Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 271
Claude's head still hurt a little when he woke up, a sure sign of a hangover. He, Mendas, and Welikro had drunk a whole carton of wine the previous evening. Mendas collapsed first, but Welikro still looked sober when Claude lost passed out. His alcohol tolerance seemed to have improved.
"What time is it?" he asked.
The tent was still filled with the scent of booze, probably as a result of the lack of ventilation. Gum and Myjack feared he would catch a cold, so they kept the tent flaps closed. The whole tent wreaked.
"It's four in the afternoon," Myjack replied.
He brought over some soup. It had citrus skin and some other herbs. It didn't leave a good taste in the mouth. But it worked miracles on a recovering drunkard.
"Lieutenant-Colonel Lederfanc came over just a few minutes ago. He didn't want to wake you, so he told me to inform you he is leaving in two days. He's visiting friends tomorrow," Myjack added.
Claude recalled Lederfanc and a woman were hitting it off pretty nicely as he left the banquet. It seemed he had found his prospective wife. The next day's visit was probably her parents. Claude decided to leave with the man. He didn't care when he got back so long as he could make it before new year's eve. Since he was free, he decided to go shopping.
"Open the flaps, please. Let some fresh air in," Claude said as he took the towel Myjack offered, "Is there a bathhouse in the city? I need to take one tonight."
"Yes, Sir. It's not too far from the camp. There's a nice one two streets down, but I hear it's a little pricey," Myjack said as he opened the window and entrance flaps.
The cold, fresh air caused Claude to shudder himself awake. As he put on his uniform, he said, "I don't mind if it's pricey, so long as the bath is comfortable. It's better than using cold water to wash up in camp."
There was a bath hall in the camp, but there wasn't a tub, only showerheads. While the bath water wasn't icy cold, it would alternate between lukewarm and cold, so a hot bath was out of the question. He decided to get a proper soak instead. At least it would feel much better.
"By the way, Myjack, get Gum to find Captain Welikro and Captain Mendas in the royal guard's camp. Tell them I want to treat them to a meal tonight. After the meal, we'll go to the bathhouse together. I believe they should be awake," Claude instructed.
There wasn't a curfew in the city, so they could stay out longer before returning to camp. Welikro and Mendas came over about an hour later. Welikro appeared perfectly fine, but Mendas had no colour in his face or eyes. He even swayed about as he walked while hugging his head, saying that it felt heavy after all that drinking last night.
But his consciousness was still sharp. "Apologies for letting you treat me to all that wine. Let me pay for tonight. But let's not drink anymore for dinner tonight."
"Myjack, give Captain Mendas a bowl of hangover soup too," Claude said.
"Yes, Sir. It'll be ready in a jiffy." Myjack left the tent.
Welikro laughed. "It's fine. Let him pay. He's a rich bastard. He has more money than he'll ever need. I haven't met him in so long, so I want to make this count."
Claude wondered how Welikro knew. He recalled he had moved to the royal capital before Claude had started his developments.
"Boa told me. He got a letter from his father about it. He's constantly wailing about leaving before he could swindle some money out of you, or even better, swindling himself into a partnership for the project."
"Nothing is ever certain. He might have only gotten his place in the rear because he left Whitestag to join the Banjilia keeperage. If he had stayed in town, he might've been conscripted like everyone else and put in an irregular corps. His future would have been in serious jeopardy if that had happened."
Myjack returned with the soup soon after. Mendas thanked him and blew on it a couple times before taking a sip.
"Your orderman is quick. Mine is so lazy I have to kick him to get him to do anything. And even then he only does a half-arsed job. I frequently have to go searching for my clothes butt-naked after a bath because he couldn't be bothered to put my clothes out for me, or even worse, not have any clean clothes because he would rather hide my dirty clothes than wash them...
"And he eats too much, too. He often nips some of my food when he fetches it for me. He once left me only the bread and then had the balls to say the cafeteria wouldn't give him anything else. How infuriating! Worse, beatings don't do much. He does a little more for a couple days after, but then goes right back to his slovenly ways. I've asked for a different orderman at least a dozen times but they don't want to move him because no one wants him as an orderman, and he can't serve as a normal soldier. Now I'm a knight, however, I bet they won't brown nose me like this next time I ask."
Claude smiled bitterly. This story was all too common. The army wanted the best out in the field, so only the shitty ones were made ordermen or attendants. They were also very stingy with the few that were half decent at their job as ordermen, sending them to the generals and other important figures, like noble officers. As such, many of the lower-ranked or weakly backed officers often just turned down ordermen and did everything themselves.
"I was lucky. Myjack was still a minor when he enlisted so I could make him my orderman. I've trained him properly. In fact, several higher-ups have wanted to poach him, but he's a loyal lad. I'll make him my adjutant if I make major in the future," Claude said humbly. "By the way, do you have an orderman and a guard?"
"No," Welikro said, shaking his head, "I'm used to doing most things myself. I don't like letting others touch my personal stuff. I don't have a guard either, but I do have a sidekick for battles. His vision is good and he shoots well. He didn't come with me this time though."
Myjack was technically a master-sergeant. Lederfanc had asked him if he wanted a command, but he was indeed very loyal. It didn't help that he liked having a cushy, safe posting under Claude's wing. Now that Claude had been made a captain, he might just get his tent post, anyway. Starting with captains, higher-ranked officers had personal guard units, so Claude would have a tent of guards soon and he planned to make Myjack their tentsman.
The three chatted for a while before Myjack returned to report the best inn in Pacasia, Blue Icewater, had sent carriages to pick them up. Claude had Gum reserve a room for them after he received confirmation that the other two would be joining him. They offered quite a good service to ferry their guests to their establishment.
Myjack and Claude entered the cabin whereas Gum sat beside the coachman. When they reached Blue Icewater, Claude, Welikro and Mendas went up to the reserved room on the first floor. Myjack and Gum had their own table downstairs; Claude didn't forget those two. Gum would be having a pleasant feast that night.
The three of them chatted as they ate and eventually, the topic turned to the equipment used by the kingdom's military. Captain Mendas had a lot to say about it. He believed that the kingdom's arms research was going the wrong way. Fortunately, it had been dragged back to the right path. He was referring to the emergence of the Aubass Mark 3. Back then, firearms research focused only on how to improve the firing range of muskets for further and more effective volley coverage and barrel endurance, but they had completely ignored the needs of soldiers on the frontlines.
The cannons were the same. The development focused only on developing cannons that could fire more powerful and heavier rounds with the hopes that they would be able to destroy enemy fortifications with one shot while ignoring all the extra weight it added to the cannons. To endure stronger blasts of gunpowder, the barrels had to be made of thicker and heavier materials, making the cannons less and less mobile. While the current iteration of cannons could fire far and strong, they were incredibly inconvenient to move around, requiring up to sixteen workhorses to pull and only able to be moved some four kilometres every day, not to mention only being able to be moved across flat ground and requiring even more horses to switch out midway.
Mendas wondered why they couldn't approach development from the ammunition angle. Apart from round shot and scattershot, couldn't they make something that exploded? If they could fire explosive shots, the destructive power of cannons would be multiplied a few times over and sieges would be far easier. Not as much blood of soldiers would have to be shed to conquer enemy strongholds.
Claude didn't understand how the firearms research of this world skewed so badly either. They were still stuck using matchlocks and research was focused on increasing the firing range. They completely ignored precision aiming. He also agreed with Mendas' criticism of the development of cannons. Mendas said he had written two letters to the National Firearms Research Institute regarding his thoughts in hopes that an explosive shot could be developed. He had yet to receive a reply, however. He wasn't too hopeful that they hadn't just thrown his letter in trash.
"It's a shame I don't know how to conduct research. Otherwise, I'd definitely try to make an explosive shot," Mendas said with seething hate. He was forced to improvise by using the crude method of lighting gunpowder kegs and sending them flying with simple catapults, and he never expected that to earn him a knighthood. Due to their limited range, his men would be hurt in every attack. The thought made the medal even heavier.
Perhaps the whole situation was caused by the monopoly on information. Claude recalled that his middle school didn't offer physics or chemistry. Even if somebody had a bright idea, they wouldn't be able to realise it without understanding the basic mechanics of the world. Mendas, for instance, wanted to create an explosive cannon shot, but without the relevant knowledge, he wouldn't know how to start.
"I have an idea..." Mendas began, "If the round shot is hollowed out and stuffed with gunpowder and equipped with a rope fuse, we can light it and load the shot before firing. I wonder if it'll explode if it hits the target that way."
It was indeed a good idea and perhaps how Dumdum bullets were created. Claude could recall all sorts of ammunition types from his previous world, but given the state of muzzleloading ballistics in this world, he doubted people would believe him if he said guns could be loaded from the rear breech. If he brought up howitzers and rockets, they might consider him insane.
It was too bad Claude didn't know how those weapons were made either. He hadn't done his 'fair share' of online research about the topic, and nobody who actually knew how to make ammunition would simply reveal the process. He knew that Mendas' guess was right, but without truly understanding the mechanics behind Dumdum bullets, he wouldn't be able to do much with his idea. Regardless, he still encouraged Mendas to do more research on the topic. On earth, most technological innovations were motivated by war and conflict, after all.
When they finished their meal two hours later, Claude invited the two to the expensive bathhouse. He soon came to understand why it cost so much: beautiful maidservants were there to massage and wash them during the bath and serve them fruits, snacks and fine wine. The women could also be invited into nearby rooms if so desired, but that was a separate bill they had to settle with the women.
Claude refused the maidservant's offer to bring him into a room, but Mendas couldn't. He took two with him immediately. Welikro, on the other hand, laid in the tub with his hands spread wide open for the maidservant to massage.
"Won't you go relax?" Claude asked.
"No need," Welikro mumbled, "It's pointless. My mind is always full of women before I bed one. But I always feel soft and worn out afterwards and it affects my aim. I need three days to get back into form after a good shagging. I don't touch women if I know I'm heading to the field shortly."
"You've changed a lot. You're much colder and more serious than before. And you talk even less than before."
"Can't be helped. You don't know how it feels to find it easier to shoot people than game. I've stopped seeing people when I look through my scope. They're just blobs of meat. My kills are just numbers to me."
The maidservant giggled. Perhaps she thought Welikro was only boasting. How could a young man have killed more than four hundred?
"You're too tense. You need to unwind. The year's coming to an end and I doubt we'll hit the field again soon. Have a little fun."
Claude was no expert, but he wondered if Welikro wasn't suffering from some form of post-traumatic stress.
"We're heading back tomorrow. I got the order earlier today. We leave at nine tomorrow morning."