Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 263
"Just read it out to me," Prince Hansbach said.
"Yes, Your Highness." Skri picked the notebook up again.
"Claude Ferd. Born on the 18th of the 3rd month, Year 558, Sacred Light Era. Citizen of Whitestag City. Twenty-one this year. Graduated first place from elementary school at eighteen. Recommended to Bluefeather by Viscount Felidos, Governor of Whitestag, for commission.
"Got into a fight with veterans twice during training. Injured six and crippled a sergeant-major, but was sent to the infirmary himself both times. In both cases it was determined he acted in self-defence. Graduated the officer course with the highest congregate score of his peers. Second Lieutenant Most of Bluefeather's 11th Tribe, presiding instructor, holds him in the highest regards.
"He is a known herbal medicine student of Baroness Maria--"
"--Wait," Hansbach interrupted, "Baroness Maria? Aunt, Maria?"
"Yes, Your Highness."
"I remember now. She's a Whitestag local and travels there every year. It's still strange she'd take a grunt like him as a disciple though."
"Claude's father was the town's chief administrator prior to its ascension to cityhood. Perhaps he acted as an intermediary? The man lost his position due to his involvement in the incident with the new trade route. The baroness apparently intervened and ensured his release, however. But his father incurred heavy debt because of the venture and committed suicide."
Skri had not left anything out, not even the unconfirmed information. If nothing else, he took his duty as the prince's note scribe and birdie seriously. He spared no effort to investigate every person that caught the prince's eye.
The current notebook he held was already the nth volume. He had almost given up counting how many he'd filled up over the years. At the very least, it included the names and backgrounds of every single officer in any of the forces that served under the prince, at least several hundred.
The prince had little time to get to know his subordinates personally, but he loved inspecting his forces. He was an expert in military affairs and understood how to run an army perfectly. He always made time to talk with his bottom rung officers when out on his tours of inspection. It made him an excellent talent scout, and he'd become somewhat famous for it.
No one would ever guess that he remembered the names of barely a dozen of all those people he'd scouted. To call him terrible with names was an understatement worthy of execution. If not for the little birdy constantly chirping the names in his ear, he would not remember even the couple names he does.
The prince spat on his precious carpet without reservation.
"Those useless fools in the navy spend so much of our kingdom's resources every year but don't do anything but build new ships and get them sunk by the Alliance. They don't even know how to forge new trade routes in peacetime. Even small-time merchants and local officials have more ambition than them. They even blamed the pirates on the proprietors and call themselves Fearless. What a bunch of fools. And now they're still just skirmishing with the enemy out on the open waters. They don't have the balls to attack a single port!"
Skri smiled bitterly. He knew the navy would walk under the prince's hail. Unlike Stellin X, who ascended thanks to the navy's support, Prince Hansbach was an army man through and through. The navy didn't get along with him at all, and their relationship had only gotten worse after he'd mocked them in front of an assembly of nobles as being turtles and bilge rats several years earlier.
The prince had wanted a coordinated assault between the army and navy. He wanted them to sweep up the coast and cut the enemy off from the ocean, but Lord of the Admiralty, Count Andreak Feng Carlos, refused to cooperate. He insisted they were already doing their utmost keeping the enemy navy occupied. Everyone knew he was just trying to avoid losing ships, which was unavoidable in war, but no one could do anything about it. He reported directly to the king and no one else had the authority to say anything to him.
Thus, thanks to the navy's limp response, the enemy still controlled the coast. As a result, Aueras couldn't use any of the ports they'd captured as supply bases and shorten their supply lines. Everything still had to be carted over land. The enemy, on the other hand, could flood their frontlines with ammunition, arms, and supplies from the nearest port.
The prince had sworn more than once that if he ascended the throne, he would demand an offering of blood from the navy to make up for all the ill-advised decisions they had made thus far. The navy profited off ferrying around their own goods for personal gain during the trips they made to and from the seven colonies. It was no secret. While they refused to admit it, the first prince didn't fail to notice; and he would have crucified them for it if only he had proof.
Prime Minister Cryus Man Duncan suggested the formation of a new fleet, Storm, and the promotion of Whitestag from town to city due to the new trade route so that there would be competition for Fearless. They would also be a welcome addition to the force and prevent the navy from completely disintegrating into a mere transport fleet. The well-studied of the kingdom knew that a rich fleet was one that couldn't fight. It was Stellin X's deep trust in Count Andreak Feng Carlos that stopped anyone from interfering with the man's plans.
After venting, the first prince was frustrated to realise that there wasn't much he could do to the naval officers given his current position, so he could only watch.
"Yes, Your Highness--" Skri continued to go through the information in the notebook. "--Bluefeather only found out about Claude's backing after Baroness Maria sent him a letter. He suddenly became a hot potato no one wanted to handle. Claude was heavily injured thanks to the machinations of the veteran he'd crippled and undergoing treatment. They promoted him to sergeant-major immediately and charged him with training a keeper and stretcher regiment."
"Wait, did Claude use my aunt's name to gain any benefits?" the prince asked.
"No," Skri shook his head, "Actually, had the baroness not sent him that letter, nobody would have known about his connection with her at all. He never brought it up. He also never asked her for any help in any of his subsequent letters, and especially didn't mention any of his fights or injuries. I heard that when His Highness the second prince was there, he extended a hand to Claude on account of the baroness, but was refused. He was furious but didn't do anything."
The first prince nodded.
"My little brother grew up by my aunt's side, unlike me... I often travelled seeking thrills. That's why my brother would always make sure to follow my aunt's wishes. Go on."
"As the unit he was assigned was formed provisionally on the frontlines, the recruits from which he was allowed to pick were all cadet rejects, a few of whom were even borderline idiots. Yet, he trained them into qualified soldiers in less than two months. The keeper tent he formed even joined a mock battle against a veteran band. They were the attackers and Claude won."
"Huh? How's that even possible?"
"The same way he took Wilf Stronghold, Your Majesty."
"His men were using Mark 3s. They crawled to the defended area and shot at the enemy formation. Even the two cannons were useless. The targets were all struck down. The spectators were completely baffled. The whole reason word of this small mock battle even spread was because the veterans criticised Claude's tactics as cowardly. They mocked him for lacking the bravery a kingdom's soldier should have."
"I remember now. He's the guy who held the pass at Audin Mountain Range, right? I recall he trained his men to reload prone, dirtying their uniforms. I assigned him to the ranger tribe and he was the one who led the attack on Wilf Stronghold with the same tactic and quickly overran the defenders. I heard he was injured and sent back to the city, right?"
"Yes, Your Highness finally remembers."
Skri breathed a sigh of relief. The first prince was truly far too busy to keep every detail in mind.
"How did he find his way into the three southern prefectures?"
"Has Your Highness forgotten you expanded the ranger unit? After Claude recovered, he rejoined 1st Ranger Tribe and now serves under Major Lederfanc. I heard the major is really impressed with him. I wonder if Your Highness remembers 1st Ranger Tribe taking 54 days to conquer the impregnable Blackmaple Castle with only 27 casualties? Claude was the proposer of that particular strategy. Your Highness delayed their reward by 54 days in retaliation."
"Oh? That happened too, huh..."
The first prince rubbed his nose awkwardly. He didn't think he could be so petty. It sounded childish now someone else talked about it.
Skri ignored his lord's awkwardness and continued.
"After taking Blackmaple Castle, he was sent to Pikleit Mountains to find a pass into the three southern prefectures. They succeeded and was posted at the pass' entrance to guard it. After Bluefeather took the three prefectures, his unit was split up to guard all the checkpoints. Claude was left with just a band and ordered to hold Squirrel Village.
"You once opined that Claude was brave, reliable, and could think out of the box. His radical ideas always bring about unexpected results."
Prince Hansbach understood what the captain was hinting. He pointed at the report.
"So you think it's true? It isn't an exaggeration?"
"I believe Your Highness understands Major Lederfanc's character. He is straightforward and sincere; he wouldn't lie about something like this. Why else did Your Highness pick him for his command if not for this reason? He would not pass on such a wild report if he was not absolutely certain of its validity.
"And Claude was the one in charge of the whole thing. It sounds just like him to burn the enemy in their own huts."
The prince stroked his chin for several moments.
"Set it aside for now. Once we've opened the pass again we'll verify it ourselves. If it is indeed true, then I'll go see that boy myself and reward him personally."