"Lighten up a little. Don't keep thinking about firing as many shots as you can. I'd rather you slow down and aim. I don't want any accidents. Mazik, watch them while I look at the sentry towers."
Claude watched the red-hot cannonballs being loaded.
The air cracked and green smoke barrelled from the cannon. The cannonball flared out of the muzzle and smashed into the central level of the middle siege tower some 80 metres away. With his telescope, he could see the tower shake.
"There we go! Make every shot count!" Claude shouted above the deafening ringing in his ears.
The enemy ceased their attack for two days, then started anew. The clans on duty were 1st and 4th. The walls' wooden shielding had been more or less blasted away completely by the bombardment in the prior days, but the sandbags still held. Cannon fire couldn't break through the bags, and scattershot just bounced off.
The besiegers didn't have any fighting spirit left, having to face off against the defender's constant sniping. They withdrew soon after another charge, leaving yet another thirty dead behind. The bombardment just wouldn't cease, however. A few soldiers were hurt by stray pellets and were being hurried to the infirmary. Dyavid came to Claude's side, but just as he was about to speak, the sandbag shook and coughed sand over them.
After clearing his mouth, Dyavid looked at the three siege towers through the seams between the sandbags. "Sir, if the three towers are gone, there's no way the enemy can approach the walls."
Claude brushed the dirt off his head. "I know, but I'm still only experimenting. Be more patient. How are our casualties?"
"Our 1st Clan suffered four casualties, and 4th Clan suffered nine, two among whom are dead. They were all hurt by scattershot," Dyavid said with a shake of his head, "I told them to get into cover properly and shoot through the seams between the sandbags, but those idiots actually forgot and complained that shooting through the seams is too troublesome. They much prefer resting their muskets on a stand. It's no wonder they couldn't evade the scattershot."
"But the enemy attack doesn't seem particularly pressing today. They left after thirty minutes..."
"That's how I feel too," Dyavid said with a laugh, "They tried to scale our walls like madmen only to fail and suffer great casualties yesterday. It looks like they've developed some restraint. They don't even charge fervently anymore. Most of them prefer to hide behind their shield carts. It's all thanks to you, Sir. Your bombardments are working far better than that idiot Hamocklin's. All he did was destroy enemy shield carts. What's the point? They can make new ones anyway."
After the three siege towers were moved into position, the enemy pushed even more shield carts from the back and filled the area with them to use them as cover during their attack. Initially, the 2nd and 3rd clans were taking over wall-defence duty with Hamocklin in command. He ordered the seven cannons on the walls to fire on those shield carts, but that only served to expose the cannons' positions and allowed the enemy to destroy three of them. The smoke as a result of all the cannon fire also allowed the enemy soldiers an opportunity to scale the walls. The soldiers of the tribe had to fight in a melee to drive them away and suffer lots of casualties.
Fortunately, the enemy didn't gain a strong foothold during that attack even though they scaled the walls and destroyed another cannon in the meantime. They were still driven off by the frenzied resistance of the two clans. They then took two days of rest to recuperate from the wounds and only resumed their attack yesterday.
What the enemy didn't expect was their opponents had also changed. The defenders that day were the 1st and 4th clans. Claude didn't have the three cannons on the walls fire at the new shield carts at all, nor did he let the four cannons in the two sentry towers do the same. He ordered the cannons in the towers to instead fire cannonballs heated to red-hot levels at the centre sections of those three siege castles. The enemy gunports were on those sections and Claude believed that one of those cannonballs would enter the gunports if he fired enough.
The three cannons on the walls were loaded with scattershot and their targets weren't the enemies hiding behind the shield carts on the ground, but rather the ones trying to get on the walls with the siege ladders. The cannons would only fire the moment the enemies tried climbing up those ladders, and only one cannon was allowed to fire at a time. They were forbidden from firing at the same time. The other soldiers on the walls were also under the same restriction. Only the ten-odd better and more experienced shooters were allowed to fire at will. The rest had to hide behind the sandbags and await orders and were only ordered to shoot when the enemy launched a large-scale attack.
That kind of defence made the enemy wonder what was going on, so they intensified their attack even further. The bombardment of the three siege towers, as well as the soldiers behind their shield carts, covered the walls with a rain of shrapnel and rounds and smoke soon filled the air.
But the counterfire from the walls remained pitifully little. Had it not been from the occasional gunshot and small puff of smoke, the walls would appear completely undefended. Yet, any time the enemy tried to gather together and scale the walls in a swarm, the cannons would fire and cause the soldiers great casualties.
The enemy mounted a frenzied attack yesterday and when they turned back to check, they found that the seemingly weakened and powerless defenders cause even more casualties to their men than they did when they were resisting forcefully. The first attack lasted four days and the casualties numbered below 200. But yesterday afternoon, they suffered over 400 casualties. Most importantly, not a single man managed to get on the walls despite the number of casualties. The reason for that was the occasional blasts of scattershot that would be unleashed the moment the soldiers climbed high up enough on their siege ladders, which covered the whole area of the walls and dealt humongous damage and carnage.
Perhaps they had learned their lesson since then and not a single enemy soldier now dared to approach the ladders. Initially, a few low-ranked officers led the charge and hauled the siege ladder with ten plus other soldiers. But before they could lay the ladder on the walls, one cannon fired and everyone turned into blood paste. Not a single one dared to approach the castle with siege ladders since then.
The rest of the battle during the afternoon was plain; both sides shot at each other from a distance and the casualties were low overall. The soldiers on the walls hid behind their sandbags while the attackers on the ground hid behind their shield carts, trading the occasional shot. The three cannons on the walls didn't fire if no enemy approached, and the four cannons in both sentry towers shot the gunport of the rightmost siege tower every ten minutes with red-hot cannonballs, while those in the siege tower returned fire at the sentry towers, spilling much dust but less blood.
It seemed that the day would continue at this pace. Claude and Kurdwak stood behind the walls as they watched the last of the enemy scurry into the settlement. Just as he was about to speak, he heard a large explosion on the battlefield. They turned to look and saw sparks shooting out of the rightmost siege tower of the enemy as the top section collapsed while the middle section began to burn.
"We hit it! Sir, we hit the gunport!" Mazik clamoured excitedly as he exited the sentry tower and almost tripped.
Claude had guessed that given the size of the gunport, there probably wasn't much room after the two cannons and cannoneers fit in. So, the gunpowder was probably stashed simply on the flooring and there was the solution. The heated cannonball fell through the gunport and lit the gunpowder to cause an explosion. Had Claude not insisted on the cannonballs being heated up beforehand, the cannonballs wouldn't do much even if they shot into the gunport.
Destroying one of the siege towers was almost like an adrenaline shot for the four cannoneers. They no longer complained about Claude's order to heat up the cannonballs. It was a rather troublesome affair and they had to take precautions against fires just in case. The slow heating also meant a low rate of fire. Not only did they have to wait for the cannonball to glow red, they also needed to stuff a small wooden plank into the barrel beforehand to prevent the charge from detonating before the ball was properly loaded and aimed.
Even Skri, who seemed so crestfallen the moment before, rushed up the walls excitedly and admired the sight of the tower burning down. "Well done, people! One bottle of gran wine for each of you tonight! You deserve it!"
Skri was only referring to the cannoneers. As for the rest of the soldiers, they couldn't have a whole bottle to themselves. There weren't that many bottles remaining in their stores. But they could still get a large mug of blackwheat ale each at least.
The cannoneers cheered but still resumed their routine of heating the cannonball, aiming the cannon, firing and cleaning the barrel. Then, they reloaded the gunpowder and stuck the wooden planks back in.
"Which siege tower should we target next?" Skri was at the top of the world. His biggest worry, the three siege towers that managed to nullify the advantage of height the defenders had and forced them to use sandbags as defence, actually stood a chance of being destroyed. There were only two more to go and even those wouldn't have much time left.
"Let's go for the middle one," Claude said.
The enemy still hadn't understood why the siege tower exploded. Not a single soldier or cannoneer inside made it out and none of them were aware the cannonballs fired were red-hot because they didn't stay beneath the tower in fear of being hit by a falling cannonball. Even if some passed by the rounds on the ground, they would've long cooled down. The enemy thought that the soldiers inside accidentally set off their own gunpowder charges to cause the explosion.
But they finally had an inkling of what truly happened when all the cannons from the sentry towers fired at the central siege tower. Though the tower was eighty metres apart from the sentry towers on the walls, they could hear the cheers that came from there; either that, or one of the enemies had tried to touch the fallen cannonballs and felt how hot they were.
Nobody could describe what happened next as a coincidence. The central tower shuddered once more after three more shots, then people started peeling out of it through every hole available to them, even a couple Claude had yet to discover. Smoke and fire followed hot on their heels.
A cheer rose up from the defenders yet again. The four cannons didn't wait for Claude's order this time. They immediately turned their muzzles on the final tower. Evening was beginning to roll in, but the two massive torches lit up the final tower like two flares in the night.
Skri was over the moon.
"This should be rewarded! All the cannoneers will be given a second-class merit!" he bellowed at the tip of his lungs.
"Sir, I think it'd be better to just give them another bottle of gran wine. They had to shoot the whole day to take out the first tower, you know. They got a bottle for that. It took them less than thirty minutes to take down the other one."
He didn't really mean it seriously. Luck played a huge part when aiming for such a small target from such a distance. The skill of the cannoneers wasn't a huge factor. Cannons couldn't aim as precisely as sighted muskets could yet and the shots were mostly approximations. It just so happened that another cannonball hit its target after a short time.
The leftmost siege tower had ceased bombardment as soldiers poured outward from it, some carrying kegs of gunpowder.
Claude ordered the three cannons on the walls to fire scattershot immediately near the base of the siege tower, leaving no room for any to escape. It was a shame that while some were killed, most managed to escape using the shield carts all around as cover. They even managed to evacuate with the two remaining light-infantry cannons in the last tower.
Mazik poked his head out of the sentry tower and asked Claude whether they ought to continue bombarding the last siege tower.
Claude ordered for the bombardment with the red-hot cannonballs to resume. Even though the siege towers had a coating of heat-resistant mud, their internals were still bare log. As long as they could set it alight, they would no longer have to worry about the tower any longer.