Move him into the sun--
Gently its touch woke him once,
At home, whispering of fields half-sown.
Always it woke him, even his trance,
Until this morning and this snow.
If anything might rouse him now
The kind old sun will know.
Think how it wakes the seed--
Woke once the clays of a cold star.
Are limbs, so dear-achieved, are sides
Full-nerved, still warm, too hard to stir?
Was it for this the clay grew tall?
--O what made the fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth's sleep at all?
~ Inscription on 'The Drowned Soldier, a cenotaph for all the dead during the Battle of the Trenches
"You're saying you want to flood the trenches?" asked Duke FIsablen, his eyes flashing.
"Yes. As long as the trenches are flooded, the duchy's little moles can't stay for long. The moment they come out, they'll be in our sights. Locke, you really have come up with a brilliant idea. Why didn't I think of this?"
Auguslo slapped his forehead. The tents atmosphere lightened up immediately. They finally had a way to turn the situation around. Everyone was glad they didn't have to stay for long. They were rubbing their hands in anticipation of continuing their invasion to show the enemy what they were made of and vent the pent-up frustration they had been bottling up over the past month.
"Haha, it's all thanks to Dulles. Had he not brought up the fact that the rainy season would flood the trenches and force the duchy's moles out, It wouldn't have occurred to me we could flood the trenches artificially. The moles will have no choice but to come out and face us now," said Lorist with a humble smile.
"Bu-but where will we get enough water?"
Kenmays came later than the rest but still asked his question. Lorist's smile showed his teeth in full.
"Simple. Nibarak River isn't far from camp. We will first dam up the river, build a small reservoir, and dig our own trenches to connect everything to the enemy's network. We then just have to wait for the reservoir to fill and overflow into the trenches."
"We will also have to press our attack. We have to keep the project a secret and initiate the flood in the dead of night. We might just be able to give the moles a rather unpleasant surprise," continued Auguslo.
"We also need wooden boards, as many as we can possibly get. If we can bridge the trenched during the chaos, we can drive our cavalry all the way to Paetro and force the dukes into a corner. We'll get Duke Forund in one strike," added Duke Fisablen.
"So it shall be," Auguslo decided, "Locke, I put you in charge of the construction efforts. You can use whatever forces, including the local civilian population and any free cavalry, you need. Try to get it done in three days if possible. Duke Kenmays, I'll take command of your two heavy-armor divisions. We have to put pressure on them and keep their attention on our forces. Count Shazin, take your forces and cut down as much wood as you can."
"Understood, Your Majesty."
With this the war as on to the next offensive. This time round, however, the defending generals felt something off. They realized the heavy-armored soldiers didn't attempt to fill the trenches and knock down the mud walls. They just lay a wooden board across over the gaps to cross before they used their crossbows, javelins, throwing axes and other short-ranged weapons in a shootout with the defenders. Given the advantage of shooting from a height, they managed to kill many more than they lost.
Maybe they intend to conquer our formation by severely increasing our casualties.
The duchies' generals figured this must be their enemy's plan and began moving to counter them. They withdrew their troops and gathered a large force in the rear in an attempt to lure the enemy there. They could repeat the victory they had achieved last time. Naturally, they also had a division lay-in-wait to intercept any reinforcements.
Unexpectedly, the enemy didn't press the attack beyond occupying ten-odd trenches. Instead, they saw large numbers of wooden boards brought over from the rear and erected in the trenches.
What's going on?
The generals had a meeting to discuss this new development and concluded that the enemy was planning to use the wooden boards to seal the trench network so the defenders couldn't attack using them. Reasoning that it must've been a new tactic involving wooden boards, the generals were led astray in their considerations of countermeasures. They used the nights to launch sudden ambushes and set fire to the boards. In one night, they managed to burn several large stockpiles. But it proved futile. The next day, the enemy brought even more boards and re-erected the blockades. They also lit bonfires at night and had crossbowmen stationed above the trenches. The moment any movement was spotted, the alarm would ring to call for reinforcements and the attack would be repelled. It went on for four or five days, but the attacking side could only occupy around 50 trenches.
It relieved the defenders. Though the wooden board tactic was really effective, it wasn't that threatening. Currently, Andinaq's forces were making slower and slower progress, while the duchies' resistance only grew stronger. Only a maximum of five trenches was now being conquered a day. It would take at least three years to make it to Paetro at this rate. All the dukes had to do was hold on for a few more days and the enemy would have lost all their vigor.
One night, the duchies prepared to counter-attack. They wanted to retake a third of the trenches. One of Forund's vassals, Viscount Sanskro, serving as the second garrison legion's general, in command of the offensive, noticed that their enemy had not pushed as hard that day than the days before. It was like they were putting on a show. Maybe there were far too many wooden boards transported to the frontlines, so many that it was muddling their offensive.
"The enemy's bravado is crumbling. Tonight it is our turn," said the viscount, "Didn't you notice the bastards were absent-minded today? They mobilized a division in the evening, but they don't look nearly as energetic as they were a few days ago. The time has come for us to strike back. Split one division into smaller teams and harass them through the night. Our main offensive will begin at dawn. We will push them out of the trench network entirely!"
Only a few dozen trenches at the very front of the network were straight, the rest zig-zagged all over the place. At each of the zigs and zags' corners were mud lookout platforms to help with spotting enemy movement. When an attack was spotted everyone would hide in the trenches. No wonder the enemy considered them moles.
The only direct confrontation between the two sides had taken place recently as a result of a surprise push by a division of Whitelion… and it ended in Whitelion's loss. The next ambush's scale would no doubt be far greater. As Dulles had said, the carroballistae weren't of much use in this kind of terrain. Instead, the defending side's shorter-ranged, mangonels were far more effective. The number of heavy-armored soldiers injured as a result of mangonel fire had grown beyond the hundreds.
Additionally, the duchies' soldiers were equipped with shortswords, throwing axes, small bucklers and other equipment better suited to the tight trenches. The heavily armored soldiers couldn't battle effectively in the trenches because they were mainly armed with spears and two-handed swords. If they entered the trenches, they would be slaughtered. So, they could only sigh in exasperation as their weapons failed them.
Forund's general was quite experienced. He had quite the reputation in the duchy. Be it the first prince's invasion, the duchies' retaliation on Redlis, Auguslo's trapping, Melein's extermination, or the battle in Southern, Viscount Sanskro had been involved in all of the duchy's wars. He had been promoted from a gold-ranked knight to a viscount by the duke himself and was one of the duchy's most trusted generals. Being someone who had participated in the battle in Southern, Viscount Sanskro had managed to escape alive despite the severe losses. He had suffered from the experience since.
His impression of the Nortons' ranged weapons couldn't be deeper. When he learned that House Norton was participating in this campaign, he stopped the standard defenses' construction immediately and started figuring out how to counter their weaponry. He had been the one to come up with the trench network and so far had performed admirably.
He could grasp the strengths and unique features of both the attackers and defenders, so he was filled with confidence in his planned counterattack. He would use the cover of night to harass the enemy so they couldn't get any sleep. By dawn, they would withdraw and make the enemy think the attack was finally over. When the enemy dropped their guard, he would launch a sudden attack with all his forces.
The bare minimum he had to achieve was retaking a third of the occupied network. If he was lucky, he could even take back two-thirds. He believed the enemy's morale would suffer heavily from such a blow and they would never mount such a large-scale attack again. The use of the wooden boards had actually put a lot of pressure on the defenders but it wasn't sustainable. As long as the defenders were willing to pay an even higher price, they might be able to deal with it.
It was late in the night. They were just a few hundred meters from the enemy. Viscount Sanskro observed his surroundings. The trench in which he was, was much deeper and wider than usual; he couldn't afford to let the enemy discover he was gathering his troops. They had dug out a space the size of a small plaza. The three thousand men were resting in full battledress. Not a single man had undone his armor. They kept their weapons by their side. Even if they couldn't fall asleep, they tried to shut their eyes and rest a bit. They were heading into battle in just over two hours. There were eight of these plazsized pits along the front.
The weather was perfect. Clouds filled the sky and obscured the moon's light. Viscount Sanskro was worried at first.
The 11th month is almost here. It wouldn't start raining now, would it? Light rain would be fine, but heavy rain would be terrible. Having water gather in the trenches will be troublesome. Though it wouldn't affect our defense much, the mud will affect our speed and we'll have to suffer even more casualties. I hope the enemy doesn't think of attacking. That would be the best result.
Fires burned on the front and sounds of fighting echoed across the plains. It seemed the ambushing troops had set fire to a few wooden boards, causing them to burn pretty brightly. However, a huge commotion came down the trenches. It seemed the enemy had mobilized even more troops. The fires were a little too bright. Soon the sounds of battle and murder changed. Instead, confused cries grew louder and louder.
An odd gushing sound gradually climbed out of the cacophony. It crawled down the trench towards the viscount. The soldiers he sent to harass the enemy stopped responding. The enemy's torches came closer and closer. Was his enemy launching an attack as well?
His worry intensified. he popped out of the trench and hid behind one of the mud walls. Just as he peeked over the wall, the clouds cleared somewhat and the moon peaked back at him. It's dead-gray light descended on the landscape.
"What... What the hell?!" cried one of the soldiers on an outpost as he pointed at the front.
"Shut up, idiot! Do you want to attract attention?!" cursed the viscount.
He removed his helmet and gazed ahead. The trenches crisscrossed the landscape like veins of ore. The trenches filled with a liquid, like melted silver being poured into a cast. The viscount quickly realized the trench toward him was filling with the liquid silver quickly as well, it rushed at him with startling speed. The clouds closed in and the silver landscape descended into darkness again, peppered with yellow orbs.
The gushing grew louder and louder. The viscount paled as he realized what was happening.
"Get up! Get up quick! The trenches… the trenches are flooding!!" yelled he with wild abandon.
Thus the tragedy unfolded. The plazlike trenches where the soldiers could be gathered were a little too deep, about three meters. The soldiers had been resting flat on the ground. Even though some were woken or kicked awake, they were still quite dazed. The water rushed in. Those in the trench-plazas panicked and started climbing out, but only four or five made it out. The troops squeezed against each other and not many managed to get out in time.
As the water flooded in, everyone became panic-stricken. They knew the trenches were the deepest of them all and their unit crumbled. Everyone struggled desperately. Those at the edges tried to climb out immediately. But, when they were digging it, they even smoothed out the walls' rougher edges. It was near impossible to get out normally, much less under such circumstances. Not many get out, most were dragged back down by their comrades.
To add fuel to the fire, the soldiers were all clad in metal armor. It pulled them under no matter how hard they struggled to stay afloat. The mud at the bottom of the trenches had also become soft and clamped shut like the jaws of a hungry beast, stopping them from kicking off to get a breath.
Viscount Sanskro had screamed until his voice went. He managed to organize the remaining troops somewhat. He had the soldiers form human ladders to allow those in the rear to ascend first before they pulled the others up. It didn't last long, however; the water level soon rose to their necks. The shorter men were already unable to feel the ground beneath them and could only hold onto the soldiers in front of them. The soldiers in front, unwilling to be dragged down, pushed the soldiers behind them into the water, but those at the back were unwilling to let go and dragged the ones in front of them into the water as well. They struggled briefly before sinking into the depths.
The sky brightened slowly. Viscount Sanskro stared at the now-tranquil trenches with bloodshot eyes. The small plazlike trenches had turned into small ponds where the corpses of drowned soldiers clumped together tightly.
The couple hundred men fortunate, or unfortunate, enough to survive were shivering in the breeze. Looking at the submerged corpses and the soldiers standing at the side of the trenches, the viscount screamed at the top of his lungs before slitting his throat. Blood splattered everywhere as he fell into the flooded, corpse-filled trenches.