Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 206
The Breakout of War
The combat simulation run by the 11th Tribe on Fokby Hill Base had a slight ripple effect, but talk of it all but subsided before a week even passed. People would only bring it up from time to time and focused on how Claude managed to best his foes at a huge disadvantage, but criticized that the methods were cowardly and improper.
It was also said that while the tactics were suited for demonstrations and skirmishes, it wouldn't be of any use on an actual battlefield where tens of thousands people would fight. If tens of thousands of the troops crawled on the ground like bugs, Bluefeather might as well be renamed to Buglegs like Kemondo mentioned.
After Claude returned to base, nobody paid him any attention even though he was the victor of the war game. The only benefit from the victory was how Second Lieutenant Carlos no longer chided him for the gunpowder consumption of his troops. They had proven themselves with their accurate shots and it was reason enough to justify their gunpowder and bullet consumption.
But what troubled him was while the Aubass Mark 3 was the first musket produced by the kingdom with accurate sights, the accuracy still left something to be desired. While its accuracy still held up a hundred meters away and the bullseye could be reliably hit, a distance more than 150 meters left quite a bit of margin of error.
It wasn't a problem with the troops. The muskets of this age were mostly smoothbores and their bullets were in essence lead pellets. Apart from human error and environmental factors, the bullets were also affected by many other variables after a shot was made. Those weren't things that could be addressed through more training. Whether an accurate shot could be made a hundred meters away would have to depend on luck.
Back then, he mainly used his modified gun for hunting and the ranges he required were mostly within a hundred meters. That was why he didn't find any fault in the gun. Only after the training exercise did he find that shooting 200 meters away was quite hard for the troops. If he had his alchemical array with him, he would've tried his hand at some experimenting. He believed that rifling in the barrel and Minie balls instead of normal pellets would solve the problem. Even though he was no rifle expert by a long shot, he had read quite a bit on gun hobbyist discussion forums.
However, he didn't have access to what he needed in the camp. Even though Bluefeather had a small gunnery in Gourneygada, Claude visited it only to find that the most they were capable of was reassembly of guns. They could only work with existing parts. Modifying or forging new parts for guns was far from what they were capable of.
Additionally, the training exercise improved the opinion of the upper brass about his training abilities. Within two short months, he was able to whip some new recruit rejects into shape. Even though they still weren't capable of doing volley fire as a group, they were more than capable of serving as patrol troops or keepers.
After a week or so, he received a mission to train another batch of some seventy new recruits with the same requirements -- that they be fit enough to serve in keeper or stretcher units.
It was said that the vice administrator of the base, Lieutenant Colonel Leoncrow, was the one who made that suggestion. He believed that letting Claude train the rejects was akin to reforging bad iron. Perhaps they could still be salvaged as capable keepers. It was still better than sending them to slave away at normal laborious jobs at the logistics department.
Claude complained to Most about his nanny assignment after two bands' worth of rejects were sent into his care. The problem was who would be their bandsmen? A tentsman usually held the rank of sergeant major and the right-hands of tents were master sergeants. In the battlefield, the master sergeants could take over as temporary tentsman in case the sergeant major was incapacitated. However, bandsmen were usually second lieutenants. Each band had four tents and four sergeant majors and master sergeants respectively.
Claude had 17 keepers and the ten who were particularly mentally challenged served as stretcher troops. The four nobles were master sergeants. If the corps sent the rest of the rejects over, they would number almost a hundred men, enough for two full bands.
Having more subordinates didn't automatically mean that things would be easier. Claude had expended lots of effort to train seventeen keepers alone and he was still wracking his brains over how he could train the super slow ten into proper stretcher troops. And yet, another bunch of rejects were going to come under his care. That was when he decided to complain to Most and insist on not taking the unfair burden. If they really wanted him to train them, he should at least have a second lieutenant covering his back.
Most appeared rather troubled and said that those were orders from the top brass and he could do nothing bout it. Assigning a second lieutenant or two to Claude's unit wasn't something he could do either. Most of the second lieutenants knew the kind of people Claude was tasked to train and nobody was willing to become a bandsman for them. With the war just upon the horizon, they all hoped to gain some merit on the frontlines instead of serving as bandsmen for keeper and stretcher bands.
Given that Most was only a second lieutenant, he couldn't order them around either. He only said that he would try to make Claude's requests heard, but he said that if the upper brass didn't intend to do anything about it, Claude could be their nominal bandsman. As for assigning more sergeant majors and master sergeants to his unit, that wouldn't be possible as the army was quite short-handed and he suggested that Claude let the four nobles serve as tentsmen.
The most Most could do was to assign some corporals or sergeants to serve as right-hands for the tents. Due to the recruitment drive, most staff sergeants have already been promoted to sergeant majors. Given Most's power, assigning Claude corporals and sergeants was the extent of what he could do. However, he did throw the remaining 72 Aubass Mark 3s to Claude's unit generously and promised an unlimited supply of pellets and powder, since he knew Claude's training routine spent quite a lot of those.
Seeing that Claude was still blabbering in his office, he couldn't take it any longer and warned him sternly that a soldier had to follow orders. The assignments their superiors gave them were not negotiable. They weren't hawkers who could be haggled with and he shouldn't complain about the difficulty of the assignment.
Having no other choice, Claude took on the new rejects and trained them at the infirmary.
Time flew and word arrived at the base at the end of the 5th month while Claude was still busy training the recruits. Aueras had declared war against the five nations of the anti-Aueras alliance. They responded with their own declaration in kind. The cloud of war would once more cover the eastern part of the continent of Freia. The flames had been ignited, but nobody knew yet who would be reduced to ash.
The breakout of war was received with cheer and fanfare in the base. Many soldiers praised Stellin X and chanted slogans to defeat their enemies and sang Bluefeather's war songs with high spirits. They saw the war as a chance for glory and promotions and thought that it would be effortless to obtain.
Claude was busy training his stretcher troops. He currently had 38 of them, all unfit for normal duty. What he wanted was to train their ability to react appropriately in a battlefield scenario. He had some scarecrows dressed in Bluefeather's uniforms set up all over the hills and had the stretcher troops bring the scarecrows back. To increase the realism of the situation, he had the chefs get him some pig organs to scatter all over the scarecrows.
Those who managed to carry a scarecrow back properly were allowed to drink and rest and perhaps even be given a fruit or bread as reward. Claude had no choice but to train them like he would dogs to encourage the behaviour he wanted. As for prioritizing officers during the rescue, Claude believed it too complicated for them. The idiots in the stretcher units were almost indistinguishable from the mentally challenged.
Claude accepted up to three batches of rejects, numbering 121 men in total, within a month's time. He organized them into one keeper band of 60 men and another stretcher unit with 38 men. The truly unsalvageable rejects were sent to the logistics department as laborers.
Two of the recruits used to be thugs in their homes. After they were drafted, they played dumb in an attempt to skimp out on training and were sent to Claude. When their shtick was seen through, they still refused to change, so Claude reported it to Second Lieutenant Most. Those two fools were decapitated before all the recruits in the base and made an example of.
Word of war breaking out was brought back by Perunt. According to him, the main base was in complete chaos. The officers were all cheering and clamoring to take down the anti-Auerasian alliance. As for the normal soldiers, a portion of them cheered with the same fervour as their superiors, while the rest wallowed about in grimness. War meant that they would have no choice but to serve as cannon fodder on the battlefield. Those with half a brain would know that it wasn't good news by any measure.
Claude had nothing to say in regard to that. He only readied himself mentally for the inevitable. Even though he was a sergeant major, he also served as a bandsman of his keeper and stretcher bands. He would be in a much safer position than normal soldiers. At the very least, he wouldn't have to be part of the main charge and even if the infirmary had to be deployed at the frontlines, they would be situated near the rear of the battlefield.
"Are we going to be deployed soon?" Claude asked.
Perunt shook his head. "I have no idea. The main base hasn't issued any orders yet and I'm not sure what our 11th Tribe will be tasked with. But I heard that the 3rd and 7th Combat Tribes have already received orders to sortie at the Duchy of Sidins. I believe our corps' main target should be the duchy."
Claude sighed at the sudden outbreak of war. He thought he'd have at least one more month to train up the new recruits. According to the newspapers he read lately, the kingdom was still sending ambassadors to the five nations in hopes of compromises to ease the tension to prevent war. He didn't think it would come so soon, with Aueras taking the initiative to declare war, even. He didn't understand what could've happened to prompt that.
He felt like he was swept away helplessly by the currents of history like a ragdoll. There were far too many things beyond his means to control.