Claude stood at the cliff in the distance near a few dense pine trees, looking at the Shiksan camp a kilometre or so away with his telescope. This was the border between the nikancha nation and Cape Loducus. Claude had snuck there because he wanted to have a personal look at the three Shiksan corps.
It was the middle of the 8th month and the Shiksans had finally sent 4th and 5th Penitence corps to Cape Loducus. Since those two corps arrived, the other three corps that had rested for three whole months set off to set up camp at the mountainous border of the nikancha nation.
The Shiksans stationed two corps near the northern mountainous coasts and only one corps at the eastern mountains. It seemed they had focused their efforts to break through at the northern mountainous coasts. But Claude still felt that something was amiss, as compared to the Shiksan camps at the eastern mountains, those at the north seemed to be set up more defensively.
"General, we should leave," Myjack reminded, "The Shiksan scouts have been rather active lately. They are often seen within the mountains in this area. Perhaps there are ambushes laid by them. You're a frontline-command officer, Sir, and shouldn't risk your life like this."
Claude put the telescope down. He had seen what he needed and couldn't remain at the frontlines any longer. He had to go back for some discussion. It was obvious that the Shiksans were going to attack soon. However, Claude didn't understand their deployment. Logically, if they were sending two standing corps to the northern mountainous coasts and focusing their attack there, the troops they had in the east would also provide attack support. However, the two corps at the north set their camp up in a defensive manner, which was odd. Were they going to make it a heavily fortified supply point for after the war began?
Birkin's defence line command post was set up at the intersection of the eastern and northern mountains so that the situation on both fronts could be easily given heed. It was located within a large cavern halfway up a hill. The entrance of the hill was rather flat, so four rows of wooden houses covered in vines were built to hide the entrance. The vines were excellent for climbing and camouflaging. It would be easy to miss the buildings even a short distance away.
Two trenches were dug on the flat land in front of the log houses. Those were used to hide the guards that would defend against a possible enemy attack. When Claude came with his men, Birkin came to welcome him and asked him whether he had any new discoveries.
When Claude told him his doubts, Birkin said there was nothing odd about them. He believed the Shiksans were suspicious about the theatre having sent their troops into the nikancha nation. As they were worried about the theatre's attacks, they set up their camps defensively instead.
Birkin's reasoning did make sense. If Claude were a Shiksan officer, he would probably act as Birkin had described. As for the single corps stationed in the eastern mountains, it was probably overkill against the nikancha troops. It was common knowledge that they couldn't fight nearly as well, anyway.
"Are there any reports on the top Shiksan commanders?" Claude asked. He had been travelling around the eastern and northern mountains near the border for around 20 days and didn't have much contact with frontline command at Castle Moknad, so he didn't know whether the informants in Cape Loducus had sent any worthwhile information over.
Birkin nodded. "There is. The informants sent that the one sent to lead the Shiksan troops is a hereditary count as well as general of the Shiksan army. It's said that he played a huge part in the suppression of the noble rebellion and heavily earned Majid III's trust. He is now 68 and has been named the commander-in-chief of their forces here. His name is Norbridon Bang Belondi."
"Is that all?" Claude shook his head in disappointment. Perhaps it was the inevitable inconvenience that came with being cut off from the kingdom. He wanted to know the uniqueness of this Shiksan commander, what kinds of battles he fought, what his personality was like, and so on. Only by understanding the enemy could he prepare countermeasures against him. The informants reported nothing else but his name and age.
A 68-year-old might be more conservative and take less risk, so baiting tactics would be hard-pressed to work. Not to mention, old generals of that era usually stuck to the book in war and loved to follow pre-established conventions in their troops' command. Their defence on their supply line would also be rather tight. Usually, they wouldn't like tactics that led to landslide victories either. It seemed that the three Shiksan corps would be targeting nothing else but the defence line.
"Has the setup of our defence line near the front been completed?" Claude asked.
Birkin nodded. "They're done. Come here to look. I had someone make a clay model of the terrain in the sand table."
They went to a large, separate room within the cavern above of which 18 candle lamps were hung. It was well illuminated. There was a large table in the centre of the room with a large sandtable. The terrain of the eastern and northern mountain areas were a little rough, however, with no details or trees perhaps due to being made in a hurry.
Birkin pointed a thin, long stick at the mountain areas. "We've surveyed the terrain of the border and believe the Shiksans can easily find a path to traverse through. Ever since the formation of the nikancha nation, they've shown no interest in Cape Loducus. No nikancha tribes are located there, so the colony and the nation didn't have much interaction.
"The main reason for that was how the Fochsians hated the nikancha tribes. The settlers usually chased the tribes away and didn't permit them to form near their colony. The nikancha within Cape Loducus were all descendants of the young nikancha women the Fochsian settlers abducted and raised as servants, so they didn't have anything to do with the nikancha tribes.
"As a result, not only did the nikancha nation hate the Shiksans, they hated the Krim pirates' descendants from the Fochs Islands even more and didn't make any attempt at diplomacy with them following the founding of their independent nation, hence the lack of a nikancha presence in Cape Loducus. Had it not been for our leak, the nikancha wouldn't have been able to get any information from any of their kin in Cape Loducus and wouldn't know about the Shiksans' arrival until it was too late.
"Now, the nikancha are working hard to construct our third defence line in the central mountainous area and even took the initiative to help us set up three defence lines at the rear to stop the Shiksans' attacks. I told them there was no need because it would only be possible for the Shiksans to take the three they've already built after the folk of Monolith stationed there is completely wiped out.
"In that case, even if we have ten more defence lines, it wouldn't be able to stop the Shiksans. Without us manning them, the defence lines were pointless. Half a month later, the nikancha sent us a force of 100 thousand men who have all received preliminary training from our officers and know how to fire muskets.
"That day, many nikancha elders and chiefs came along. The elder that represented them held my hand tight and told me that their nation's survival depended on the three defence lines we now held, so they sent us 100 thousand of their elite fighters per the agreement to cooperate with us in hopes that we'd be able to hold off the Shiksans there."
Birkin tapped at the centre of the sandtable where three red strings of yarn were laid across the clay mountain peaks which represented the defence lines. They formed a nonstandard 'L' shape. "I distributed the 100 thousand nikancha youths across our defences as planned. We'll have each Monolith soldier lead two nikancha around and give them rights to enforce military regulations.
"There are 40 thousand more which I've split into 40 tribes. I had them report to the staff officers of Monolith and stationed them at the 40 locations marked with red flags at the border. Those are the locations I believe the Shiksans might attack, so they would be able to alert us of an attack from there and delay the enemy's advance by causing them some trouble.
"Naturally, I'm not expecting to actually be able to hold up against the Shiksans' attack. But at least, it'll show the Shiksans that only the nikancha are fighting. The most they'll see is our officers leading them in battle. I believe after seeing that, the Shiksans would feel confident enough to press the attack. Our 40 nikancha tribes can attack as they retreat to waste the enemy's ammunition and food until they're finally drawn to our defence line."
That was the original plan they had settled on. By the time the Shiksans reached the defence line Birkin had set up, it would be Claude and Thundercrash's turn to attack. They would attack the Shiksans diagonally from the rear and seal off their supply line and mount a drawn-out encirclement attack. The Shiksans, faced with the defence line in front and Thundercrash behind, would have no choice but to surrender after their supplies were mostly used up.
The difficult part of that plan was how they could get the nikancha troops to take the initiative to attack the Shiksans at the border. This operation was actually kept secret from the nikancha. Having a firm defence line at the rear and sending the nikancha tribes out to the front might be construed by them as being used to kill the enemy and cause lots of discontent and problems with the plan's execution.
However, only by stationing the nikancha forces at the outer fringes of the mountains would the Shiksans feel confident enough to press their attack all the way to Monolith's defence line. If they were frank, the nikancha were indeed being used as cannon fodder and bait for the Shiksans.
Little did Claude expect that the nikancha elders and chiefs would be self-conscious enough to hand command over 100 thousand troops to Birkin, solving that obstacle almost entirely. With the officers of Monolith leading the nikancha tribes, their fighting capability might be higher. At the very least, they would give some serious resistance before choosing to retreat.
Birkin continued gleefully, "From the 7th to the 8th month, the soldiers on the defence line have been training the nikancha troops on how to man the lines and fight. Short as the time might be, at the very least, they've learned how to obey orders and to shoot from cover. According to the way the three enemy corps are stationed, there's one stationed in the eastern mountain area, two in the northern mountain area, and one corps in the rear as reserves.
"With our arrangement of one of our own leading two nikancha men, the defence lines are fully manned. Coupled with the tribes of nikancha troops stationed at the fringes of the mountainous areas, we are fully capable of holding the Shiksans' attack back for a whole month. If we didn't have those tribes upfront, it'd only take 15 days for the Shiksans to make it to the central area here.
"With them fighting as they retreat, I believe the Shiksans will be more than worn out by the time they arrive and be unable to mount any more fierce attacks, which will put much less of a burden on our defences. Our counterattacks will also cause them to suffer even greater casualties. By the time your Thundercrash comes to surround them from the back, they'll be at our mercy completely."
Claude took a close look at the sand table and noticed that Birkin wasn't exaggerating it at all. The defence lines at the central area and the troops stationed in the fringe area were really dense. He couldn't find any loopholes in the deployment.
"Did the command post here at the defence line not assign any soldiers to train with the nikancha?" Claude asked. He didn't see any nikancha troops when he entered the command post.
"No," Birkin said, "We've assigned tribes that report straight to the folk all armed with new rifles here, so letting them train with the nikancha is an inconvenience. That's why we don't have even one nikancha here even though the troops in the north and east are accompanied by them."
"Alright. Then, I'll return to Castle Moknad. I suspect the Shiksans are going to attack soon during the next few days, so be careful. If you're certain that they won't reach the defence lines within a month, have the line of reserve troops you stationed at the rear come with me. Blackstone has 6000 new rifles produced and General Bolonik said to arm the troops here at the frontlines first."
Birkin beamed with joy. "Really? Then I'll order them to go with you immediately. With the new rifles, our fighting prowess will triple at the very least."
"Alright. Thundercrash just armed one line with the new rifles as well. Your line will come with me to be rearmed and trained for seven short days to get them to understand how the rifles can be used in battle. It should be enough to get them up to fighting shape. The whole round trip will take around 20 days. Coupled with the training, it'd take a month's time. Are you sure nothing will go wrong here?" Claude just couldn't seem to shake that feeling of uneasiness, but he couldn't see what would go wrong. He attributed it to pre-battle anxiety.
"I promise, don't worry. Even if the Shiksans attack tomorrow, they'll take a month to reach the defence lines. Our troops will be armed and trained with the new rifles by then just in time to teach them a harsh lesson." Birkin didn't bother to get Claude to stay for dinner for the sake of the rifles. He wanted him to buzz off with his men immediately for the switch.
When Claude returned to frontline command in Castle Moknad, Eiblont came to tell him about the start of the battle. "Seven days ago, the Shiksans launched an attack on the northern and eastern mountain areas concurrently..."
Birkin had sent that message by carrier eagle. Claude didn't receive it on the way; his travel back to frontline command took ten days alone. There was no way to speed up travel through the mountains, after all. The attack began three days after his departure. Claude breathed a sigh of relief, as the Shiksans would take at least more than 20 days to reach the defence line. It was enough time for the line of Monolith soldiers to be trained and returned to the frontlines.
He was prepared to wait for the switch to complete before returning to the frontlines with his line of Thundercrash soldiers along Monolith's line. What he didn't expect was before five days even passed, Birkin sent an urgent eagle message. His troops fell faster than dominoes could. The nikancha tribes at the fringes weren't able to take the slightest hit. They couldn't even defend their ground, much less attack to slow the enemy advance down. All they knew was crumble and fall back towards the defence line.
The most troublesome part was the nikancha that ran didn't even see the enemies' faces. The moment they saw their kin from the front run away, the rest followed suit. The officers from Monolith were helpless to stop them from running. Some officers that tried to punish the soldiers by court-martial were shot at.
The Shiksans seemed like they would reach Birkin's defence line in another three to four days. However, the nikancha that manned the defence lines were nervous wrecks thanks to those that turned tail and ran back. Perhaps they would cave upon first sight of the Shiksans as well. Birkin had no choice but to send Claude an urgent request to come with reinforcements.