Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 190

Claude had become somewhat of a mythical figure with the new recruits for fighting the vets on his first day and sending six of them to the infirmary. The fact that he had been sent there himself was conveniently ignored. His four noble tentmates saw him as their hero, at the very least, and they'd made sure everyone else saw him that way as well.

Now that he had recovered from his injuries and returned, everyone wanted to talk to him and make good impressions. They stared at him whenever he entered a room or walked by. It all made Lieutenant Sidori very uncomfortable.

"Lieutenant Most, the new recruit's solitary confinement has ended. He's returning to base today. Please sign this," Sidori said as he handed a document to the bearded second lieutenant, a stern expression plastered all over his face.

Claude gazed at the pair, deeply amused at their behaviour, then trailed off to the officer's tent, which was about a quarter larger than the tent most grunts like him got.

The bearded man took the document wordlessly, signed it quickly, and handed it back to the lieutenant.

"Pay attention to his training. Make sure he becomes a Bluefeather soldier through and through. I will not accept him tarnishing our feather."

Most shot Sidori an odd look.

"Aren't you an enforcer? Training has nothing to do with you. I am not a greenhorn instructor, Lieutenant Sidori, I know how to whip recruits into proper shape."

Sidori didn't say anything in reply. He just spun around on his heels and marched out of the tent. Most turned to Claude with a questioning smile on his face.

"What in the world did you do to piss him off that much?"

Claude just stared back at him with an unknowing smile of his own. Most patted his shoulder with a soft sigh.

"Whatever, it should be fine. The greenhorns have taken quite the liking to you after your little escapade. And you did quite well against six vets, if I do say so myself. You're also the first I've seen come out what-looks-like-unscathed from three days of solitary confinement. You can take a break for the rest of the day. Go clean yourself, you stink! And have a good meal in the infirmary. Solitary or not, and recruit hero or not, I won't go easy on you starting tomorrow."

Claude straightened up into a half-decent attention pose and saluted the second lieutenant in an only quarter-way decent manner.

"Thank you, Sir."

Claude marched off to his tent. When he opened the blinds and stepped inside, he was instantly surrounded and accosted by Aboyev, Moriad, Dyavid, and Berklin. Claude nearly lost his jaw when they suddenly started serving him like he was the noble and they the commoners.

The beds had already been divvied out and one was left empty for Claude. A couple of youths whose faces Claude didn't recognise, stared at him reverently and greeted him with loud cries of 'chief'.

The recruits were on the midday lunch break, waiting for the mess hall to horn for lunch. Aboyev told Claude they had another hour or so before that would happen, enough time for a good nap -- to which most seemed to be looking forward very eagerly. Lunch would be a relative rush, and then they'd be off on afternoon training. Training started at two thirty and continued until near sunset. Training was four to five hours a day.

Claude felt his jaw drop at how relaxed training was. Was this the supposed 'harsh' three-month training about which he'd been told? This was even more relaxed than university studies; even military universities were far stricter and worse than this, not to mention having actual basic training.

"It's such a pain to have to go through this every day for three whole months... You're lucky, Chief. You got to skip half a month," Moriad groaned.

Berklin gave him a malicious glance before voicing his own opinion.

"Why don't I give you a good beating, then? I'll make sure you won't be able to get out of the infirmary for a month."

"Tch, in your dreams," Moriad shot back, "I'd rather go through training. Skipping training is all well and good, but I don't want to be stuck in a bed for a month!"

"Alright, enough. I'm grateful for your warm welcome, but I stink right now and need a bath. I haven't had a good meal in three days either. We can talk as much as you want when I have a clean body and a full stomach," Claude interjected.

"I'll go with you, Chief. I'm soaked from this morning as well. I can use a bath too," Aboyev chirped enthusiastically.

It didn't take ten seconds for the rest to decide to join them as well, so the five headed for the bath house.

Chafing or not, four minions did make life quite convenient for Claude. The four set about washing him the moment they got into the communal bath. Berklin took to washing Claude's back, Aboyev and Dyavid washed his limbs and took care of his nails, while Moriad handled brushing his teeth.

The bathhouse sat on the lower end of the base, right above a small stream fed by a spring on the top of the hill. The water was piped in through ceramic pipes and fed into several large tubs. It was all quite clean, though the water was pretty cold.

The posse finished washing up, tending to Claude's every whim along the way, then they headed for the mess.

Two of the hall's stoves had been removed. When Claude inquired about it, Aboyev told him the change had been made after his fight. The hall had been expanded and split in three, each with two stoves. The first third was for officer's use only. The second for the regulars stationed in the base, and the third for recruits.

Claude cursed the army under his breath. If they'd done this before he'd come, he wouldn't have gotten into that fight in the first place. Perunt was completely right when he said the brass thought with their arses instead of their heads. They weren't thinking 'if it isn't broken don't fix it', they were thinking 'if it's broken but not blowing up, then don't bother even thinking about it'.

Two new stoves or not, the menu was still exactly the same: baked-potato-and-meat stew, black bread with bacon, and a baked apple with red tea.

The meat, regardless of how bland it was, still made his mouth water after three days of black bread and water. He all but prayed for the cook to give him a double serving of the stew, but alas, he got just the usual. His minions weren't very happy with the food, however. They'd been having exactly the same stuff for well over a fortnight now and they could barely stomach it any longer.

They'd already mastered the ancient military technique known as flick and swallow. Any good soldier knew this technique by the time he finished basic. The food was first apportioned into pieces small enough to be easily swallowed. The food was then scooped in small batches by spoon or fork, brought to the mouth, flicked over the tongue into the throat, and immediately gulped down with whatever liquid was on hand before any had a chance to hit the taste buds on the tongue. Every third of fourth bite was also followed by a generous rinsing of the mouth to make sure nothing had stayed behind and was about to roll onto the tongue.

Claude ate in a very similar manner, but for the exact opposite reason. He was so hungry he couldn't be bothered to chew. He was done in barely two minutes, and dashed back to the cook for a second serving, which the cook was all too happy to give him, just glad to see someone looking at his food with anything other than utter disgust and unwilling resignation in their eyes.

Claude was busy polishing his third helping when a senior marched into the hall and stood in front of Claude, glaring at him.

"Can I help you?" Claude asked after he swallowed the last morsel on his plate.

"Claude Ferd?" the man asked as curtly as was probably possible for any man to be.

"I am. Who are you?"

"Staff-Sergeant Fitney. you don't know me, but I've heard about you a couple times. You sent my brothers to the infirmary a fortnight ago. I'm here to thank you for giving them such a good rest."

The staff-sergeant's teeth shattered through his dry lips.

Staff-Sergeant Fitney? That sounded familiar. Oh right, Bell had warned him to keep his guard up against this one. He'd boasted about giving Claude a what-for after he came out of the infirmary.

Claude stood up quickly, ready for a fight.

"What do you want?"

Fitney shook his head.

"Relax, I'm not going to beat you up in front of so many eyes. I have more than enough time to whip you into proper shape. Look forward to it. You won't escape it."

Fitney turned and left, leaving his words dangling behind him. Claude sighed, he had hoped the brawl would put an end to such troubles, not be the start and cause for more. He wasn't too concerned about it in general, but Fitney's comments about him being unable to escape roused his suspicions.

His minions didn't make so much as a squeak while Fitney was there.

"Who's he? His smug unnerves me. Why don't we take him out together, Chief? Since he's so envious of his comrades, let's help him join them."

Claude rubbed his nose, frowning.

"Forget it. You only act tough when he's not here. What use is that? I don't need you to beat him up for me. You'd be of better use finding out what kind of bastard he is."

"Got it, Chief. We'll scout for you. We'll find out everything there is to know about him, even at what age he stopped wetting his bed," Berklin smiled, patting his chest confidently.

Claude joined training the following day. He'd missed a fortnight of training, so he was given a corporal all his own to catch him up. The corporal in question was Kro, the one who'd tended to him on Chirp's orders on the first day.

The man was quite highly regarded amongst his peers, but he kept to himself and rarely interacted with anyone. He didn't speak much either. Most of the sounds that left his mouth were grunts and humphs.

Kro drilled him on the basics of drill, specifically, saluting, posture, marching, and the other basics of movement on the parade ground, including the various horn blasts. Claude was up to speed with that in three days. The salutes took him a while longer than the rest because they were quite different from what he was used to from Earth, but similar enough to keep him defaulting back to Earth's version. The salute was still a palm to the head, but the thumb was straight, instead of curled under the palm, and pressed against one's temple, which meant the other fingers, all straight, stretched over the forehead, instead of resting against the temple. Quite like the gesture for searching for something, or protecting one's eyes from the sun.

Kro told him the salute had been standard for hundreds of years, and was developed for enemy generals to show one another they were unarmed when meeting for peace talks and various other negotiations. Once armies started using firearms more generally, the salute was standardised across the entire rank ladder.

Claude felt quite awkward when practicing posture. He had to puff out his chest to an uncomfortable degree, tuck in his buttocks and push out his lower back so his spin from his neck to his coccyx was one straight line. He also had to practice pacing and gait so he walked in perfect synchronisation with everyone else. He thanked his lucky stars that he didn't have to do something like the goose-step.

The horn signals were quite simple, though he doubted they'd be easy to hear in the chaos of battle. The signals had three pitches, called tones, high, mid, and low, and were either long, or short. Combining the three tones and the two lengths into strings of notes made orders. The strings could get quite long, but most of the content was dedicated to singling out the specific unit for which the order was intended, the actual action portion of the order was very short and simple. There weren't all that many orders either, and they tended to be on the vague side.

Second Lieutenant Most was very satisfied with Claude's rapid progress and praised Kro to no end. At the end of the third day the lieutenant announced that Claude would be joining the rest as of the next day, which he did.

Several instructors formed a loose cordon around the block of recruits. The head instructor stood in front and yelled out orders, which the rest repeated in a cascade away from him. The other instructors also swung their long sticks frequently to slap someone doing something wrong. They practiced the same sets of orders over and over until the instructors were happy, and then they'd do them all over again the next day, and the next, and the next.

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