Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 137

Claude breathed deeply. His worst case scenario had come true. The convoy had been eradicated. And while only a couple families had been torn apart by the arrests that resulted from it, half of the town's families had lost someone with the convoy.

Maria wrote that the news was still being kept quiet because the royal court had yet to decide what to do about this; it was still trying to settle its own nerves. The first concern was what to do about their war strategy now this new front had opened. The navy was of the opinion they should push war and shove the army at the Alliance to end this once and for all, or, at the very least, draw their attention away from the seas while the navy regrouped and rethought its own strategy.

Ideally they could take the major port cities along the coast and cut the enemy navies and the pirate forces off from their key supply chains, forcing them to move further away from Aueran waters to ports they still controlled. If the kingdom could force a quick status quo truce which resulted in the de facto ceding of the port cities, that would be even better.

The strategy sounded fine on the surface, but it didn't have any room for failure or happenstance delays. It relied on the kingdom taking the cities and pushing through a truce before the rest of the Alliance had time to mobilise. Once that happened, the kingdom would undoubtedly be pushed back, especially considering the season. They did not have the supplies in place for a prolonged fight, especially not one on enemy soil, they just barely had the supplies for a quick one.

It would also do little to the overall position of the kingdom. A couple more port cities would be worth little without the inland soil to grow crops and the inland cities to generate demand for trade. If they really only pushed the coast, the economies of the port cities would collapse and they'd be deserted, turning them into little more than additional military bases and extending the kingdom's border. An act that would stretch its already thin forces beyond the breaking point. They couldn't reasonably protect any such gains for any period of time, even in peacetime. If anything, it would worsen their footing rather than improve it.

And that was assuming everything up until the peace worked out exactly as planned. Generals and admirals had a horrible tendency to woefully overestimate their own strength, and to equally badly underestimate their enemy's. There was absolutely no certainty they could take even half the cities the plan needed for them to work. And if this turned into a full-scale war, the kingdom would not come out the better for wear.

Another key factor was that the army was dead-set against the plan, for obvious and wholly understandable reasons. Their forces would most likely be decimated in the campaign even if they were completely successful, and they'd gain little if anything out of it. The port cities, being port cities, would all no doubt be handed over to the navy. The army's duties would expand with the border, but they'd have no gains from which to put the supplies and manpower needed to fulfill them.

It was entirely unreasonable, even for the navy, the army argued, to expect them to win an entire war while the navy sat twaddling thumbs over a couple bands of pirates! Besides, it took months, even years, to set in place the mechanisms, plans, contingencies, and supply chains for such a campaign. And given this particular one's ludicrousy the army hadn't even thought of it, much less began making the preparations for its possible implementation. The first thing to go out a window in an engagement might be the plan, but the engagement would be lost before it even began without it.

The prime minister himself was on the army's side as well. Duke Cryus Man Duncan was an army man by birth and rearing, his father was the famous Dubok Man Duncan, Chief General of the entire army, and right hand to the king himself in all things military. Cryus was making full use of his position, connections, and the opportunity this crisis had presented, to rain all hell down on the navy.

The navy must surely have lost its mind. The enemy's combined naval forces outnumbered them two to one. What made them think, army aside, they could win in their theatre? Taking all the enemies' ports on the continent was worth nothing if the navy was decimated.

Lord of the Admiralty, Count Andreak Feng Carlos, did not take too kindly to the prime minister's assault on his navy's honour. In fact, he took it so badly he flung his white, navy-issue glove at the prime minister's face, drew his sword, and challenged him to a duel.

The king, for his part, could not bring himself to pick one side over the other. Andreak had been his sternest supporter since he'd ascended the throne, and had been the principle architect of their expansion in the colonies. The other, however, was his right hand and dear friend's son, and his prime minister. Not to mention he was right. The navy's strategy could hardly be called one at all.

His navy's continued undamaged existence depended on the enemy navy not sailing out to meet them on the seas, and he had no idea why they thought the enemy wouldn't do just that the moment they learnt of the war's start. Andreak said they were too divided, that each country's navy was too distrusting of all the others.

It seemed sound at a glance, much like their entire strategy, but no one believed the enemy generals were stupid enough to continue squabbling when war was afoot and the enemy was bearing down on their ports.

He was more in favour of his prime minister's more reasonable suggestion that they instead focus their efforts on securing the new trade route. His plan called for the navy to be split in two, one third would remain at Port Neru and continue watching the home waters, while the other two-thirds would move south to Whitestag and turn it into a navy port city administered directly by the crown, from there they would then move to secure the new trade route, cleaning out everything in their way along the way.

The suggestion was certainly more moderate than all-out war, but it did still call for a complete landscaping of Lake Balinga, not least of which was the expansion of the channel that connected it to Sharkmouth Bay. It would be expensive, but the prime minister suggested they take the funds for it from the bi-annual convoy they'd been sending to the colonies the last couple of years. In their current state they could hardly continue with that for the time being, anyway, so the funds would just be laying around and there was no point in letting it go to waste.

The entire military was against the plan, however, army and navy alike. They argued the convoy funds would be nowhere near enough and they'd have to cut half of each of their budgets to foot the bill, not to mention all the manpower they'd both have to divert to the endeavour. It would set all their other plans back years. The army, for one, would be unable to complete its 400-thousand-man expansion it needed to keep up with the enemy's growing strength.

The prime minister was quick to point out, however, that once the new trade route was secured, they'd no longer have to worry about protecting their shipping through the pirate infested waters off the enemy coasts, and the funds freed from that, not to mention the additional funds they'd regain from reopening more regular trade with the colonies, could more than make up for a one or two year delay to the army's plans.

No government department, least of all the military, army or navy, liked giving up money they'd been promised, however. And with the war looming, both forces were even more driven to soak up every penny they could get as quickly as they could. None of them, however, had the final say. The king, much reduced as his day-to-day involved in governing the country was, was still the sovereign, supreme authority on anything he deemed worthy of his attention.

Andreak was more emotionally invested against the plan than pragmatically. Fearless was his baby, and had been for his entire career. He'd sweat and cried blood to get it to where it was, and he was not going to sea it torn apart by some land-loving politician.

Cryus was unrelenting in his insistence that it simply had to be done, however. The navy served the kingdom through the king, and so did Andreak. If the good of the kingdom demanded he lose his baby, then had he the duty to throttle its neck himself.

The king had yet to decide at the time Maria wrote her letter, hence the actually rather tame response he'd seen so far. His father stood in the centre of the storm, however. She'd looked into the whole affair using every connection she had, and had even put in an official word of support for Claude's father. She'd even gone as far as showing Claude's letter to the king and made sure the king knew he was her student. The Lord of the Admiralty had been present as well, however, and he'd insisted that 'no connection, however close to the king, should allow that Morssen bastard to escape his due punishment!'

The Minister of Finance, Elvic Lee Frank, had also stepped in at that moment, luckily on Claude's father's behalf. He praised Morssen's ability to make such an amazing find, and for having the daring to mount such a perilous expedition to prove its worth despite being but small-time officials in a rural, municipality, and mocked the navy for knowing only how to ask for a bigger budget while showing no results for it.

It was just their bad luck that their endeavour after discovering the new route had failed so disastrously. If anything, the incredible response by the pirates proved how great the route was. If anything, the kingdom was in the wrong for not only failing to reward the people who had given it such a gift, but for seeking to punish them for it instead. He doubted whether anyone would ever again dare to show such initiative on the kingdom's behalf.

Cryus had agreed with Elvic's assessment of the situation, willing really to add his weight to anything that went against the navy's grain.

Either way you cut it really, Cryus argued, the loss of their convoy was punishment enough if punishment was something the kingdom wished to hand down. And he was of the firm opinion that it was not what ought to be handed down. Maria's student's testimony proved they were intent on declaring the trade route's existence to the kingdom after their convoy returned. The only reason they hadn't before the kingdom found out on its own was their bad luck.

All other things aside, Maria assured Claude he should not worry for his father or for any of his friends. She didn't think the king would punish them, not with so many speaking out in their favour. The worst she thought he'd do was not reward them for discovering the route, maybe fire his father from his position, but he would not lose his position as a dignitarian, and he would not go to prison or be executed.

She implored Claude to burn the letter as soon as he finished reading it. Word of this could not spread, especially not of the plans she'd discussed. The kingdom was not likely to come to a final decision before the end of the month; most likely it would continue debating well into the 2nd month, and if the plans it was considering became known to the enemy, it would be beyond disastrous. Hell, just knowledge of the turmoil the court was in would be bad enough. Either way, he was not likely to hear anything from the capital, quick decision or not, for at least another month and a half, likely two.

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