An estimated seven or eight hundred, perhaps," Kurdwak replied.
The tribe only had one clan of people who could still fight. The struggle over the past four days caused all the clans apart from the 1st to suffer great casualties. 2nd Clan was almost completely obliterated and Hamocklin was sent to the infirmary at the castle's rear sector for his injuries. 3rd and 4th fared slightly better and had a total of two and a half bands of men.
"How many cannons are still operational?"
"Seven," Claude replied without needing to check. They lost quite a number of cannons lately. The cannoneers of the enemy were experienced and great shooters. When they got a hold of the positions of the cannons, they focused all six cannons' attacks on the cannons on the walls. Three cannons were destroyed before the Auerans were able to react.
"We lost one to an enemy that managed to get on the walls yesterday. Apart from the four cannons we have in the two sentry towers, there are only three left on the walls themselves. Our cannoneers have learned from the experience and now switch positions after every shot they make. Last night, some enemies tried to scale the walls in the dark, but those three cannons rendered great merit by dealing severe casualties on them with scattershot. The enemy returned in futility and left some eighty corpses behind," Claude explained.
The enemy used the opportunity when the smoke in the air obscured the defenders' view to climb the walls with siege ladders. With their greater numbers, the enemy could launch attacks clans at a time. A line of troops included more than 16 clans, and each clan only had to work for one day before switching out with another. 1st Ranger Tribe, on the other hand, couldn't afford to switch out like the enemy. That was why they allowed a few enemies to scale the walls.
"Thankfully, you came up with the idea to use the sandbags to strengthen the shielding. Otherwise, we'd be completely unable to defend ourselves. What I'm curious about is why the enemy had stopped their attacks for the day." Skri gazed at the siege towers with a troubled look.
"I think they suffered a little too many casualties. They lost some eight hundred men over the past four days. Including their previous casualties, they've lost more than a thousand, probably a quarter of all their forces. Yet, we still managed to hold onto the walls. They must be trying to console their troops by letting them rest for a bit. I doubt they'd be willing to attack nonstop like this either," he guessed.