The drizzle fell gently outside the tent.
"How did you think of conquering Wickhamsburg, moving the supplies away, setting the warehouses on fire and then returning to base?" Miselk asked Claude. He was in a really good mood.
The near 180 thousand troops of Wicklan, Cybok and Faybort had dropped their weapons in despair and surrendered to Ranger for the sake of survival.
That came as quite a relief for General Miselk. Wiping out those three corps without having to shed blood meant that all five Shiksan standing corps had been wiped off Nubissia. Shiks once more suffered an even more humiliating defeat. Not only did they lose 300 thousand of their so-called elite men, they even lost Seaking, which had a famous reputation in the north. It was yet another brutal face-first smackdown for Shiks.
Miselk didn't care much about how Shiks would react to their loss. He was a general and his job was to eliminate the kingdom's enemies. However, it just occurred to him that he had neglected something. His mind was full of forcing the three standing legions to surrender, but he forgot that what the thirsty and tired enemies needed most was food and rest, as well as medical treatment. The moment they surrendered, the burden of feeding 180 thousand men fell to him.
It was the rainy season of the 3rd month and it often drizzled. Without food and cover from the rain for the captives, they might fall sick and even die. The consequences of that was unimaginable.
When they were the enemy, killing them on the battlefield was the right thing to do. But now, they were captives. If they died under Ranger's watch after their surrender, it would severely negatively impact Aueras' reputation. Should word of captives being killed or tortured spread, Ranger and even Miselk wouldn't be able to make up for that mistake.
That was when Miselk regretted ordering Claude to burn Wickhamsburg to the ground entirely. Now, they didn't have any cover from rain or places to start fires. He could only order the soldiers to retrieve some dry rations for the captives to eat and fill their stomachs for the moment and pray to the goddess of fate that every one of them would survive this.
But after that, he received Claude's report which was delivered by his adjutant, Myjack.
Myjack told Miselk that Claude had set up a large camp some five kilometres away from Wickhamsburg. It was large enough to accommodate Ranger and 180 thousand captives through the rainy season of the 3rd month. Water was already boiled and porridge was prepared in anticipation for the general, troops and captives' arrival.
Miselk was elated and immediately ordered his men to transport the captives to the camp Claude set up. After a quick bath, he summoned Claude and asked how he knew to set up a camp in advance.
Claude stood ramrod straight and replied, "General, actually, I was forced to..."
The main reason for that was the secret passageway that was hidden in the moat. Claude and his men brainstormed through many methods and noticed that while it was easy to sneak in through the passageway, leaving through it after setting fire to the warehouses proved to be rather dangerous.
Putting aside the question whether the orders could be executed without a hitch, it was all too easy for the enemies to discover them after a few warehouses were ignited. Wickhamsburg had near a hundred of those storage warehouses and relying on a tent of men to burn them all wasn't realistic. The moment they were discovered by the enemy, the alarms would be sounded and the defenders on the walls would put up their guard. The moment Claude and his men left through the same entrance, they would be shot at by the enemy. They were far too close and the enemy wasn't blind.
So, he recalled how Berklin said burning all those supplies would be a waste. There were only two lines of troops defending the city and Line 131 would definitely be able to take it. If they could defend Wickhamsburg, they could keep the supplies.
Even though Claude was against the suggestion at first and told them there wasn't a need to risk the soldiers' lives for the sake of supplies, the suggestion seemed to make more sense the more he thought about it. The enemy defenders weren't that strong, and he didn't necessarily have to leave the same way they entered the city. Wouldn't it be easier to simply open the main gates and let the rest of the line in? It would make their job of burning the warehouses far easier after they overran the place since they wouldn't have to worry about the enemy getting in their way.
Having made up his mind, Claude sent carrier eagles to the four combat tribes stationed around the enemy supply towns to gather. That was also why he had pushed the date back to the 25th of the 2nd month to personally infiltrate Wickhamsburg with his men.
Since they weren't going to escape right after setting the fire, Claude and his men dressed themselves in Shiksan uniforms, set the fires, and threw all the enemy troops into turmoil by rushing them to put out the fires. At the same time, they would order the patrolmen at the main gates to help out with putting out the fires. They easily took control of the gates that way.
After that, Claude and the rest went up the walls and soon cleared them of enemy lookouts. Then, they gave the signal and the troops of Line 131 hiding outside rushed into the castle. They targeted the enemy camp and headquarters according to plan, killing their officers and forcing the rest of the men to surrender. They used the panic they struck in the enemy to stop any semblance of resistance from forming. By the time morning came, the whole of Wickhamsburg fell to Line 131 alongside more than seven thousand captives.
Currently, the hundred plus warehouses were open to the rangers. They could burn any one of them they wanted. As Line 131 had cut off the supply routes of the enemy, there was no way for any of the supplies to be delivered to the three Shiksan corps, so the supplies piled up in Wickhamsburg alongside the six hundred carriages they left in the main square as well as the two thousand horses in the stables.
There was no need for any other consideration. They took anything they could. Lien 131's men supervised the seven thousand captives as they loaded the carriages with supplies. After that, each captive was given carrying poles or large sacks filled with supplies and marched away. Only after all that was done were the warehouses burned down.
Claude had prioritised moving away food, clothes, medicines and other supplies they might need without taking the ammunition and weapons that were incompatible with Aueran ones. Not long after the fires were set, explosions rang out and Wickhamsburg was reduced to rubble.
After travelling a few kilometres away from the city, the captive laborers were worn out and begged to be allowed to rest. Line 131's men thought the captives were intentionally trying to delay their march and prepared to give them harsh punishment.
When Claude took note of that, he stopped them and asked why they were going to punish the captives. The soldiers replied that the captives were probably intentionally delaying their progress so that enemy reinforcements could come to save them.
It finally clicked in Claude's mind and he broke out laughing. Why would he need to leave in such a hurry with Line 131 in the first place? It was no wonder he felt something was off when he left Wickhamsburg. In fact, he was actually afraid of pursuing enemy soldiers. Having near 800 carriages loaded with supplies made him feel like a thief who was afraid of losing those supplies to the enemy again.
However, it didn't occur that the enemy no longer had any men to chase them down. Shiks sent five standing corps to Nubissia. With Kujoa and Tanya eliminated, Wicklan, Cybok and Faybort began to rush back after receiving word of Seaking's defeat and were already halfway to Wickhamsburg.
Ranger had already captured thousands of Shiksan soldiers. According to the captives, the three corps were really tight on supplies. Apart from officers, who were given more food, usual soldiers were only fed with a bowl of really plain gruel each day. They even had to kill their work horses to make meat soup for their main force so they could be kept combat ready.
There was no need for Line 131 to leave in such a hurry at all. They had just wiped out two enemy lines at Wickhamsburg and there was no large enemy force remaining in the immediate 500-kilometre radius. Instead, the faster they returned to join Ranger's main force, the faster they would encounter the three corps of the enemy.
The reason for that was simple. The three enemy corps were heading towards Wickhamsburg and Rangr's main force was tailing them from behind. For Line 131 to join up with the rest of the force meant they would be travelling towards the three enemy corps. Having realised that, it just occurred to Claude that they were marching towards their deaths and benefiting the enemy.
Upon realising his mistake, he immediately ordered his men to stop and rest before sending out light-cavalry scouts to survey the nearby terrain. When they returned, the whole group immediately turned away from the projected route the Shiksan corps would travel and headed towards the highlands behind Wickhamsburg. They set up camp after finding a good water source and were prepared to wait out the rest of the war.
As Claude waited, he mad more accurate projections of the enemy's journey and found that by the time they reached Wickhamsburg, they would completely run out of resources. The city was now in ruins and the enemy would definitely despair. They had no other option but to surrender.
Checking the dates, he found that it would be around the rainy season then. There was no need to speculate any further. The results of the war had been set. Ranger would soon have near 200 thousand men captive. The thought of the captives reminded him about the fact that Ranger was travelling lightly to tail the enemy corps and await their surrender.
Therein lay the problem: what would they feed all 200 thousand captives with? Claude knew that Ranger only carried around a week's worth of food. With the captives eating away at their supplies, they might not last longer than four days.
The Ranger folk only numbered some 30 thousand men. With an additional 200 thousand captives, the most they could do was provide them with one full meal each day, or once every two days if they want to stretch it out. Even after more food was delivered through their supply lines, Ranger wouldn't be able to sustain that kind of consumption as the shipments were calculated based on the amount needed by Ranger. They had never expected to take 200 thousand men captive, so they couldn't have prepared that food in advance.
The moment Claude set his gaze on the 800 carriages of supplies, he burst out laughing. he ordered his men to get the seven thousand captives to begin work on a campsite immediately to accommodate more than 200 thousand men. It was finally completed right before the rainy season in the 3rd month. They also prepared enough firewood to last them.
As their carrier eagle had yet to return after Claude used it to send a report about the spoils he reaped from the burning of Wickhamsburg, he wasn't able to notify Miselk about their campsite. He had no choice but to send a scout tent to the area near the city. After some wait, they finally met up with the rest of Ranger and the 180 thousand captives from the three corps to solve their food and medicine crisis.
After hearing Claude's explanation, Miselk burst out laughing. He happily patted Claude on the shoulder. "Your growth has truly surprised me. I mean it. Claude, you're a born soldier and the battlefield is the only place you can live to your fullest potential. Back then, you were a great commander, but now, you've finally embarked on your journey to becoming an outstanding military leader.
"Being able to anticipate and consider the big picture in the long term and the changes that might ensue is a fundamental skill every military leader has to grasp. You have truly helped me out greatly this time around and made up for the mistake I committed as a result of my insufficient consideration. You have once more contributed greatly to Ranger, and by extension, the kingdom! Thank you, Claude. I had been so occupied with making the three Shiksan corps surrender that I had completely missed out on the burden it would put on us to take them captive. It truly was a grave mistake I made."
Claude hurriedly spewed a few polite lines and took his leave when he saw how worn out the general was.
'Triumph of Balingana! All Five Shiksan Standing Corps -- Eliminated! Seaking Fleet Crippled!'
When news of the victory was sent back to the kingdom's mainland, all of Aueras was shaken. It was a complete, and utterly unexpected victory. General Miselk was hailed as the war god of the kingdom. Even though he admitted in his report that he had almost let the captives starve to death due to his mistake, that didn't dull the glory of defeating 300 thousand enemy soldiers with a mere folk of troops!
It was a miraculous battle forever to be chronicled in the history of the world of Faslan. General Miselk's reputation spread far and wide and was acknowledged unanimously by military historians in future generations.