Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 127

Claude was quite curious with what kind of plan Mayor Robert had come up to enrage everyone he summoned, especially Welikro's father, Kubrik, so badly they lashed out and threatened to report him. What kind of hatred could spur that?

Those present were mostly retired veterans. Whitestag was small, but there were 50 and they would be in the garrison. Mayor Robert's plan required at least two-thirds of the veterans to agree the kingdom demanded it.

Stellin IX had travelled the continent before his ascension, and he was made ombudsman by his father upon his return. He immediately got to work reorganising the kingdom's garrison forces. He soon realised many garrisons were manned by villains who didn't have the slightest combat ability and often threatened the locals. Most were actually just extensions of the nobles' and officials' greedy claws. Though they were officially considered part of the kingdom's army, they were no different from being the nobles' private armies.

He had no choice but to start his journey on a bloody path to reorganise those garrison forces. He purged, by trial in most cases, and by fist in others, the town watches and the officials and nobles behind them. That singular act was most of the reason no nobles initially supported him when he took up arms against his siblings.

He still won, though, and when he ascended he declared that watches and garrisons were to serve their charges, not exploit them.

This is a good point to explain the country's military. The kingdom's land-based armed forces was split into three entirely independent pillars. The army was the first. It was constituted of the forces under the king's command via his appointed officers mandated with protecting the king and his lands, by any and all means so deemed necessary, from the armed actions of others who claimed their own right to rule. They had no de jure or de facto responsibility to enforce the king's laws, however, and as such rarely acted domestically, unless there was a large-scale uprising or an extensive natural disaster. Their main presence was along the kingdom's landside borders.

They did have extensive powers, however, quantified and expounded by various laws under the ‘by any and all means so deemed necessary' clause of their mandate. One of which they were particularly fond, was to conscript locals to do the menial labour in major construction projects such as erecting new bases or various military installations. They did not, however, generally conscript villains. In fact, it was very difficult, if indeed practically possible at all, for a villain to have anything to do with the army other than as their professions -- mainly prostitution -- guaranteed. They weren't outright banned from volunteering, but there were stringent background checks, exams, and evaluations almost no villain was likely to pass since they'd had to have done something in contravention of those rules to become a villain in the first place. The military also wasn't a career for them as it could be for the peasantry. While the peasantry could rise up the ranks and eventually become dignitarians, and dignitarians could rise even further and become nobility, villains almost never became anything more than menial labour and occasional cannon fodder.

The second pillar was the keepers, mandated by the king to maintain, by the means deemed so necessary by the king through his relevant regulations, the loyalty and obedience of the king's subjects -- both those living in peace under his reign and those serving in his armed forces. Unlike the army, they had the de jure responsibility and power to enforce the king's laws as expounded under the ‘maintain the loyalty and obedience of the king's subjects' clause.

The keepers were divided into two branches, the constabulary and the keeperage. The keeperage was the combined equivalent of old earth's ‘special police' and ‘metropolitan police'. They operated in defined zones, called keeperages, usually in and around the prefectural capital and any other big cities in the prefecture, and were only rarely deployed to the countryside outside of them. Each keeperage was an 800-to-900-man-strong tribe, made up of four clans. The keepers rarely, if ever, deployed forces outside their keeperages in any strength less than a whole, full-strength clan on the rare occasions they did operate outside their own areas.

Constabularies operated in defined zones, much like their keeperage counterparts, also called constabularies -- but these were generally more rural in location and centred around smaller settlements such as large towns or villages.

The keeperages were manned exclusively by retired military veterans. Coastal keeperages tended to have more navy personnel, while inland keeperages had more army personnel. Their constabulary counterparts, while they did technically allow civilians to join them directly without having first served in the military, rarely had a shortage of retiring soldiers such that they opened recruitment to civilians. As such, the entire keepers were almost entirely just keepers, the keeperages so by regulation, and the constabularies so by supply.

In peacetime, a soldier generally had to serve for fifteen years to earn enough dignity to become a dignitarian. Those who made it into the keeperages usually spent their first seven years with the military, then retired to join the keepers where they served for their remaining eight years, while those who didn't, usually retired to the constabularies instead, though they generally remained with the military a year or two longer than those that made it into keeperages.

The keepers, keeperage and constabulary both, were also part of the broader reserves, though they were less likely to be called up than retired-to-civilian-life veterans, and when they were, were generally called up to more specialist units and senior ranks in accordance with their skills and experience.

The third branch of the military were the sentry forces or guard forces. Their numbers fluctuated greatly depending on the kingdom's needs. For example, in war time they might make up as much as a third of the entire armed forces, deployed behind the front lines to keep the peace and maintain control in occupied areas. In peacetime, however, relegated to simply sentry duty, they were a minor presence at best, relegated to the positions well behind the kingdom's borders too unimportant for the army to bother watching over themselves, but that still needed some kind of presence. The old fort ruins on Egret Island was one example.

Their unit sizes were just as fluid as their overall size, varying depending on how many men were needed to reasonably guard a position, though they were rarely anymore than a clan strong in any one location. Despite being part of the kingdom's armed forces, they were not, however, under the king's command through any appointed officials. Instead, they generally reported to local governors or officials under mandate from the appropriate authorities, such as the keepers, the navy, or the army, and were, as such, funded by those people.

As lax as their general administration might appear, and generally was, the regulations governing their use and operation was very strict. Since the king and his upper government or military did not have direct administrative command of such forces, and did not generally directly call for or disband the individual units, they were very careful to legislate their operations and powers in such a way that they could never be used as private armies. One of the regulations was that only civilian-life-retired veterans and, in extreme circumstances, civilians in the peasant caste or higher could serve in them. Villains were outright banned from any service in guards, and the families of villains made so by heinous or treasonous crimes were also banned from service.

Welikro's father finished cursing Mayor Robert and downed a bowl of blackwheat ale, then got to the business of the baron's plans.

The prefecture's keeperage had mandated him with the formation and maintenance of a clan-sized guard of no less than 200 men. They'd supply the baron with some initial supplies and send ten officers to evaluate and train the candidates, but thereafter everything had to be handled, and paid for, by the town's government.

The lowest grunt positions could be filled by peasants from the town, but the command positions had to be filled by people of experience, by veterans, hence the baron's summons of Kubrik and his compatriots.

Everything sounded fine thus far, but then came the kicker. The town didn't have the money to fund that kind of a force. As such there were just two options. Either they had to levy a special tax on people, or they had to rely on donations and unpaid volunteering.

The baron could not afford, given the town's pre-existing general apathy towards him, to levy a tax, so he was expecting Welikro's father and his compatriots to volunteer for unpaid service. Well, their service wouldn't be entirely unpaid, but the stipend they'd receive would just barely be enough to cover the absolute barest, poorest minimum of living expenses.

They could live with that, and they could live with a donation drive, but what they couldn't live with was the sum he was demanding. He'd demanded enough money to fund an entire tribe, let alone a clan. And that would apparently only cover the initial set-up costs. They'd still have to get money for the operating costs thereafter.

The final nail in the coffin was the mayor's solution to this continued need for money. He would not levy a special tax in his name for it, instead he would have the guard directly expropriate the funds from the townsfolk. Rather than destroy his own meager reputation with the dirty work, he was going to have them destroy their reputations doing the dirty work for him.

No one was dumb enough to become his scapegoat, however. The more educated of the men there, which was not many, immediately pointed out how unnecessarily large his demand for initial funds was, and the rest all at least understood what was going on with his demand that they expropriate the funds rather than him levying a special tax.

There was also the matter, which the intelligent ones also considered, but did not mention, that, since the funds would be deposited into the town coffers, and redistributed from there, rather than being used directly by the garrison, there was no guarantee these funds would be used for their actual intended purpose, or be used at all.

The mayor shrugged and said he'd done his best without his treasurer, who was one of the people arrested. He did not have a particular fair financial mind, and this was just his best guess at the costs.

The baron was the only big shot in the government still walking free, and thus had de facto control of all the major officers. He was in control of the treasury, the constabulary, and the administration since the treasurer, chief constable, and chief secretary had been arrested.

Despite the inordinate amount of power the baron held at the moment, however, none of the veterans were going to play his dogs. They all marched out.

Desperate to get them to stay, he made another offer. The fishmonger, Bidlir Blanche, was willing to donate enough to keep the force afloat, and would also look after their supplies on condition he was made a bandsman in the unit and given freedom to choose who he wanted in his band.

If the mayor's previous proposal had brought on indignation, then this one brought on absolute fury and it had been at this point Kubrik had threatened to report him.

"Is he crazy? With what guts did he make that proposal? He's placing his life in the hands of Bidlir Blanche! He won't escape if something happens!" Kubrik shouted again, furiously.

Everyone knew Bidlir Blanche. He maintained a facade of legitimacy with his fishmonger and his two hundred employees, but he was really Blacksnake's boss. He was the single biggest crime boss this side of the prefectural capital and he was not named Butcher Bill for his butchery of fish.

Nobody dared act against him, however, not openly at least. That said, they were certainly not going to give him any chances to further his influence and power.

Despite his position, and the many years for which he'd already held it by then, he'd only been invited to his first meeting and banquet with the town mayor after Robert took over. Even then, nobody interacted with him. They bade him the customary courtesies, then excused themselves and made for the other side of the hall.

The baron was the only man who didn't care about the man's connection to the Whitestag underworld. Everyone had ignored his cosiness with the man for years, but this, this pact to give the bastard even more power was going too far.

He was clearly taking advantage of the absence of the three men who had thus far kept him in his place and limited his ability to make any substantive overtures towards Bidlir to do just that.

Kubrik was right as well. Bidlir had no business being a bandsman. One had to be a dignitarian to occupy a position of command in the guard and he was just a peasant. Then there was the matter of giving Bidlir authority to make his own picks for his men. While that in and of itself was not a breach of the regulations, everyone knew who he'd pick. He would bring in his people from Blacksnake, all of whom were villains, and that would be a breach of regulations.

Finally was the worst one. Bidlir would be the garrison's financier. Money was the most important aspect of controlling an armed force, hence why the king had made such stringent regulations regarding the guard since he wasn't its financier.

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