Sometimes, the bolder the claim made, the faster the face slapping came. The moment Claude said he was glad he didn't pledge allegiance to the first prince or it would make him a traitor, Bolonik, Skri, Eiblont and Birkin shot him an odd look. Skri took another document out from the stack and handed it to Claude. "You better read this first..."
It was a newspaper from Aueras' archenemy, Shiks, called 'Pioneer Forum'. It was published three months ago as well and was probably left on the ship by some captain after he finished reading it. Bolonik had purchased those newspapers for a high price and got the long-outdated paper as well.
The report was rather interesting as the main headline celebrated the coming of peace. It described that the formerly misguided Aueras had changed its tune from stubborn resistance to one of peaceful cooperation, forging a new chapter of peace with Nasri. They had good reason to claim such good news. Stellin XI, or, Prince Wedrick, had sent ambassadors to Nasri and signed an agreement to return Kafreizit, Lasdonkrun, Botarnia as well as Woodnisia, a prefecture conquered during the five-year war, to Nasri.
During the reigns of Stellin IX and Stellin X, Aueras went to war with Nasri three times. Aueras' troops had marched all the way to the Nasrian royal capital twice. Kafreizit, Lasdonkrun and Botarnia used to be Nasrian territory, and during the third war between the two kingdoms, Nasri had no choice but to formally cede those territories to Aueras for peace.
That was why Nasri became the archenemy of Aueras. During the five-year war, Aueras' Reddragon conquered Woodnisia and didn't return it to Nasri. The ransom they demanded was far too high and they had no choice but to pay the ransom with territory. However, those four prefectures were in the Nasrian borderlands and not too easy to govern. The citizens there were easily influenced by the secret fanning of flames by the Nasrians, often resulting in revolts against Aueras.
Fortunately, there was a detailed analysis in the report which explained to Claude why Wedrick did so. Basically, Wedrick was trying to get rid of a burden and prevent a two-front war. By abandoning territory that wouldn't benefit him in any way and even needed investment to develop, he could focus his troops to stabilise the kingdom by ending Hansbach's rebellion and get rid of a rival for his throne.
At the end of the 5th month, Hansbach and Wedrick's forces finally engaged in a large-scale conflict, with there being multiple offensive and defensive battles fought. It wasn't the traditional line-and-march tactic Freians used after gathering their men in one spot. Instead, both sides surprised attacked their respective strongholds and tried to break their defence lines and trenches.
The battles were really ferocious and both sides fought savagely. Mortars and grenades flew all over the place from day till night and the battlefields were littered with corpses and severed limbs. However, both sides had great defences. Even after the first line of defence was breached, they had others behind them to hold the enemy back. The battles lasted more than a month and ended with heavy losses from both sides, numbering up to the 200 thousands. In the end, they couldn't even continue to supply necessary ammunition and had no choice but to cease hostilities to recover.
In terms of military might, Hansbach's units were far tougher than Wedrick's. It also helped that Hansbach personally led some of the battles as well. The problem was, just like Miselk said, logistics. Wedrick, with the old nobility's support from their military industries, had far more supplies and resources. For every mortar his enemy lobbed, he could return with three or four.
Hansbach's men, however, were expert melee fighters. As long as they could rush close to enemy strongholds, they would be able to take them easily. However, Wedrick's men grew more experienced and quickly gathered their mortar units to send hundreds of them flying towards the strongholds they lost and managed to kill many of Hansbach's men that way.
The battles were collectively called the Bloody Six Months. Both sides attacked each other's defences and suffered heavy losses without being able to settle on a victor. However, it probably fared worse for Hansbach overall. He couldn't compete with Wedrick in terms of ammunition and supplies and had no choice but to give up on the four prefectures he set his defence line across to retreat his forces to Whitestag for a staunch defence. He hoped to use the men he stationed in the mountains to stop Wedrick's forces to buy time for him to catch a breather.
Even though Wedrick managed to reclaim four prefectures, he didn't have that good a time either. He was now relying on loans to fund the war effort. Hansbach now held the new northeastern prefectures as well as the three southwestern prefectures whereas Wedrick occupied the central area of the kingdom. While the central area was the most developed of all the kingdom, it had been ravaged greatly by the Bloody Six Months. It would be long before they could recover and they were no longer able to provide much aid to Wedrick.
Wedrick was no fool and understood that he couldn't afford to give Hansbach the time he needed. He should be pressing the attack to force him away from the three southwestern prefectures. However, Hansbach had holed up in Whitestag, where Stellin IX started the kingdom's restoration, and Wedrick didn't want his brother to repeat his grandfather's miraculous uprising.
However, the terrain around Whitestag was mountainous and dangerous. With the royal guard occupied with defence and Reddragon having to be reorganised, there was not much he could do. Sending irregular corps to attack was merely giving Hansbach free prey. Griffon was the most proficient in fighting battles in mountainous terrain, however, it was stationed in Audin Mountain Range to stop the attack from the two newly formed standing corps and couldn't be mobilised to attack Whitestag.
It was then when Wedrick decided to return the four prefectures to Nasri. Not only were those border prefectures unproductive, it also cost a good sum of money to maintain order in them and suppress revolts. Reddragon, for instance, had always been stationed in Botarnia to put pressure on Nasri.
The other reason was after the return of those four prefectures, Griffon could be called back from Audin Mountain Range. Even if Prince Hansbach's two irregular corps conquered the mountain range, they wouldn't be able to pose a threat to the kingdom. After all, beyond the mountains were Kafreizit, which was now Nasrian territory. Unless they wanted to antagonise Nasri, the first prince's men wouldn't be able to attack the kingdom's heartland from the mountain range.
It was a three-birds-one-stone situation. First, he would lose a burden and no longer have to pay exorbitant military costs to keep the border prefectures secure. Second, he would be able to call Griffon back to attack Hansbach in Whitestag. Third, there would be no risk of fighting a war on two fronts. Even if Hansbach managed to turn the tables around and start conquering more land, he would notice that the territories he took were no longer connected to the other Aueran prefectures. He would have to first take Nasrian-controlled Kafreizit to be able to pose any threat to the kingdom.
It was not without downsides, however. In essence, what Wedrick did was undo all Stellin IX and Stellin X's victories. He would be known best as the king who failed his kingdom. However, he no longer cared about such a thing like repute when all his attention was focused on exiling Hansbach from the kingdom or eradicating him completely so he could sit on his throne without worry.
Pioneer Forum's report was really detailed. The points they made were hard to argue with and the one who wrote the report did have a good eye.
Claude put the newspaper down speechlessly. He felt his face tingle from the figurative slap. Hansbach had released 300 thousand Shiksan captives whereas Wedrick gave Nasri back the four border prefectures. While he couldn't get any inside information about it, he had little doubt Wedrick had been paid off to do so.
The problem was whether the sum could even make up for the loss of all that territory. In the eyes of the soldiers, Wedrick's actions were akin to completely rendering the sacrifice of their fallen comrades in vain. Not only did he fail the royal family and stomp all the honour Stellin IX obtained under his foot, he also lost the glory of the brave souls that died on the battlefield.
Other things aside, the moment the kingdom lost contact with the newly conquered territories was akin to Wedrick giving up on the right to govern them. Those territories were obtained through the sacrifice of more than 600 thousand dead or injured soldiers and the stockpile the kingdom built up over two decades, as well as the five-year war in Eastern Freia during which three duchies were exterminated.
Now, the territories of the duchies were all lost to Hansbach. It seemed that Wedrick didn't mind Hansbach founding his own nation there at all to use it as a base to attack the rest of the kingdom. All Wedrick seemed to want was to get Hansbach out of his kingdom so he could sit comfortably on his throne. As for the strong objections of the troops, he pretended not to see them at all.
Bolonik sighed deeply and broke the silence in the meeting room. "Two brothers fought so hard for the throne and resulted in such a predicament... Initially, it was all thanks to Stellin X's policies to encourage the founding of the colonies in Nubissia for this scale to even be possible in the first place. After two decades of wealth gathering in the royal treasury and the extermination of three duchies, much territory was conquered and the kingdom became the hegemon of Eastern Freia.
"Yet, these two princes seem to be trying to one-up the other in failing the kingdom. Prince Hansbach actually demanded us to cede the colonies to Shiks, whereas Prince Wedrick just straight up gave the four border prefectures to our archenemy, Nasri. The two brothers lost it all.
"As a soldier of the kingdom, it truly is a tragedy for us to have these two rulers. However, that isn't an excuse for us to give up on our duties. As long as we wear this uniform, we have to protect the colonies from enemy invasion. Even if Shiks really has gathered ten standing corps, we have to do our best to defeat them.
"Now, the situation is getting clearer and you also understand the state of the kingdom. I believe that even if Prince Wedrick obtains victory, we will be unable to get any help or support. Perhaps His Highness might even send ambassadors to scour us for money. So, we shouldn't place any hopes in His Highness. We have to rely on our own strengths."
"The only ones we can rely on here in the colonies are ourselves. It seems that almost all newspaper publications in the western coast don't think we can win. After all, Shiks did assemble a force of 600 thousand troops, with five corps being liberated Shiksan captives and another five being those troops who fought in the war to suppress the nobles' private armies' revolt. They can all fight to an extent.
"For many nations, a force of 600 thousand threatens their end. Shiks is planning to throw them all into the next colonial war, so they probably learned some lessons from their horrid defeats in the prior three. That's why they leased Cape Loducus from Fochs. Gathering all their men before marching them south is undoubtedly the best tactic they have. Shiks knows the colonies' weakness. We can't get support from the mainland and can only rely on two corps to weather their attack. We'll be wiped out even if they choose to fight a battle of attrition..."
"That's why we have to take the northern mountainous coasts first to form a defence line and use our advanced weapons to repel them! If the nikancha don't know what's good for themselves, I won't mind wiping them out!" Birkin stressed again.
However, Eiblont wasn't the one arguing against it this time. Claude gave Birkin a cold stare. "How are you so certain that Shiks will definitely march their troops south through the northern mountainous coasts? If you conquer that area and set up a defence line there only to have them circumvent the defence line using another route, what would you do? You'd have offended the nikancha and earned us another archenemy. You don't think we're in enough trouble already?"
"B-but... if they don't go through the northern mountainous coasts, where would the Shiksans come from? Fly to us across the seas?" Birkin muttered. Though, he knew that Claude was his superior when it came to strategy, so he definitely saw something he didn't.
Claude went to the map on the wall and knocked on the mountains bordering the east of Cape Loducus. "Don't forget Shiks' inland colonies are mostly in this direction. The darned nikancha still haven't managed to conquer them. If the Shiksans want to attack after gathering their forces, they could always, no, they'd almost certainly rescue the settlers trapped in the inland colonies first.
"Additionally, they see the nikancha as the enemy too. To Shiks, the nikancha are merely rebellious slaves. Their taking of Shiksan territory and founding their own independent nation there is a mark of humiliation for Shiks. So, I believe they'll leave us be first while they wipe the nikancha nation out to teach their slaves their place. Their priority will be to reclaim their inland colonies."
Claude turned back to Birkin. "If you conquer the northern mountainous coasts and form a defence line here, the Shiksans can ignore it completely. They can cross through the mountains in the east. As long as they conquer the nikancha nation and reclaim their lost territory, they can use another route to invade our colonies."