Here's this week's fourth release! I'm getting a sore throat from all them Chinese New Year snacks!
"Watch out! The grassland barbarians are here! String the steel ballistae! Prepare to fire!"
Tall stone towers straddled a very normal-looking hill's brow. Each was surrounded by a ditch roughly a hundred meters from the tower. The spiral ditches were also laden with barricades. Any attacker would have to circle around them while being fired at from the towers to pass through and arrive at the tower's doors. The towers themselves weren't that big, they could fit at most a hundred people . Towers like that were rather rare in the eastern parts of Southern. They were arranged in a net-like formation that spanned almost half of Southern and reached all the way to the border of the eastern half of the province.
About a thousand leather-armor-wearing, messy-haired grassland barbarians with varying face paint stopped at a point far away from the towers. The carriages that followed soon arrived and large shields were brought out. As they waved their crude weapons around, the barbarians bolstered their courage with their war cries and advanced, shields in front.
One of the towers near the frontmost part had already been set alight. A wisp of green smoke floated into the sky; it was the signal that indicated the tower had been breached. As a few other towers nearby lit up as well, it was a sign that the whole front part of the battlefield was under enemy attack.
A Firmrock soldier biting one stalk of dried grass in his mouth looked at the slowly-advancing barbarians. Even though the enemy outnumbered them ten-fold, he didn't seem concerned. Spitting out the grass, he turned back.
"Leader, there's really something wrong with these grassland barbarians' heads. Have they already forgotten about how terribly they were massacred during the last few attacks? Did they think those eight wooden shields would be able to deflect the steel ballistae bolts? They're really stupid... I wonder how many of them will die this time before they retreat..."
A soldier next to him, aiming the steel ballistae smiled.
"Wanna bet? I bet a gold coin they'll drop the shields and run after only around a hundred die."
A heavily bearded soldier came over. He was the person in charge of manning the tower, a company leader with 100 men in his command. Mostly, forces with around a hundred men were squads. They had one leader in command of the whole group. Beneath him were the lowest command rank, ten officers each in command of ten men. The Nortons' forcers, however, had ten men in each squad, with the squad leader being in charge of ten men as well. Companies had a hundred men. Five companies made a regiment, and five combat regiments and a supply regiment made a brigade of three thousand men. Five brigades formed a division, and four divisions a legion with 60 thousand men in total.
The bearded man slapped the back of the soldier who'd asked to bet's head.
"Like I'll let you bet more than a month's salary away. You're not a child anymore. You should be saving up for your family and thinking about retiring from the corps if you have so much time on your hands. Be more alert. Our armor might be pretty good, but the barbarians aren't vegetarians. Klido was struck in the arm by an arrow and it had to be amputated. You guys better be unharmed by the end of this, you hear?"
When the thousand or so barbarians messily used the weapons in their hands to attempt to fill the ditches, one of the towers, stationed with a company of troops, armed 20 ballistae all at once. The towers were roughly twelve meters in the air and split into four separate floors. Each of the floors from the second floor upwards to the roof had five ballistae installed. Apart from the uncovered roof, the floors below were shielded well and the ballistae fired through aiming holes. In other words, the towers were actually designed by Lorist using the 'pillbox' structures used by the Japanese in the historical films he watched.
The ballista operators within the towers were incredibly cunning. They didn't fire at the large shields, instead, they targeted the barbarians filling up the ditch. When one of the barbarians died, the others would scramble behind the shields in fear without making any other attempt to fill the ditch. Though there were a few archers that fired towards the towers, given that they were roughly a hundred meters apart, they weren't able to get an accurate aim at all. Given the crude bows of the barbarians that couldn't fire with much force, the parabolic shots scattered without reason or order at random locations.
It was nothing but a joke. That didn't resemble a proper battle at all. Instead, the attackers were akin to targets the defenders used to practice with. Even after more than 60 barbarians died near the ditch, not half of it was filled yet. In the end, all the barbarians hid behind the shields and didn't dare to look out. The attackers were completely stuck.
Should the barbarians press their attack without regard for their casualties, they could reach a tower's entrance for every two to three hundred men lost. If they were lucky, they might even get to break the doors down to attack the soldiers inside the tower. That was assuming the towers didn't have other tricks to react to such situations. However, the problem was that no barbarian was willing to become one of the two hundred. They had come to raid, not die and let their comrades profit in their stead.
The bearded man looked at the eight still-standing wooden shields and mumbled to himself as he stroked his beard.
"It really is quite the task for them to push shields that large up the hill. But what can they do merely hiding behind them?
"Leader, should we use flaming arrows?"
The bearded soldier shook his head.
"It's pointless. Those large timber shields would take far too long to burn down. It's too bad we weren't allocated any catapults. Otherwise, one fireball would be enough to take care of the shields."
"Leader, should we focus fire on those shields and see if we can damage them?" asked the gambling addict.
"Alright. Let's try," agreed the bearded man.
They targeted the middlemost shield and with an order from the bearded officer, 20 bolts shot out like lightning towards the shield. However, it merely shuddered for a bit without moving much. The bearded soldier said with disappointment.
"It's useless... It managed to hold up..."
Barely before he finished his sentence, the soldiers' cheer could be heard from beside him. "Leader, look! The shield's falling!"
The shield that was struck with 20 ballista bolts fell to the ground and smashed to pieces, revealing near a hundred of barbarians standing behind it as well as those who were crushed by the shield itself.
Seeing a chance, the bearded man yelled, "Restring and shoot the little rabbits!"
It did indeed look like a rabbit hunt. The barbarians that lost their shield hopped about chaotically. Apart from half of them that managed to hide behind the other shields, the rest were targeted by the steel ballistae. After three volleys of ballista fire, more than 45 barbarian soldiers fell. There were a good number of barbarians that tried to run out of the ballistae's firing range only to fail and be impaled from the back by the bolts.
By the time the second wooden shield was successfully taken down, the barbarians hiding behind the other shields could no longer take it and turned tail to run, their weapons discarded. There were even some who rolled down the hill. They knew that the wooden shields couldn't protect them. Sooner or later, the shields that remained would be shot down as well and it was far better for them to run than be sitting ducks.
A bunch of horses could be seen roughly four hundred meters away from the towers, out of their firing range. From their previous attacks, the barbarians had learned that it was ill-advised to ride their mounts up the hill. Despite the non-stop firing from the ballistae in the tower, at least half of the barbarians managed to leave the firing range. By the time they were only about 60 meters from their mounts, a large group of light cavalry showed up and scattered them like eagles scattering chickens. Alas, two legs were slower than four. Soon, one after another fell from the riders' blades and dyed the foot of the hill red.
"Now you see it, right? Duke Shabaj, this is the step-by-step strategy employed by the four houses. They set up the towers like a wide-encompassing net. Some towers are just 300 meters apart. They are closer to one another than the range of the ballistae. I've ordered a thousand-men cavalry regiment to pass between the two towers. We didn't think there would be more towers behind them. Only 400 returned."
Duke Fisablen was currently speaking to an old man clad in elegant armor. Not long ago, their group just stopped at a hill not far from the battlefield to witness the sight of the barbarians' failure to breach the tower formation.
"Towers like these only have a hundred men inside at most. The only question is where the four houses managed to obtain so many sentry ballistae. Based on my observations, these ballistae should be modified variants. Their firing rate is fast and they also have great range and accuracy. Even though I had more than ten thousand barbarians attack ten towers, the results are obvious. These barbarians aren't for sieges. While they excel in field battles, they have no way of defeating these towers.
"If we want to eliminate them, we will have to use disciplined infantry. House Fisablen's forces are mostly light cavalry so we have no way of dealing with them. In fact, our mobility is greatly limited. Lord Duke, I hope you can hurry the other duchies to send their troops as soon as possible. Since we're in the same boat, we'll have to drive the four houses away and stop them from conquering Southern. Otherwise, no of us will have peace in the days to come," said Duke Fisablen frankly.
It was the 12th day of the 7th month on Grindia and it had already been almost 50 days since Firmrock arrived in Southern and faced off with Duke Fisablen.
The moment Firmrock arrived, they began to set up camp near the duke's defenses. He didn't mind and decided he would first set up his defenses well before launching his attack. That was but common sense. He just ordered his two legions to prepare for a defensive battle.
What the duke didn't expect was that Firmrock would take so much time setting up camp. After three days, he finally felt something was off. When he took a look at the camp with his own eyes, he realized they weren't actually setting up camp at all. Instead, they were working on defensive fortifications as well, fortifications far more defended than the duke's.
Not knowing what was going on, the duke thought,what the heck is going on?! Who's supposed to be the defender?!
Even after Firmrock finally finished setting up their defenses, they didn't launch an attack. Instead, they began construction on the tower outposts. Under the protection of Ragebear Knights, they managed to finish the towers' construction in ten short days. The construction materials shipped non-stop were used to fortify the towers. Most of it was green glue.
When Duke Fisablen realized the towers would become a huge obstacle for light cavalry, he immediately ordered for the reserve legion that had just arrived to attack. But he, regretfully, came to realize that even the ferocious reserve legion wasn't able to do much against those tower outposts. Instead, they returned with huge casualties. The moment he ordered them to retreat, Ragebear Knights launched their attack from hiding and caught them horribly off guard. In the end, they were only able to retreat after losing half their numbers.
Duke Fisablen currently faced a huge dilemma. He realized the light cavalry he had used to storm the grasslands had lost all their potency in Southern. The net of towers constructed by the four houses had greatly limited what light cavalry could do. Even though he would still be able to take the towers down by sustaining huge casualties, he knew well that sacrificing hundreds of household soldiers for capturing one tower was not a worthwhile exchange. Each tower only took about ten days to build, but training light cavalry soldiers as qualified as those he'd lose took years.
Seeing the number of tower outposts grow before his eyes to cover even more land, he considered whether he should give up on the crucial transportation point and find another important location where he could set up towers just like the houses had. But before he settled on that decision, he received a piece of good news: Duke Shabaj had personally led 20 thousand troops to reinforce Southern and was already on his way to meet him.
Duke Fisablen was elated to hear that and turned his sights on the reinforcements of the four duchies. As almost all of the reinforcements were infantry, they were just the right fit for taking down the towers. Afterwards, his light cavalry could mow down what remained of the forces. The duke had unconsciously changed his goals from taking Southern back to fighting to the death.
To sound more convincing, the duke intentionally had ten thousand volunteer barbarians with disciplinary problems attack the towers. The would be forgiven if they participated in the attack. The duke was also generous enough to offer them a huge reward should they emerge victorious and even prepared large shields for them to weather the endless ballista fire. Even though he didn't hold much hope for their success, the barbarians' performance caused the color to drain from his face. Even so, the demonstration only reinforced his words about how inadequate it was for light cavalry to attack the towers.
Duke Shabaj was a blademaster with lots of experience. However, he was merely a rank 1 blademaster that broke through relying on precious and rare medicines. Seeing the barbarians' attack, he laughed.
"Lord Duke, the four central duchies are paying lots of attention to what is happening here in Southern. This matter is of utmost importance to our peace and we have decided to not let this province fall into the hands of the Andinaq kingdom's alliance of four. Apart from the 20 thousand troops I brought with me, the other dukes will arrive soon with their own 20 thousand. Not only that, we also brought you a lot of resources you can use.
"Since we're allies, we will definitely uphold our due responsibilities. We definitely won't sit by and watch the forces of the Andinaq kingdom invade the territory of your house. As for how we should take down the towers, we'll have a discussion when the others arrive. We'll stand by your house no matter what and drive Andindaq's claws back."
 I don't know exactly how a tower than can fit a hundred people is 'not that big'. It's absolutely HUGE! I call CNSS (Chinese Novel Scale Syndrome).