Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 264
Claude didn't know the kind of chain reaction the report Major Lederfanc submitted generated to the point it was considered a fraud. He was constantly tired and busy, and the only respite he got was the half day he got to spend with Sheila once every few days. That was the only time he got some peace and quiet.
He wasn't physically worn out, but mentally worn out. Apart from Gum, who thought of nothing else but filling his stomach, all the other soldiers behaved a little oddly, showing some signs of mental strain. Mazik, for example, lost sleep for many days a time, saying that he could hear the agonised cries from Squirrel Village that night every time he closed his eyes.
If a veteran like Mazik showed such symptoms, the other soldiers definitely weren't exempt. Moriad and Dyavid were similar. They privately told Claude they felt the death of comrades or enemies on the battlefield was normal and it was nothing about which to be sad. But burning so many at the not-so-proverbial stake, friend or foe, made them pity the poor sods. They didn't perish on the battlefield, but rather, from a dark scheme. Their cries for help had deeply affected the men.
Fortunately, the instructions to put out the fires near the camp had kept the soldiers busy enough to spare them the worst of it. They were not the same after the dust settled, however. Many woke up in the middle of the night, beds or cots drenched in sweat, shivering at visions of themselves or their comrades burning in that same pyre.
Mazik, Moriad, and Dyavid constantly suffered from insomnia, and they were far from the worst off.
It didn't help that many believed the souls of the burned couldn't go to the wargod's kingdom and would haunt their death grounds for all eternity. And the soot-blackened village ruins made it all the easier to see ghosts at night or on misty mornings.
Claude didn't believe any of it for a single moment, but that did nothing for his men. If anyone was to be haunted by the dead, he should be it. He had masterminded the whole thing, after all. His men were just suffering from post-traumatic stress. The army made every effort to dehumanise the enemy to make it easier to kill them, but it could only do so much, and that was not enough to overcome the intense revulsion at the screams of utter terror and agony thousands burning to death could utter. The human mind was programmed to be disturbed by the sounds of another's agony, after all.
The guilt of being the ones who'd done this to them was even worse for it, as the human mind was doubly programmed to detest the thought of inflicting such suffering on one's own kind, killing even more so.
Luckily, the belief in spirits, while being a partial cause of the problem, could also be a partial solution to the problem. It could not undo their trauma, but it could at least help him trick them into believing they had done something to relieve the dead's suffering. He sent Moriad to find a priest and hire him to perform a cleansing of the village and send the dead on their way. He could not let this further humanise them, however. The men had to remember this as a victory against the enemy, not a travesty against fellow humans.
It took him ten days, but he got rid of the 'spirits of the dead', and propagandised their inhumanity back into his men's minds. It didn't solve the problem entirely, but it would at least let them take up arms again without constant panic attacks. He also paid out-of-pocket to have them swamped in booze and wenches for several days.
Sheila wondered why he didn't show any of the men's symptoms.
"Do you not feel any guilt over what you did? Though I guess you're not a magus for nothing. We don't care about the likes of mundane people."
Claude did indeed not feel anything at the sight of the burnt husks of his enemies. He could, however, not stand the smell of fire since that day. He always vomited when he smelt smoke, whether it be from a fire or a pipe.
It was not because he was a magus, however, though in principle it was the same. It was because he was a transmigrator. None of the people in this world were the same as him, none of them were 'human' in that sense. He was a fundamentally different being, a human from Earth. These people may look and feel, smell and taste, even behave exactly the same, but they were not humans from Earth. They were not his humans.
Not that he could not become attached to them -- his love for his family, affection for his wife-to-be, and lust for his mistress were proof enough that he could -- he just didn't have any instinctual kinship with people he had not grown close to directly. Back on Earth, one felt an immediate closeness with one's countrymen, people from one's hometown, or who'd gone to the same school or university, whilst others had to earn equal positions in ones heart. It was the same in this case. Whereas Claude felt an instinctive kinship with his fellow humans from Earth, he had no such connection with anyone in this world. He had literally nothing in that sense in common with people whom he'd not gotten to know on a personal level.
Deaths in this world were truly just a statistic, unless they included one of the aforementioned people close to him. His survival was all that mattered in this war. He appreciated the fragility of life more than anyone, having lost it once already, and he was determined not to test his luck at reincarnation a second time. As such, he was more than prepared to do the most heinous things to whoever got in the way of his continued survival, man, woman, elder or child, it didn't matter. If they stood in his way, they would die. And if they had to die in the most horrendous of ways, then so be it.
The villagers had returned. They could not afford to miss the planting season. Now that the battle was over, they couldn't continue to stay in Blackstone Village. But Squirrel Village was currently burned down and all that remained were ashes.
Claude was willing to take responsibility and help with the village's rebuilding. He wouldn't be the one breaking his back from the work anyway. Instead, the 130-odd captives would. Claude had wanted to restructure the village completely to make sure it had proper houses. That wouldn't cost too much money since most of the building materials could be sourced from the mountains. The only thing he lacked back then was manpower, which he now had. The crude food he got from the nobles would be just enough to sustain the captives until the construction was complete.
Claude encouraged the villagers to expand their reach to other industries too. Given Squirrel Village's terrain, it might be expanded into a military base down the line. Even if Claude's unit was ordered to leave, the top would definitely send more people to guard the village to take control of the mountain paths. If the villagers started rearing livestock, there would definitely be customers to sell them to. They wouldn't have to worry about transport costs either, and it would be a great side income for the villagers too. The military would also have a steady supply of food.
Mazik on the other hand secretly encouraged the village chief to build a tavern while the captives were still there so that soldiers staying there in the future would have a place to unwind all the while filling the chief's pockets. That was how the chief got goaded into asking Claude to build a tavern, which he eventually yielded and agreed to.
Planning was Claude's expertise, but he wasn't going to build luxurious homes for the villagers. All he did was rearrange the placement of the buildings in the village. The villagers only needed houses better than their old ruined shacks. Adding another yard to each of the houses was more than enough to make them thankful.
Claude was going to build houses out of clay. He had wood baked dry and built into frames for the houses and driven into the ground to serve as foundation. After that, he dug up mud, clay and lime from the mountains and ground them together into concrete bricks which were laid along the frame. After the bricks dried, the clay and lime mixture was plastered all over the walls. It took only ten plus men and half a month to build a house. As for the furnishings and decorations, Claude left it entirely to the villagers.
The tavern was among the first to be completed per the chief's wishes. The chief then took a few villagers through a few other villages in the mountains and returned with four rather young widows to work as barmaids and also purchased all sorts of spirits the mountain folks brewed. Soon, they held the grand opening.
Claude, however, didn't bother to partake in all that. Instead, he visited Sheila in the witch's forest. He returned the next day to find the tavern doors shut tight. Not knowing what was going on, he asked around and found out that business boomed in the tavern. Almost all soldiers who weren't on duty went there. The soldiers that were stationed in the village had nowhere else to spend their salaries, so they wouldn't miss their chance now that a new tavern was built. It didn't take one night for them to clear out the alcohol and snacks in the tavern.
The village chief and his wife, as well as the villagers working there, were so busy that they didn't even get to eat dinner. The four young widows also got endless streams of clients. They busied themselves from four in the afternoon all the way till two in the morning, not getting off their beds even once. A whole line of soldiers was waiting. It was said that each of the women served more than twenty soldiers and didn't recover until they had a good three to four days of rest.
Darn it! Are they that sexually frustrated?! There were only 130-odd soldiers in the village now and two-thirds of them sought out the services of those four widows. It was rather embarrassing.
Dyavid entered with a knock and following him in were the two signallers who were still talking about the wonders of the barmaids and the tavern. As sergeant-majors, Dyavid, Moriad and Mazik were among the first to be served by the barmaids. The signallers were on duty last night and didn't go to the tavern and they were dreamily listening to Dyavid's sexual exploits.
Claude ordered Dyavid to shut up with a grim look and received the letter from the signaller. It was an order from Lederfanc. Dyavid's band was to be transferred back to town to suppress a rebellion. Since a month had passed without word of the nobles gathering another army to retaliate, headquarters no longer thought it necessary to station three bands in Squirrel Village and transferred Dyavid's unit back.
After signing the letter and sending the signallers out, Claude reprimanded Dyavid harshly. Bragging about sexual encounters with women wasn't something to be proud of. It was vulgar and superficial. He also warned him to watch out for the barmaids in town. Who knew if they were also insurgents setting up honey traps for Aueran soldiers?
When Claude finished his rambling, Dyavid talked back, dissatisfied. "Chief, you got a beautiful girlfriend yourself, so it's no wonder you're not desperate. By the way, I heard you laid with a beautiful baroness the last time too. We aren't as capable as you, Chief, so the best we can do is to get our fill at the taverns."
Claude couldn't find any words and merely waved Dyavid off.
The two months after defeating the noble army was a rare moment of respite for him. Even though there were still many matters he had to take charge of, he was the only one in charge within Squirrel Village. He didn't need to consult anyone else and his instructions would be executed without question. He delegated most of the tasks to Mazik, Moriad and Myjack from rebuilding the village to regular patrols and training exercises, so he had ample time to go to the witch's forest for his rendezvous with Sheila.
Apart from Dyavid being summoned to quell a rebellion, Claude showed little interest in other matters. His tribesman, Lederfanc, did send him many letters with all sorts of information. He was informed that the temporary path through Pikleit Mountains had been restored and two irregular corps of reinforcements were sent to the three southern prefectures. They would head to the barely held frontlines immediately.
Some ten days later, Lederfanc brought a clan of men to Squirrel Village and told Claude they were from the staff and military discipline departments from frontline command. They were there to verify Claude and the other troops' achievements.