Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 217

Claude would never act as the brainless fool wanted and fight the Alliance's scouts with a single musket. The enemy usually operated in groups of three and four as well, and killing one didn't guarantee the rest wouldn't just charge up and kill you, especially when your red uniform was so eye-catching in the green wilderness. Many rangers were killed in vain because they were unable to blend in with their environment.

Too bad the moustached officer didn't agree with Claude. Was military tradition so important? More important than the lives of the troops? Claude didn't know why Prince Hansbach would send someone so frustrating to take charge of the tribe.

The man might have accepted the mission out of loyalty to the prince, but he wasn't suited to leading rangers. There was no training routine or strategy at all, to say nothing about revisiting successful ambushes to see what worked and incorporating it into the doctrine. All he did was shoo the soldiers to the battlefield. He only cared about the number of enemies killed, not the number of his own men lost.

Perhaps in his eyes, exterminating the enemy was the best way to fulfill the task he'd been given. Nothing else was important. That was also why he kept fighting with Claude all the time. Claude didn't want to see his men killed meaninglessly.

Rosley knew Claude was the tribe's ace. He'd collected 43 dog tags all on his own, and he'd not done that for all of his kills either. If his unretrieved, but witnessed kills were included in the count, he had almost a hundred thus far.

Claude had enough merit to be a second lieutenant by now, but Rosley was not about to give him that satisfaction. He'd not reported any of his successes yet, and had even trumped up his few minor mistakes.

The thought of the little shit being promoted to second lieutenant while still five years younger than Rosley had scared him. It had taken him seven more years to make it to major, and another seven to make lieutenant-colonel. This was his first full command of such importance, and he was not about to let it be ruined by a young shit, talented or not.

He was already 43. If he wasn't promoted to a general of one type or another by 50, he would have to retire. He couldn't stand the thought. He wasn't a noble so leaving the army would leave him with nothing. Power and wealth would forever be out of his reach, and, even if he did make it to the rank of full colonel and earned a great pension, it wouldn't provide him with the noble lifestyle for which he so yearned. He wanted to try even harder and be promoted to at least lieutenant-general, which would make him a member of the new nobility.

He didn't really care for the ranger tribe itself at all. It was just a stepping stone on his path to glory. He was also a traditionalist, so he didn't like the idea of ambushing the enemy and sniping them from a distance. It was dishonourable in his eyes. He believed soldiers should march in lines, guns raised, and fight battles on epic proportions. Even if they lost, they should do so with pride. They shouldn't show any weakness or cowardice. Most of the kingdom's army stood on his side.

He couldn't let the prince down, however, so he'd accepted this posting. He hated what the unit was trying to do, but he would not disobey the prince's orders. It helped that this was his chance to finally break into the ranks of the general staff.

Two decades into his career, he was no fool, even if he had been one when he'd gotten started. He knew Claude's suggestions were practical and would greatly improve the unit, but it would not benefit him. If he implemented the suggestions, it would inevitably reveal the little shit's skill and intelligence and the shit would take all the glory.

Prince Hansbach had no scruples with promoting someone outside of the traditional path if he felt the person merited it. There was every chance he'd break tradition and relieve Rosley of his command in favour of the little shit. If he became a second lieutenant at his tender 20 years, then, barring a career-ending disaster, he was all but guaranteed to be pushed straight to captain and put in charge of the entire tribe. He'd already been given a second lieutenant's command as a sergea-major before, so this would not be the first time he'd been pushed into larger commands than his rank technically allowed.

Rosley would not have a future if he lost this command. This command was important, but it in and of itself was not so great for his career, so the losing of this particular command wouldn't be so devastating. What would be so devastating was the <i>loss</i> of the command. Once you were unceremoniously relieved of command, your career had been all but frozen; and frozen career did not have the habit of thawing.

His only option, thus, was to keep Claude under everyone's radar and rob him of every chance of shining.

It was all quite laughable. A lieutenant-colonel and commanding officer had to be wary of a puny sergeant-major. Regardless, Rosley did not dare off Claude for good. While it was easy to punish Claude with military regulations, he couldn't kill him outright; he simply didn't have an excuse.

Additionally, Claude was being watched by the prince. If he asked about the little shit one day and learnt of his death penalty sanctioned by military regulation, he would definitely investigate. It would only take a couple poignant questions to find out the truth, and that would not end well for Rosley. More than anything else, the prince hated people who betrayed their allies for personal gain.

Rosley had prayed for Claude's death daily since he'd realised how dangerous he was. Him dying on some patrol would be best. Once the little shit was dead he could safely pose the kids' suggestions to his superiors as his own and take all the glory.

Fate had yet to answer his prayers. The shit always returned unharmed. He completed even the hardest assignments he'd been given. Rosley had once just started celebrating the little shit's death, only to see him return with seven dog tags a couple days later. At least he'd been able to deny him any merit as 'punishment' for returning late.

He'd set the tribe's internal regulations himself, and had carefully crafted them to keep Claude from gaining merit as much as possible. For one, rangers could only be out in the field for two consecutive days. They had to return before midnight on the second day. A dog tag earned you two days of rest after a mission, more didn't matter, but less had you head out again the next morning. Some units had taken to sending men to the rangers as punishment. Those would be sent out on missions until they gathered a determined number of dog tags before being allowed to return to their units.

Claude once tried to talk about how unreasonable Rosley's regulations were, but he smartly ignored him. Performance was all that mattered. There was no gain without enough pain. His only concession had been two days rest for those that brought back at least one dog tag.

A unit meant to revolutionise warfare as people knew it was thusly converted into a penal unit instead. Along with the soldiers sent there for punishment, other volunteered their service, greedy for merits and money. Rosley was very happy with this development. A silver for the life of an enemy scout was a bargain as far as he was concerned. He didn't care about his losses either.

Claude was his polar opposite. He couldn't bear to watch allies die, regardless of what they achieved in exchange for their lives. He'd fought with Rosley countless times to get him to adopt tactics that would lower the casualty rate, but the bastard just wouldn't listen. The bastard just hid in the camp while he sent his men out to die on his behalf.

At the moment, Claude was hiding in an abandoned field with three teams of rangers. Had the war never happened, the land would be full of wheat, almost ready for the autumn harvest. The war had happened, however, and the field was choked by weeds instead.

It made for good hiding regardless.

They were hiding in a dry irrigation ditch. Claude had abandoned his red hat, and had forbidden his men from wearing their hats either. He couldn't get them to wear something other than their uniforms, as that would be a court-martialable offense, but he could at least make their heads harder to spot, at least when they were hidden in trenches and ditches like this. They wore grass hats covered in branches and twigs instead.

As the saying went, 'war is a soldier's greatest teacher'. The only problem was that, while the enemy was indeed learning, as was Claude, his damn bastard of a superior refused to learn anything at all. Claude felt another cloud rolling in at the thought.

The enemy had already noticed how dangerous he was and were starting to develop effective countermeasures to the tactics he had been able to get past Rosley, most by simply teaching them to his men in secret. One thing they'd changed was that they no longer operated in just threes and fours. They now always travelled in at least a tent-sized force. Another thing they did was keep to the high ground as much as possible, and they only ever stopped for lunch or a break, or to set up camp, when they were on top of a hill.

Coupled with the damned crimson uniforms that bastard forced them to wear, the enemy easily spotted them seven out of ten times. The unit's current kill-death ratio had dropped to one for seven, and it was falling every two days when the patrols rotated back in.

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