Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 288

The war was over? Major Skri had been arrested... Wait, something didn't sound right...

It took Claude several seconds to process Captain Duriaulo's words. When he had, he stood up abruptly.

"Why did they arrest him? Why Major Skri?"

It turned out Aueras had done very well in the negotiations. Both sides had agreed to a stale peace, meaning whatever territory was currently occupied would remain in the hands of the occupier. Aueras had thus annexed Sidins, Rimodra, and Askilin, as well as a prefecture of Nasri. Neither Nasri nor Canas could afford to let the war continue, so they agreed to cut their losses while they still had something left to keep.

Major Skri had been arrested for cowardice because he'd abandoned Krilaus Castle without permission, as the land was not occupied at the time of the peace treaty's signing, Aueras did not get to keep it.

"F*cking hell!" Claude cursed, "They make it sound like it would have been an easy job to hold on to that blasted castle! I'll accept their complaints after they hold that f*cking place for months without food, ammunition, or so much as a single bandage! We'd have been dead by the beginning of the fourth month of starvation even if the enemy didn't get us long before then!"

Duriaulo shrugged helpless and continued his report.

Major Skri had been charged on seven counts. There was desertion for retreating without orders, dereliction of duty for abandoning kingdom territory to the enemy without permission, insubordination for failing to carry out his orders to hold the castle, acting outside of the scope of his authority by choosing to withdraw in the absence of such orders, and in contravention of orders to the contrary, cowardice, and fraudulent reporting of achievements.

Claude had to fight to keep the veins in his head from exploding. Everyone who overheard their conversation had similar bulging veins on their heads. They all knew they'd be dead if their commander had not ordered the retreat.

The major had apparently already pled guilty to all the charges and taken sole responsibility for everything. If he received the full penalty his crimes were due, he'd be executed by firing squad.

That wouldn't do. No one in the unit would allow him to die so meaninglessly. Duriaulo had barely finished speaking when the crowd started roaring. A number had already charged out to gather others and organise a riot. Claude charged after them and slapped them over the head one after the other, admonishing them as he went.

He then returned and asked Duriaulo whether there was a way to clear the major of the charges. Duriaulo just stared back at him awkwardly, and in condemning silence. He answered several dead seconds later.

Unless the first prince stepped in personally, nothing could stop the firing squad. The first prince, however, was holed up in his chambers in the capital, 'sick'.

Duriaulo had his contacts, who had told him they'd done it out of jealousy. None of them had been promoted or given merits in the war, so they were not about to see some maggot prince's pet take all the glory. Unlike his peers, the first prince forbade the self-rewarding of merits for those that had the power to do so. As a result, his men had no choice but to perform just like everyone else. Now, naturally, that was unacceptable given the... 'impure' birth of the likes of Skri and Claude.

They thus nearly choked one another when the chance to rid themselves of one of the greatest pests in the kingdom as far as they were concerned. They planned to turn his retreat into a giant scandal, play up their role in 'discovering' his dereliction, cowardice, and the slew of other charges, and profit off his misfortune.

Most damning of their moves, however, was charging Skri with cowardice and dereliction of duty, as he had indeed withdrawn without orders or permission, which had cost the kingdom's ambitions greatly.

Had they somehow held on, the kingdom would have kept all the land and its subsidiaries. They had not, however, choosing instead to withdraw. It ended with Canas suffering only minute losses and being able to brag about their triumphant battle against the Auerans. That was something frontline command couldn't bear to swallow.

That was also why nobody bothered to stand up for Skri and do the right thing. Even though many knew the major was greatly favoured by the first prince, given that he was one of the talented soldiers elevated by the prince, it was precisely that fact which earned him the envy of the nobles. With the first prince shutting himself in, there wouldn't be a better opportunity for the nobles to lash out. They wouldn't have a chance to shine if they didn't quickly squash the puny peasant officer right there and then.

Skri was simply too unfortunate. No matter how well founded his reasoning for retreating was, it couldn't be denied that he had lost a lot of the kingdom's territory. Given that others had their own agendas for making a case against him, this issue gained quite a lot of traction. Even after the war, the army still had lots of internal struggles. The war had allowed many peasant officers to advance in their careers while nobles seldom had anything to show for themselves. The peace treaty's signing mean that they would have a long period of rest and that was when the fight for who would be holding the power would take place.

Claude could no longer stand Duriaulo's roundabout way of putting things, so he dragged him into his room and asked him to speak straightforwardly without having to go in circles. He self-mockingly called himself an uncultured person who didn't understand what was so different between peasant and noble officers.

As far as Claude was concerned, he really couldn't tell. The nobles who enlisted in the force were mostly dignitarians. Even though they came from noble families, they didn't have a Title to their names. Calling them nobles was only doing them lip-service since they were technically only dignitarians.

Duriaulo could only smile bitterly. He knew he wouldn't be able to get it through Claude's thick head, but he had to do so patiently anyway, knowing Claude's background. He wouldn't be patient enough to do so otherwise.

So-called noble officers didn't just refer to members of noble families. There was a great difference there. Otherwise, Claude's minions, namely, Dyavid and Moriad, could call themselves noble officers. Yet, they had to fight for their lives on the frontlines all the same.

Usually, there were three criteria one had to fulfil to be considered a noble officer. First, their families had to have a huge hold in the kingdom's military, with many of their ancestors holding influential positions and their descendants all having military backgrounds. Second, they had to join the youth military school before moving on to the Stellin War College. Third, they had to profit from the military. Most of the manufacturers of military equipment usually belonged to those noble families. While the royal family did own shares in those endeavours, they wouldn't be able to stop the nobles should they unite.

According to the captain's description, Claude couldn't help but recall the Junkers of Prussia. The noble officers had many similarities with their parallels in the other world. Duriaulo said that the noble faction occupied most of the top positions in the military. While Stellin IX and his successor, the current king, had tried to limit the expansion of their influence in the military, two-thirds of the top positions in the military were still held by the nobles.

As for peasant officers, they were elevated and formed together as a faction by Stellin IX during the reforms to act as a check on the nobles' power. Usually, talented peasant officers were either suppressed or recruited by the nobles. They seldom formed their own factions. But after the reformation, the peasant officers managed to expand their influence with the help of the royal family. Currently, most of the mid-level officers in the military were of peasant birth.

Unlike the noble faction, the peasant faction was incredibly complicated. Officers that graduated from the youth military school sponsored by the royal family like Skri made up the faction's majority. There were two such schools and they sourced their students from the descendants of noble families that fell out of favour and the relatives of other peasant officers. Many of them were also war orphans. They were the faction the royal family placed most of their trust in and were provided with the most spots for officer training courses.

The rest were peasants like Claude who joined the military for dignitarian status. They were called the field faction of the peasants as they weren't given orthodox military education, but that didn't stop them from flaunting their talents. In their long military careers, some gems in the rough would be polished from battle to battle and eventually begin to shine brightly. Those peasant officers who managed to climb to the top positions of the military were most often military geniuses. One shining example was none other than General Miselk Kor Priest, who was recently awarded a Title.

Claude finally understood that he was considered to be a peasant officer. He asked which side Duriaulo was on and why he bothered to tell him all that. While they were pleasant acquaintances, they were far from close enough for him to tell him about the more secretive aspects of military politics.

Duriaulo said he was not one of the noble officers and better fit in with the peasant officers. While he was from a noble family, his family was one of the newly entitled ones, elevated into nobility by Stellin IX. They weren't considered the same in the eyes of the old nobility and they didn't enjoy ownership of the military industries. Additionally, most of the new nobility didn't like to develop in the military, preferring to go for trade or mining and often pushing the kingdom to have free trade with other nations on the continent.

As such, while their members joined the military, most of them were relegated to keeper posts as they were relatively safer. Military merit didn't hold much significance for them and they were more interested in the natural resources the new territories of the kingdom held. They would be more aptly called merchant nobles. The reason he bothered to get on Claude's good side was due to the advice of his uncle who served in the army. Claude showed good military talent, so it would be a good friendship investment. There was also the fact of his status as the herbalism disciple of Baroness Maria.

Claude instantly understood that the praise he was given for his talent was merely lip-service. What they were truly paying attention to was his nominal herbalism teacher. Perhaps they were trying to use him to form a relationship with Maria so that she could put a kind word in for them to Stellin X for extra convenience for their businesses.

But now wasn't the time to argue with Duriaulo over the specifics. He was far more concerned with how he could help Skri. Without holding back, he asked whether there was any way to get Skri out of this scot-free.

The captain only responded with a resigned smile and said that while there were some people he knew in the ministry of the army, they weren't that influential. The whole matter stemmed from frontline command, that was mainly controlled by the noble officers. The ministry wasn't able to interfere too directly. Additionally, Skri's case was merely a red herring. They didn't really care that the kingdom's territory was lost. Instead, they had their eyes set on the three southern prefectures. It was a power play by the old nobility against the Stellin royal family.

Claude asked what it had to do with the three southern prefectures, as he couldn't figure out no matter what.

The captain kindly obliged with an explanation. As most of the military industries of Aueras was held by old nobility, the royal family intended to use this opportunity to gain their own by taking over the industrial infrastructure in the three southern prefectures of Askilin. They didn't choose to cooperate with the old nobility to make up for their lack of capital, but turned to the new nobility for help instead. Naturally, the old nobility wasn't too happy on being excluded from the delicious piece of pie and they wanted to use Skri's case to suppress the peasant officers and get back at the royal family for monopolising the three southern prefectures.

While it seemed simple on the surface, there was a complex interweb of relationships behind the scenes. Claude's head was almost going to blow up. He didn't really care whether the royal family or the old nobility controlled the three southern prefectures. The issue he had was why they involved normal soldiers in their scheme.

Duriaulo pointed at Claude and said, "The key to saving Major Skri lies with you. The first prince refuses to leave his quarters and isn't willing to take charge of the aftermath of the war. You can have your teacher, Baroness Maria, pay His Highness a visit and deliver news about the matter. Only with His Highness' personal involvement does Major Skri stand a chance of being spared."

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