Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 165

Though Claude wanted to cry, he had no tears. He didn't know how he walked out of Felidos' office. It was all a daze. He held the conscription order in his hands and listened as Felidos praised and encouraged him non-stop. He walked out of city hall like a zombie and looked at the sky, before giving himself a harsh slap. After making sure he wasn't dreaming, he sat down on the steps leading to the building.

He never would've dreamt of this happening. Who knew a single meeting with Felidos would be so crucial to his enlistment? Not only did the man write him a recommendation letter and got him conscripted, he even gave it to him personally. How much free time did the man have? After he calmed down, he realized he had been dragged down because of his number-one rank in the physical course. If he'd known this would happen, he would not have competed with Welikro so much.

He supposed it wasn't as damaging as his mind screamed at first. The kingdom was gearing up for war and as such were scaling up their recruitment and draft efforts. He would have been able to delay his conscription a year at most, maybe two with Maria's help, but no more. This was certainly faster than he'd planned, but not by too much.

If Maria had managed to get him an exemption in the year or two, he might have been able to avoid this. But that was all worthless now that he'd already been handed this order. He wasn't too disappointed, however. He'd not put too much hope on his mistress succeeding in her endeavours.

He was considered enlisted the moment he received the order, and thus had to report to his designated training facility. If he didn't, he would be a deserter. If he was lucky, he would only have to spend the rest of his productive adult life in forced labour camps. No exemption could take retroactive effect.

He wished dearly now that Rodan hadn't introduced him to the mayor. That man had been too enthusiastic about helping him make connections, as a result he'd made all the wrong connections. He couldn't be too angry with the man, however, he had done it with all the right intentions, though he should have thought it through before doing this. If he'd thought about it for more than a couple seconds, he would have realised with the mayor's character he was likely to do exactly what he'd ended up doing.

Claude thought things through several times, but still couldn't decide what the most appropriate response was. Maybe it was better to not have so many people's favour. Maria had ruined his plans for Sir Fux by paying his little brother's debt, all because she'd wanted to do him a favour. In the same way, Felidos had ruined his plans for the future by getting him enlisted, again, all because he wanted to do him a favour.

They would have been right, too, if Claude had been anyone but who he was. If he'd been a normal kid his age and in his position, they would both have done him an incredible favour. He was not anyone else, however, and instead they'd ruined his carefully considered plans.

This, however, Claude thought, looking down at the paper, then back up at the mayor's face and fighting back the urge to launch a projectile right through his face, was not a pleasant surprise. The bastard just assumed he knew what Claude wanted, and decided his future for him.

He read the order several times, trying desperately to find something, some mistake or error, that would invalidate it, but there was nothing. It looked identical to the standard conscription order the army handed out. The only difference was that this one was stamped with a blue feather in the upper right corner of the page -- the emblem of Bluefeather, one of the kingdom's four main corps. This was not a general conscription order, but one from and for Bluefeather specifically.

Claude was not happy. Bluefeather had a reputation for being the corps with the greatest officer casualty rates. They believed in their officers being the first to charge into combat, in their officers leading from in front of the troops as examples, and being the first into danger and the last out of it. Make no mistake, it was a very effective strategy, and made them one of the most effective forces in the entire region, not just the kingdom, but it was less impressive from Claude's perspective, who was now destined to become one of those poor sods.

As for his training camp, Claude was to report to Fokby Hill in Gourneygada, in the prefecture of Kafreizit. He'd not even heard of the prefecture before.

He turned his attention to the large map of the kingdom painted on one of the mayor's office walls -- the mayor was still waiting for his thanks -- and searched for the prefecture's name. It took him a couple seconds longer to find it than he would have liked, but when he did, he understood why he hadn't heard of it before.

Kafreizit was one of the three prefecture Nasri had ceded to Aueras at the end of the last war. The three prefectures were generally only known together as the 'borderlands' by those outside of them, much like the three southwestern prefectures in which Claude lived were simply known as the three sisters in the rest of the kingdom. Claude had not bothered remembering their names because, as the kingdom's newest, and, as yet, still largely unintegrated and underdeveloped prefectures, they weren't paid much attention in his geography classes.

They'd not seen much development since their annexation thanks to the constant unrest that still plagued them. They'd been under unbroken martial law since their annexation, and news from within them were scarce.

Wasn't he being sent right to the frontlines? Gods damn it! He'd hoped to, and previously had been destined to go as far away from the fighting as was humanly possible, all the way to one of the kingdom's colonies, but now he was being sent right into the middle of what would in a couple of years be the continent's biggest hell-hole! On top of that, he was being sent there to become part of Bluefeather, the one army he was absolutely certain would be the first to charge into combat out of all the kingdom's forces, and would do so while putting him right in front of all the enemy's guns and cannons!

It would be even worse if war broke out early. He'd be sent to the frontlines with only the absolute minimum of training, on top of being sent to fight in the literal frontlines. If that happened, his only hope of living a little longer was that he was put in the reserves, though he doubted it would buy him anymore than a couple months before he marched onto the field of battle in the front anyway.

If the war went south things would be even worse. The greenhorn reserves were always the first sacrificed during retreats or in suicide defenses to buy the trained and experienced forces time to regroup or launch another offensive.

Every future he could envision if he went to the front ended badly for him one way or another, a couple ended badly in more than one way, and a few more in every way possible. He doubted Felidos saw it that way, however. He probably didn't think war would come their way for quite some time more, in which case his recommendation was truly a boon.

In peacetime, it was very hard for grunt recruits to make it into the officer core and start climbing the ranks of commissioned officers. Claude was to get that leg up from the beginning, however, after his training he would step directly into the ranks of commissioned officers. Had the kingdom been at peace -- including a prospect of peace for the foreseeable future -- this would definitely have been a good favour. As things stood, however, this was practically a death-sentence.

He would be a second lieutenant after his training finished, the lowest rank among commissioned officers. At the very least, if he survived the war, either by fighting all the way through, or taking early retirement due to injury, he would be a dignitarian when he left the military.

Gods, he really didn't know if he should be happy or angry. His feelings were irrelevant now, however. Order in hand, his future had now been set in stone, and he could do nothing to change it.

He had one month to report to his training camp after officially receiving the order. The trip there by horse or carriage would take at least a week, likely more. If he took a boat to Port Neru, he would have to travel at least two weeks. His best option, thus, was travelling over land. This meant he only had twenty days left at home if he wanted to leave with a realistic expectation of arriving on time.

In those twenty days, he had to settle quite a few matters. Officer or not, there was a very real chance of him never coming back home, so he had to write a will. That wouldn't have been necessary before, but now he owned land, a villa, and quite a few valuable possessions, and they had to be consigned to someone in the event of his death. On top of that he had to make arrangements for his family's living conditions in his absence.

He'd hoped to deal with his elder brother before leaving town, but when he'd asked around, the news was the bastard had fled town for Baromiss. He'd yet to tell his mother about that. He didn't want the man to have anything to do with the family anymore. His mother was too easy for him to manipulate, especially now that she'd lost her husband. With Morssen dead, she would be even more protective of her children, and so she would no doubt jump at any word from him that he might need help, and Claude didn't trust the bastard as far as he could spit to not take advantage of that the first moment he heard Claude had left town.

He also had to make arrangements for his sister's transport to school and back every day. Her father's death had made her even more timid than she'd been before, but he sensed a stubbornness born in her as well, especially where learning magic was concerned. Her wit had blossomed frighteningly as well. So much so Claude feared no man would want to take her for a wife. Men weren't too fond of women who were too wise for their own good.

His little brother was still just eight, so he had many years left before he became someone on whom the family could depend. He'd matured much thanks to the trauma of his father's death, but he was still just a kid. Claude had done his best to help him on the straight and narrow in the time they'd had together. He'd taken the boy into his room when they'd moved in, and used every opportunity he had to train the boy's spoilt habits out of him, much to their mother's dismay.

When he told Rodan about what the mayor had done, the man was no happier than he was. He nearly stormed into the man's office to go demand he undo what he'd done, but luckily Claude could calm him down enough to know it would be futile and damaging to their relationship.

Much of Claude's remaining time was spent writing up a manual on how to run the company and how to make decisions in his absence so the company wouldn't run aground while he was gone.

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