Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 188

"I wonder... Is the brass going to ignore the seniors bullying greenhorns? Aren't there still enforcers and inquisitors? What about military law?"

"They will care, but it's useless," Bell said with a dark face, "The issue is their mistakes aren't really huge offences. They are very careful to not do anything that could get them into real trouble. They might demand you buy them stuff or do chores for them. If you refuse, they'll beat you up enough that the enforcers come out and scold them, but not enough to get them into real trouble.

"Once the enforcers leave, however, they'll beat you into a pulp. It won't stop there either; they'll torment you until you get into so much trouble you're sent to prison."

This was no different from the high-interest loan sharks Claude knew back on earth. While the stuff they did was wrong by definition, it wasn't a big deal and the police couldn't do much about it. It wasn't reason enough to detain them. Yet, it wasn't completely innocent either with all the non-stop phone calls, paint splatterings, curses written on the house walls, and the harassment. Nobody could ever be at peace.

That was why his boss had told him to never get high-interest loans even if it meant he had to sell his house or a kidney. Everything would fall apart once he did and he'd never see the end of it.

"Can't you guys complain about how people can't adequately control the bullies?" Claude asked.

"What use would that be? They'd be demoted at most; they won't be chased out of the camp. They've served five or six years already and have some merit. They ought to be master-sergeants or sergeant-majors, they've been demoted to their current ranks because of their bullying already. Enk was a sergeant two months ago and, but he was caught in the act and demoted.

"The officer training course should've been their chance, but due to their bad reputation and the sheer number of people they've offended, nobody put in any good words for them. The brass haven't dealt with them properly, but they used this to disqualify them from the course. That's why they pick on new recruits like you."

Claude could only smirk helplessly. As a transmigrator, he had wanted to live an easy, happy, and free life. That was why he could fit in so well as a 16-year-old and enjoy his life after transmigration instead of overthinking stuff. His family had suffered quite a setback recently, but he solved the worst of it.

He'd thought this mess would be equally simple, but it turned out to be a massive pain in the neck. He recalled a saying he had read online -- he didn't know who the author was. It said the simpler you wanted something to be, the more complicated it was, until it crushed you under its weight.

"By the way," Claude asked, swallowing another mouthful of porridge, "what are these merits of theirs? We haven't had a war in a while. So where did they get merits?"

Bell laughed.

"You don't only get merits from battle, you know. Now that you mention it, they really lucked out. There was a revolt in Kafreizit two years ago. I had just enlisted. The streets were overflowing with protesters demanding we return them to Nasri. Naturally, it was not going to happen. We were told to suppress the revolt in Gourneygada. I really thought I was gonna die...

"Then something completely unexpected happened. Jem and the rest lined up in front of a protest and fired into the crowd. I believe they killed ten people. The rest dropped everything they were carrying and scattered in every direction. We just had to walk over the shit they left behind and the city was ours again. Those shits were rewarded with several merits afterwards. They've been treated with silver gloves since as well, which is why they've become so blatant with their bullying."

"Surely that can't be," Claude gasped, "Kafreizit has been part of the kingdom for two decades. Why would the people still demand to return to Nasri?"

"I don't know--" Bell said, pushing another spoon of porridge into Claude's mouth with a frown on his face, "--it's been almost three years since I enlisted and I stay here most of the time. Even when I have a day off, I just go on walks in the city. How do I say this... I think the people still don't think of themselves as citizens of the kingdom. I think they still hate us for the war. I heard that while the situation in the city is fine, the outskirts aren't in good shape. We can't stray from the group when we go there. Who's to say some native, fisherman, or farmer, or maybe even merchants or hunters, won't murder us on the spot? That's what the vets say, at least."

How? Claude was a little confused. Nasri lost the war two decades earlier and was forced to cede three prefectures, true, but twenty years had since passed. How on Freia had the kingdom failed so spectacularly to integrate the population?

Bell didn't know why either. He enlisted with Bluefeather three years earlier and seldom left the camp. He had never had any interest in learning why everyone still hated the kingdom. The apothecary, on the other hand, did know something and said it was mainly a problem of policy.

Many of the people had lost family members in the last war. Nasri conscripted heavily from the prefecture during the war, so every family had at least one person in the army. Claude couldn't exactly blame them now he knew what had happened. He didn't think he would have forgiven the kingdom had that happened to him. If his father had been one of the people killed in the war, he might just have gone out killing every soldier he saw. At the very least he would spit at the idea of being a citizen of Aueras. It didn't help that the kingdom immediately set about heavily taxing the prefectures.

Even now, they still paid the highest taxes in the kingdom.

As a result of the pressure that put on the local economy, most of the people fled to Nasri. Nasri made good use of the influx of old subjects and had recovered very well. Given the rate at which it had been doing so at the time, the leftovers in the three prefectures started stirring up trouble to return to the kingdom. Nasri was all too happy to fund and supply these rebels and had been active in the prefectures for at least a decade now.

"Killing people isn't the best solution," the apothecary said, "The army summarily executes anyone they catch with Nasrian firearms. It only enrages the rest of the populace, however and has kept old wounds from healing. Many of the people don't actually care about being returned to Nasri anymore, at least, that's not what's driving them to their uprisings, they just want to take revenge on every Aueran they see for the deaths of people they know and love.

"We're just grunts, so we don't know why our superiors do what they do, but as long as their current policies remain in force, things won't ever get any better. Our presence doesn't help things a smidge either. We're a walking, talking reminder to them that we don't think of them a Auerans yet either. Would either of you accept this kind of treatment?"

Claude finally finished his porridge while the apothecary blabbered on. Bell wiped him down with a linen cloth and changed his bandages.

The apothecary finally finished his diatribe shortly after Bell finished. He shook the bottle in his hand almost derisively.

"Aaaghh, I'm just running my mouth. Little guys like us can't change things, least of all our superiors' minds. Even if the results aren't good, they'll just blame it on us and say we didn't implement their plans correctly. 'Shit flows downhill', and all that."

Claude had nothing to say. Rather, he didn't have anything to add. He wasn't even sure how he should continue the conversation.

Bell, on the other hand, smiled.

"Doctor Perunt," he said, "it's a waste of your talent to be an apothecary in our little camp. You're so talented. It's a shame your luck was just not that good. You could've made a good viceroy or even prime minister."

So he was called Perunt; Doctor Perunt, no less. It meant he was close to being an intermediate apothecary at the very least.

Perunt shot a gaze of contempt back at Bell.

"You done? You can kindly buzz off if you are."

Bell left with the basket, shoving his tongue in the apothecary's face on his way out. He stopped in the doorway and turned to Claude.

"By the way, friend, when you've recovered, watch out for a staff-sergeant called Fitney. He's Jem and his gang's boss. You were quite lucky he wasn't there yesterday, or you'd have come out of it far worse. The chef told me he boasted about showing you a good time when you get out of here."

Claude couldn't care less about who gave him a hard time, so he gave Bell a half-hearted nod of thanks and watched him leave. Doctor Perunt came over shortly after with another concoction for Claude to drink.

"Doctor," Claude began after he'd downed the bitter liquid, "how do you think the bigshots will punish me after First Lieutenant Sidori makes his report?"

"Thirty canes perhaps," Perunt replied unconcernedly, "The boys upstairs try to avoid antagonizing people, so you won't escape a good caning. You will have only just recovered, so I don't think they'll be too harsh on you. If you're lucky, they might just give you a couple days of solitary confinement. But trust me, you'll enjoy the canes more than solitary confinement. Not just anyone can make it through a day in that place..."

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