Chapter 858: Surrounded
The Aquilonian scouts discovered Alexius and his army as soon as they stepped into the mountains. Afterwards, they immediately dispatched their warriors, who were best at running long distances in the mountains to the northwest towards Caudim, which was more than fifty kilometres away.
Hidden within the Caudini's territory were seven thousand tribal warriors from various Samnite tribes. Their commander was none other than the great chieftain of the Caudini, Usebek. Upon receiving the report yesterday afternoon, he rejoiced, seeing the opportunity to avenge his shame had come.
The messenger of Aquilonian anxiously kept urging him as there were only over two hundred warriors in Aquilonia, and they might not be able to hold on for long, even with the terrain being dangerous. Thus, Usebek quickly gathered these seven thousand warriors and rushed to rescue Aquilonia. They finally arrived near Aquilonia’s territory by noon today.
As the warriors led by Usebek came from various tribes within the four major Samnite tribes, each group was led by their respective chieftain. Because of that, the army gradually became scattered during the march, with the distance between the tail and head stretching over a hundred and fifty kilometres. By the time Usebek and his men, who were in the centre, had climbed the hill, those warriors at the front had rushed down towards the valley and attacked the Theonian army.
Despite seeing the situation, Usebek knew he couldn't stop them and simply let them go while ordering his men to slow down their march, waiting for the warriors behind to arrive while paying attention to the situation in front.
The primary attackers targeting the Theonian army were comprised of over a thousand Hirpini warriors, most of whom were javelin throwers. Having suffered significant losses in the ongoing war, these warriors harboured both intense hatred and fear towards the Theonians. As they descended from the mountainside, they not only slowed their advance but also dispersed their ranks, taking advantage of the natural terrain, including the undulating mountains and the cover of trees, to approach the Theonian army like a lynx stalking its prey.
The Theonian army was currently occupying a higher position within the valley. Their arrangement consisted of one thousand five hundred heavy infantry soldiers in a semi-circular formation, each crouching behind their shields. Just behind them stood a thousand archers, hailing from two light infantry brigades, drawing their bows and closely monitoring the approaching enemy. Following the archers were another thousand peltasts. Furthermore, the thousand light-armoured soldiers linked up with the heavy infantry formation, making the entire military formation an oval shape, creating a defensive line to guard against potential threats from Aquilonia. The remaining thousand light-armoured soldiers were scattered in the open space in the middle of this oval formation.
Alexius stood upon a rock, his gaze piercing through the soldiers before him as he watched the approaching enemy. What he saw caused him to furrow his brow. Most of the Samnite warriors had already come within range of the archers. However, they cleverly dispersed in small groups of twos and threes within a half-kilometre distance, and by taking advantage of the natural cover provided by mounds, rocks, and trees, the Theonian archers hesitated to unleash a rapid volley of arrows, knowing that their effectiveness would be significantly diminished under these circumstances.
“Notify the senior centurions of the two light infantry brigades,” Alexius ordered with uncertainty in his tone, “Tell them to permit the soldiers to exercise discretion when firing, but emphasise the need for caution and conservation of arrows and javelins…because today's battle may last long.”
Upon receiving the orders from the senior centurions of the two light infantry brigades, the archers, who had become more focused on getting autonomy, raised their bows and pointed in front of them. Regrettably, they are unsure if they could hit the hidden enemies, causing them to refrain from shooting.
The Samnite warriors didn't press forward as the Theonian soldiers cleared the area thirty to forty meters in front of their formations, slashing through overgrown weeds and felling trees. Despite leaving a few large trees and rocks due to time constraints, the overall field of view had significantly expanded. Moreover, with the Theonians looking at them from above, advancing further would only increase the risk of getting targeted and shot.
As both sides suddenly fell into an impasse, the atmosphere became increasingly tense.
“Captain, why aren't they attacking?” A heavy infantry soldier turned around and asked Lakares who was behind him.
“Be patient!” Lakares whispered, “Focused! Hide your body and hold your shield firmly!” 𝐟𝗿𝗲𝗲𝐰𝗲𝐛𝗻𝗼𝐯𝗲𝗹.𝗰𝗼𝗺
The attack two nights ago had demonstrated the formidable power of the Samnites' heavy javelins to Alexius and his officers. Thus, they decided for the soldiers to wedge the lower end of their long shields into the ground when defending, pull down the arm straps on the inner side using both hands, squat on their sides, and make sure to keep their bodies as far away from the long shield as possible. This strategy aimed to minimise the damage inflicted by the Samnites' heavy javelins penetrating the long shield.
“I know, I know… Captain, you already said that multiple times,” The soldier replied.
“Pay attention! The enemy is coming!” Lakares said seriously.
The soldier hurriedly turned around, popped his head above the long shield to look at the enemy, and saw those small red dots dotting the green field begin to move in the direction of the army formation.
Whenever the soldiers of the Theonian legion engaged in military training, the first part almost always involved standing in formation on the training ground, maintaining complete silence and motionless for a minimum of half an hour. It was evident that the Samnite warriors had not been trained in this discipline, as only ten minutes had elapsed since they attempted to stand still before some of them succumbed to the pressure. They began to emerge from their cover and advance further (since the range of the heavy javelins was only thirty meters). This, in turn, led other warriors to follow suit.
Immediately after, the Theonian archers began shooting at the enemy they had targeted.
The Samnite warriors held a small round wooden shield over their heads with their left hand and a javelin in their right, their bare feet stepping on the uneven grassy terrain. Despite the uneven ground, they could still swiftly run a zig-zag pattern, trying to get close to the enemy line quickly.
But Theonia's continuous firing of arrows posed a significant obstacle to the advancing Samnite warriors, whose wooden shields were too small, and their bodies were virtually unprotected. If they were to evade the arrows, as long as they stopped for a moment, there was a possibility for several arrows to be fired from several directions simultaneously, resulting in them being unable to evade.
In a short time, several Samnite warriors fell at the fifty-to-thirty-metre mark, and when they stepped into the thirty-metre mark, they were met not with arrows but with javelins. Their thin wooden shields were no match for the powerful spear, which shattered the shields directly.
Some Samnite warriors narrowly dodged the arrows and javelins and hastily launched their own javelins. Unfortunately, most of them were deflected by the enemies' shields, while a few managed to slip through, resulting in a few screams. However, these losses were relatively minor compared to the Samnites' casualties.
As a result, the Samnites' morale was significantly damaged and caused their momentum to weaken. At that exact moment, the Samnite’s side sounded the retreat, and the Samnite warriors, who had weakened morale due to the groans of their companions' wounds, quickly retreated fifty metres away from the Theonian formation.
But they didn't leave any further. Instead, they looked fiercely at the Theonian soldiers as if ready to launch another attack at any time, which made the Theonian officer dare not order the soldiers to retrieve the arrows and javelins.
When Usebek arrived with the troops from behind and joined with the forward forces, the chieftains of the mixed army actively gathered around Usebek because of the losses they suffered from the attack just now.
“The Theonians are in too open a space, and we cannot attack them directly like this. Otherwise, we will suffer greater losses!”
“Don't attack? What about my wounded people?! They are still lying in front of the Theonians, waiting for our rescue!”
“I think we might as well go around the rear of the enemy's formation and attack from there.”
“That won't do! They could also move their light infantry to the flank to stop our attack.”
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
Despite the various chieftains arguing, Usebek didn't stop them and just quietly watched until everyone became red-faced from anger and unable to come up with a unanimous opinion.
An elderly chieftain of the Hirpini couldn't help but ask, “Usebek, you are the commander of this entire army appointed by the great chieftains. Can you give us some suggestions? What should we do?!”
His words temporarily stopped the chieftains from continuing arguing and focused their attention on Usebek.
Only now did Usebek speak with a straight face, “Chieftains, the Theonians hold a favourable position and have established a defensive formation. If we rush in and attack, even if we overcome them eventually, our losses will be substantial. This war with Theonia has persisted, and many of our clans and tribes have already suffered heavy casualties. We cannot allow our courageous warriors to suffer anymore.”
“Usebek is right!”
“That's right, my arse! There's no such thing as a battle where there are no casualties! Did we bring our people here just to see the Theonians go?!”
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
Usebek immediately spoke after seeing the chieftains were about to argue again, “By allowing the Theonians to retreat, they would leave their advantageous position and would no longer be able to maintain their current formation. Then, we would continue attacking them while they withdrew, using the mountain paths and terrain to our advantage until we finally defeated them! That is the kind of warfare we are accustomed to! And we definitely must not let them escape after finally luring them into the mountains to fight us on the terrain we are familiar with!”
“But what should we do if the Theonians don't retreat?” As soon as this chieftain said that, the other chieftains said mockingly, “Where would they rest at night if they don't retreat? With us watching, they wouldn't dare to build a camp here.”