"These moments of nocturnal prowling leave an indelible impression. Eyes and ears are tensed to the maximum, the rustling approach of strange feet in the tall grass is an unutterably menacing thing. Your breath comes in shallow bursts; you have to force yourself to stifle any panting or wheezing. There is a little mechanical click as the safety-catch on your crossbow is taken off; the sound cuts straight through your nerves. Your fingers grind on the grip of your sword. The encounter will be short and murderous. You tremble with two contradictory impulses: the heightened awareness of the huntsmen, and the terror of the quarry. You are a world unto yourself, saturated with the appalling aura of the savage landscape." ~ Knight Mika Veers, commander of the third trench-rat squad during the first battle of Forund.
"March forward!" cried one of the company lieutenants as he drew his sword.
He instructed his troops to push the shield carts filled with sacks of mud forward.
Auguslo's Whitelion had been attacking the defenses around Freewood for six days and five night without rest. The legion had lost ten thousand men without punching a hole through the defenses. It wasn't Auguslo's fault; the three duchies' troops knew the defenses were integral to their survival. Even though their losses were easily three times greater than their enemy's, they held the line. Loud rhythmic drums echoed continuously across the battlefield. Whitelion's men pushed their large shield carts and advanced to the trenches with great difficulty. They used the earth the shield them from the incoming bolts and tossed the sacks into the trenches before they turned to run. Soon, the trenches were mostly filled and soldiers carrying wooden boards rushed forward and laid them across the trench.
Four men were struck down along the way. One was now dead, the other three injured. They had all been recovered, though. The dead one had unfortunately been struck in the head. The bolt had gone through his left eye and stirred his brain. The only consolation for his comrades was that he had likely not suffered. The trench's filling didn't bring joy to the men's faces, though. They looked infinitely fatigued; they were numb to joy or any sense of accomplishment, there were simply too many trenches still left unfilled. All the land from their feet to the horizon was covered in trenches like the scars on a slave's back. They had already filled six kilometers in the last two days, and there was at least as much still left.
"They're likely digging even more as we speak," said Kenmays.
Nobody had expected this. The attackers had taken a month's respite after their first offensive as they waited for the rest of the invasion force to catch up. The enemy had used the quiet wisely, though; they had dug a massive network of trenches for who knew how many kilometers. The true extent of the network was still unknown, but its sheer scale was slowing being unveiled as the pushed forward. A single cord was easy to break, but a net was infinitely more resilient.
Lorist was reminded of a saying in his past life. He couldn't remember the exact words, but it basically said that war was the best teacher. The mudscape that now confronted him certainly didn't contradict the saying. Trenches were nothing new to the continent, but in all of Grindia's history, no such an extensive network had ever been built. Defenses were always focused on specific points, usually castles or forts. Even when forces were small they would at most dig a trench or two around an encircling mud wall.
House Norton's catapults had changed everything. The castles that towered over the landscape were now basically just target practice. And none of the other defensive structures were worth anything. Tigersoar's sweep of Andinaq in its quest to restore Auguslo's throne had proven the catapult's supremacy.
During the battle for Southern three years ago, Lorist had used trenches and arrows to form a perfect counter against House Fisablen's light cavalry. During a field battle, they also used the catapults to crush 70 thousand infantrymen and obtain victory. He never thought the battle would inspire the duchies so much. Auguslo thought Whitelion's strength and Lorist's 50 catapults alone could easily breach the trenches and mud walls. He didn't think the walls and trenches would extend from hell's gate to heaven's door. The realization of this reality made everyone despair. How were they supposed to continue fighting? Was this some kind of mining or digging game?
During the first day of the offensive, only a thousand soldiers manned the defenses. When they were bombarded by rocks about the size of 50 human heads, they broke and fled. Whitelion managed to fill 14 trenches and breach 21 walls, but they got no spoils. All the enemies had escaped.
They pressed on on the second day, only to discover after advancing 200 meters that another trench and mud wall stood in their way. This time, the defenders were far braver. They resisted about half a day of catapult bombardment with the cover of their mud walls and used their crossbows to kill tens of Whitelion men in exchange for the loss of 200 of their own.
Whitelion took two whole days to make a few paths across the trench before they advanced again, only to be greeted by yet more trenches and mud walls about 300 meters on. Everyone was furious.
What the hell, there are only a few thousand defenders and they aren't really resisting either. All they know is how dig trenches non-stop! Can this even be called a war?!
Auguslo could stand it no longer and gave an order he would come to regret. He ordered the legion to stop pushing the shield carts to fill the trenches. Instead, he had them rush forward and cross the trenches with their wooden boards. He was trying to conquer the trench area as soon as possible. So, Whitelion sent a division of sword-and-shield soldiers to mount an attack. They soon eradicated the enemy in the vicinity and they moved forward.
However, the trench area was much, much larger than normal. By the time the division almost disappeared from sight, cries and sounds of fighting could be heard in the distance all of a sudden. Auguslo was fumbling about anxiously like an ant in a heated wok as his cavalry wasn't able to reinforce them one bit given the presence of trenches all around. The few people he sent to check the situation were killed. But if he were to send a large number of people, while they could reinforce the troops, he wouldn't be able to receive any reports on the situation and would only hear the sound of fighting get louder.
The ones there were intelligent enough to know that they'd been caught in a trap. But the problem was apart from Whitelion three remaining divisions, they only had House Kenmays's two heavy-armored divisions and Count Shazin's three light-infantry divisions, totaling about 90 thousand men. While the total number of duchy troops was around 300 thousand, most were infantry. There was no way Lorist and the rest could send their cavalry out as footmen as reinforcements.
The problem was that Whitelion's sword-and-shield forces had charged too fast. Auguslo didn't think something like this would come to pass. Half the battle was already lost if he couldn't even grasp the situation. Right now, all he had to consider was whether he should send out all his infantry.
It wasn't an easy decision. Duke Fisablen had figured out Auguslo intended to breach the defenses a few days after the attack began. That defenses were was manned by 200 thousand garrison troops. It was all the soldiers Duke Forund could muster.
The attacking sword-and-shield forces probably fell into a trap and were surrounded. The plan was possibly to lure Auguslo into sending even more forward so they could exterminate his 100 thousand infantry with their numerical advantage. In the end, the cavalry would be left behind staring at the defenses, unable to do anything.
Auguslo discussed the matter with Lorist before finally deciding to send the two heavy-armored divisions in as reinforcements. It was crucial that he knew what was going on. But, just as he was pretending to mobilize, the remnants of his forces returned. They were in a rather sorry state; less than three thousand of the original ten thousand had returned. One colonel and four captains had died. Among the three thousand left, the two highest ranking officers were lieutenants. One was lightly injured, the other hurt rather badly. Most also seemed injured to some degree.
The attack proceeded unnaturally well. After they wiped out the thousand-man garrison, the next target they had encountered were garrison soldiers in thousand-man units. The enemy couldn't hold against the sudden appearance of the division. Before they noticed, they had advanced by a kilometer only to discover three completely equipped infantry divisions waiting for them.
It was like they were being clubbed on the head while under the assault of the three elite infantry divisions; the casualties were great. The only thing about which to be glad was that the trenches behind them had served to protect them from pursuit after the colonel gave the order to retreat.
They didn't expect that the trenches and walls weren't used for defense. Another infantry division had used the mud walls as cover to circle around them and seal their escape route. The division crumbled quickly. The colonel and the couple captains had fought with all they had to break through, sacrificing themselves in the process. Not long after, the enemies cheered as they raised a few decapitated heads.
The failure was a slap to Auguslo's face. He, who had thought it easy to breach these defenses, was given a harsh wake-up call. He began to ask the others for ideas, but no one had any good methods to deal with this. Neither the deeply experienced Duke Fisablen nor the witty Lorist could come up with a comprehensive plan.
Lorist was the most shocked by this strategy out of everyone.
Looks like they're not as stupid as I thought. They're using trench warfare.
A few informants hidden in Paetro sent eagle messages that reported that almost all the civilians had been mobilized to dig trenches and erect mud walls across the 50-kilometer stretch from the front line to Paetro. Even the informants themselves were conscripted.
They've really gone and done it! cursed Lorist.
It was obvious the mud walls and trenches were specifically designed to counter his catapults and carroballistae. The impressive weapons were now spayed and neutered. Without elevated ground, they couldn't target effectively. There were no targets and all they could do was demolish the inconsequential walls. The duchy's garrisons also snuck around in the trenches like rats. Auguslo was well aware of this. In the next three days, he had no choice but to fill up trench after trench to establish a new path forward. What he didn't see coming was that the filled trenches were dug up again overnight. The legion's morale fell after seeing their hard work undone. Not only that, the enemy even began to act more actively. They harassed the men at every opportunity.
Currently, Auguslo was caught in a tough dilemma. The trenches they filled were dug up in the night, and the soldiers they sent to watch the trenches would be harassed non-stop. The soldiers sent to hunt down the enemy in the trenches got lost easily or were lured into traps and killed. The situation continued for another five days and four nights, after which they'd only advanced another kilometer. Everyone was beginning to despair.
"How are we supposed to fight a battle like this? I'd rather the three duchies send all their troops against us in open battle. I wouldn't mind even if their numbers are ten times ours. But this business with the trenches is truly far too annoying. Even the soldiers are cursing out nonstop with their morale falling fast," complained Auguslo to Lorist.
Lorist then dealt Auguslo the final blow by handing him the reports he received from Paetro. The king read the reports with doubt and was flabbergasted when he read about how the 50-kilometer stretch of land around Paetro were covered with trenches too. He was so startled he jumped out of his seat and said anxiously, "Is Duke Forund insane? How's he going to plant crops if his whole duchy is filled with trenches?"
Soon, however, Auguslo realized Duke Forund couldn't do anything but this to resist his cavalry troops' attacks. At the very least, filling the duchy with trenches could stop the offensive there. There was the other half of the duchy that could be used for agriculture, and if they didn't have enough food, they could always borrow or buy more from Handra. If the frontlines couldn't be sustained, the duke wouldn't have to consider the problem of food. He couldn't even be certain he could keep his life if Auguslo caught him. It was common knowledge that Auguslo hated the four dukes to the bone.
"Blow the horn and return to camp," ordered Auguslo exasperatedly.
Nothing he did would be of use now. The mere thought of there being another 50 kilometers of trenches and mud walls was horrifying. It seemed he would have to think of another way to attack the three remaining duchies.
Later surveyed showed that nearly a million people were mobilized. They dug 431 trenches across 83 kilometers of land. The entire network's trenches were all between 2 to 3 meters deep and everything was connected. The earth dug up in the making of the trenches was used to build walls about 2 meters tall. It was hailed as a military miracle and chronicled as one of the oddest sights to surface in the history of war on the continent.