Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 201

"Chief, I really can't take it anymore... They didn't send me soldier material at all! I can't teach them anything no matter how hard I try! It's been a whole week and they still can't get in a straight line! I haven't even started teaching them to turn left or right! Every time I shout the order, at least two or three of them will bump into each other..." Berklin said after he barged into the hut, removed his army cap and smashed it against the ground.

Yet another month had passed. Claude could move about some now, but Perunt had forbidden him strenuous exercise. His recovery had gone much faster than the man had predicted, or even thought possible. He had thought Claude would be in bed for at least another month. He envied the boy's constitution.

Claude didn't mention the incident to Maria. He focused instead on how well his training had gone, that he would soon be a sergeant-major, and his posting.

Since all his letters were inspected, his superiors knew exactly what he'd written -- and they were quite happy. On the day the training ended itself, the still-bedridden Claude received the shoulder mark of a sergeant-major. That meant that he had officially become an officer in Bluefeather. His four minions were also promoted.

With their training at an end, the tents were taken down. The other seven master-sergeant tentmates sent Claude and his minions their personal belongings which they had left behind. Each was now going his own direction, to their new posts.

Since Claude had been ordered to form a keeper and a stretcher tent required for the infirmary, he claimed two of the wooden huts near the infirmary. Perunt was quite happy to have Claude and his people close by, and gave him the job of assembling a new healer tent for him as well.

When Perunt gave him the list of his new men, Claude felt like quitting. He'd gotten all the bad apples. Each tribe usually had a tent of healers. But in wartime, the demand skyrocketed. In peacetime, each tribe had to have a minimum of one apothecary and six healers. But Perunt was the only apothecary for that infirmary and he only had four healers to help him out.

"I can't be bothered to bargain with the upper brass. While I can still hold on with the number of people I have, I will be overwhelmed when it gets busy. I have been able to take care of the cases in the base, for now, so I didn't bother to ask for more men," Perunt said with a shrug, "Now that you can already move about, you have more than enough time. Write a few reports to the upper brass and pull some strings for me. I need more apothecaries and healers here, sharp and capable ones, mind you. Don't get me any of those slackers who don't even keep their hands and feet clean."

Perunt's request was rather hard to fulfil. Where would healers that could match up to his specifications be found? There would be war in a few more months and not a single tribesman would be willing to give away their own apothecaries and healers. Claude had written a few reports but received no response. In the end, he wrote a report in the name of Perunt to request for more apothecaries and healers from whom he could pick. Only then did the report go through.

Claude gave the stamped report to Perunt and had him pick the men he wanted. As for his own keeper tent and stretcher tent, he had no right to pick recruits and had to wait for the top to assign them to him.

Each tent had twelve men and two tents made 24. Claude had himself and the four nobles in his unit, so he believed that the top would send 19 recruits to him to fill up the ranks. What he didn't think was that they would assign him 27 people. He thought he was seeing things and asked a corporal who brought over the recruits what was up, but the corporal only said that he was doing what the top wanted and knew nothing else.

Having no other choice, he had Berklin look for Second Lieutenant Chirp of the enlistment department. Berklin returned and told Claude that everything was fine and those recruits would be given to Claude to manage and train for now. If there were any that were unfit, they could be disqualified later.

He guessed they should gather everyone. Claude had the fully-recovered Berklin go to the logistics department to get him some tents and other supplies. He planned to set them up at the piece of land behind the infirmary. That was the place they used to dry herbs and bandages and it was wide enough to train some recruits.

After that, Claude read the files of the recruits and found that those 27 didn't just join the camp. They were already there for a month or so and were disqualified during cadet training. The instructors believed them to be unfit for duty in Bluefeather, but since they were able-bodied, they were sent to the logistics department for hard labour.

So they saw it as a landfill... Words like 'retarded', 'slow', 'inept' and even 'idiot' were used to describe those recruits. Claude now knew what kind of role he was given. It was no wonder the upper brass was so generous in the number of people they gave. Chirp even said that it would be fine to disqualify some, so he definitely knew what was going on.

Claude isolated two of the 27 files that stood out to him. One of the files described the recruit as being lazy, confrontational when forced into doing something, slow-reacting and slow-witted. He got Berklin to bring the recruit to him.

Soon, a huge brute towering over two meters was brought to him. Good lord! He ought to be 2.3 metres tall! Even taller than the basketball players Claude had seen on Earth! Claude had to look up to see the fellow.

"So you're called Gleimyte Opus, aged 21?"

"I don't know," the brute wheezed, "The people back in the city called me Gum or brute. This was the name the soldiers wrote for me when I enlisted. I can't read and I don't know what they wrote."

"Alright, then. I'll call you Gum too. Why did you come to enlist? Did you receive a conscription letter?"

The big fellow scratched his head. "What's a conscription order? I don't know... Sir Bejik in the city told me that if I join the army, I would be able to eat my fill. That's why I applied. I didn't think he would lie to me. When I went to get food, they didn't let me and said that everyone only had a set amount and that I couldn't eat more... So I got more food from others and beat up anyone who didn't give me theirs."

"You joined the army just for food? What about your home? What did you use to be?"

"Home? I don't have one. I lift stuff for people in the city in exchange for some bed and sleep in the stables of taverns and feed their horses. I'm always hungry... I never have enough food. So when they said I could eat my fill, I came here..."

Claude looked at his training records and saw a few instances of solitary confinement which stemmed from his robbing of other people's food in the mess hall. After confinement, he grew even more savage with the food robbing. He always moved slowly during training and wasn't willing to join the rest. Even after disciplining, he wasn't willing to cooperate and he was subsequently disqualified.

However, the comments about him being lazy and responding slowly was odd. He managed to reply to Claude coherently. Claude pointed at the file and asked, "To what are these comments about you being slow and lazy and refusing to move referring?"

"They didn't let me eat until I was full, so I didn't want to train with them. That would just make me hungrier faster. When I didn't have work in the city, I always lied down without moving so that I don't get hungry fast," said the brute.

Claude finally understood. "Alright, from now on, you will always be able to eat till you're full. But you must listen to my orders, or you won't be fed. You may leave now."

"Really? Can I really do that? What if they don't let me eat?" The brute gave Claude a look of elation mixed with some suspicion.

"You can, it's fine. I will pay for your food no matter how much you eat. Don't worry." How much could the food in the mess hall cost anyway? Sometimes, he believed that it didn't cost a single riyas to feed a tent of soldiers. It wasn't like the big man could eat that much anyway. At worst, he could just pay for the extra expense with his sergeant-major allowance. It wasn't like he was poor.

After one was dealt with, the other was a piece of cake to deal with. That new recruit wasn't even an adult. He was a 16-year-old wandering orphan. As the enlistment quota of the zone he resided in hadn't been met, he was dragged into it. Nobody stood up for his sake and he was sent to the base just like that. He flopped during training and had loitered in the base ever since before he was sent to Claude.

As he wasn't even an adult and hadn't had enough nutrition he required, his puberty still wasn't over. He was even shorter than a gun and it wasn't surprising that he didn't make the cut. He supposed the kid could do as his errand boy. After calling the youth called Myjack over for a talk, he found him to be rather honest and decided to give him the role of orderman.

During the night, Berklin took the recruits to dinner. When he returned, he looked at Claude with a frown and said, "Chief, your salary's gone. That big fellow called Gum ate enough for eight people alone and said that he was only seven parts full... I don't know where all the food disappeared to. He's a literal rice bucket.[1]"

As Claude still hadn't recovered his full range of motion, he could only count on Berklin for the training. After a week or so, Berklin turned from excited instructor to a sullen teacher who complained nonstop every day.

In his words, he described the recruits as apart from appearing normal while eating and sleeping, they all turned into idiots during training. He believed that training a bunch of pigs would be easier than training those fellows. Pigs could at least know which direction to run in.

Claude, however, was rather calm. "No worries. I'll observe them in the following days. I have an inkling on how to train them. Bear with it for a few more days. I will soon be able to move about again and I'll teach you how to whip them into shape."



[1] Rice bucket in Chinese means idiot or useless. It refers to how such a person is useless for any other purpose than storing (eating) food, and it also alludes to Gum's slow wit.

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