Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 295

"Sir, the corpsman of Anbris, General Bokarek, sent you a letter by carrier eagle," the signaller reported as he put down a top-secret correspondence on the table.

Duriaulo read it and spat before he put the letter on a small stack of similar ones. He already received enough secret letters to stack them up into two piles. One was smaller, the other was larger.

"What's going on?" Claude was sipping away at a glass of fruit wine by the window as he watched a clan of 1st Rangers soldiers emptying the traps along the mountain path. Moriad was inspecting the trenches at the slope nearby. Back then, Claude fortified the area because he wanted to defend against the forces of the Canasian and Askilinian nobles. Now, he was preparing himself for a possible army coming his way from the three southern prefectures.

"It's nothing." Duriaulo stood up. "A corpsman of an irregular corps who works for those old nobles sent me an eagle message to ask us to submit to frontline command's demands. They want us to go to them to turn ourselves in and hand in the criminals and evidence before accepting punishment to avoid any 'undesirable consequences' such as being made traitors to the kingdom and shaming our families and so on.

"These fellows are all bark and no bite. They think they can take us? Send their forces over then. Let's see if these useless morons dare. Since when did frontline command have the authority to declare someone traitor? Who knew that the staff officers whose job was to collect intelligence and offer strategic suggestions would become the absolute authority on the frontlines? Nobody could've seen this coming."

It was indeed an unforeseen circumstance. Three days had passed and they were still only arguing verbally about the matter. When Duriaulo sent word that Bechmil was accidentally killed in a melee and Jiblik had killed himself to frontline command, apart from the nobles all declaring Claude and Duriaulo traitors of the kingdom and had to be punished, as well as messages being flown all across nonstop, not a single troop was mobilised to attack Squirrel Village.

The reason was simple: frontline command no longer had the authority to mobilise soldiers. Even the noble officers high up in the pecking order wouldn't be able to get their subordinates to attack Claude and Duriaulo with their personally signed orders. By the time the nobles realised that was going on, they knew that they had blundered badly. But they had already made their provocation and proclamation that they would send out troops, so they could only act out the charade to force the so-called traitors to turn themselves in. The top brass from the other corps also sent eagle messages to Squirrel Village to pressure Claude and Duriaulo to not resist that stubbornly.

The main reason Prince Hansbach set up a strategy department in frontline command was to settle the noble officers that joined him down. He knew that the nobles were all high and mighty and were only all talk. Without sufficient time, it would be really hard for him to pick out any actual talent from their midst. So, he intentionally set up that department to make it more convenient for him to make observations and let the nobles have a place to be so they wouldn't disturb the peasant officers in frontline command doing actual work. That would also decrease the amount of conflict that occurred between the two factions.

The first prince's plan was quite well thought out, but he couldn't just make the strategy department seem like a puppet department either, so eventually, many nobles somewhat capable were transferred to various other departments such as the judiciary and the communications department over four years. Eventually, noble officers permeated all departments of frontline command.

During that time, the strategy department's duties were to collate all information on the frontlines and formulate the most effective solution for any problem that surfaced. At the same time, they could provide extra proposals for the top officers in frontline command to pick from. Only with their agreement and signature would the plans be handed to the other departments and delegated.

That allowed the noble officers in the strategy department to feel like they have the illusion of making the decisions as the plans chosen to be executed were products of that department. At the same time, it served to limit the scope of the nobles in the military. Without the signature of the top officers in the various departments of frontline command, the proposals of the strategy department were nothing more than waste paper.

But when Prince Hansbach failed to stop the peace talks in the royal capital and threw a tantrum, the noble officers in the strategy department no longer kept to their place. They united the noble officers in the other departments of frontline command and forced General Miselk Kor Priest, the acting commander-in-chief during the first prince's absence, to retire from frontline command with bad health as the excuse, allowing the noble officers to completely take control of frontline command.

What they didn't expect was the control they thought they held over the million-man army held was nothing more than a vacuous illusion. For matters of less relative importance like logistics in the rear, military regulations and enemy spoils, the heads of the other departments in frontline command were happy to cooperate by providing their signature. But when the nobles wanted to mobilise troops to punish the so-called traitors, the department heads demanded a personally signed order from the acting commander-in-chief, General Miselk Kor Priest, which the nobles were unable to obtain.

Even the department heads who belonged in the old nobility faction refused to sign that order to mobilise. First, they didn't have the authority to do so, and second, they wouldn't dare risk the livelihood of their families to realise the dream of those unhinged nobles. If they gave their agreement to the operation, they would essentially be participating in a mutiny as the kingdom expressedly didn't give frontline command any authority to order the mobilisation of troops on their own accord.

Duriaulo was backed up by the many secret orders he received from the ministry of the army in which his uncle worked. The ministry's reply to the report he sent about the incident praised Claude and him for refusing to go along with such a ridiculous request and also ordered them to not cave in to the pressure of frontline command. They were ordered to wait for the ministry of the army to send their own people to investigate the matter.

As Duriaulo mentioned, the peace treaty was signed and the war was over. Even though the first prince was abstaining from his duties on the frontlines, the acting commander-in-chief should have been working with the ministry in dealing with the near-million troops on the frontlines. Those units that had to be disbanded should've been and the ones that needed to be downsized had to be. As for the conscripted soldiers in the irregular corps, they ought to have been returned home to wait for the next war when they will once more serve as cannon fodder.

But the ministry was unable to carry out those operations currently. Miselk Kor Priest had allegedly resigned due to health reasons and there was no candidate to take his place. And the ones actually in charge of the million troops on the frontlines were the noble officers from the strategy department.

It was starting to develop into a rather pressing issue. It wasn't that the ministry didn't want to do anything about it. The first prince was simply too stubborn to be bothered to do anything about it and any personnel the ministry suggested to take Miselk's place would be shot down by the strategy department. Even with the decree of Stellin X, nothing much could be done. Prince Hansbach was still the official commander-in-chief and without his orders, the soldiers could technically disobey all other instructions, and the king actually made a decree and set a precedent in which they were disobeyed, the consequences would be pressing to say the least.

And right at that time, a keeper tribesman, Captain Duriaulo, and a clansman of the first prince's experimental ranger tribes and knighthood bearer, Captain Claude, got into conflict with officers from frontline command. They first captured the four officer impersonators from frontline command and somehow got the two judiciary officers they refused to hand the prisoners over to be killed.

Not only did it shock the whole kingdom, the noble officers in frontline command were completely shaken. They mistakenly declared Duriaulo and Claude traitors and announced they would be sending troops to admonish them, but it was the wrong move as they didn't have the authority. Now, they went up to the pedestal without planning a closing act.

And for the ministry of the army, this created a perfect opportunity for them to send some people to the frontlines to deal with frontline command by citing investigating the matter as an excuse. They would use that chance to find out what was really happening and find out more about the noble officers in charge. The fact that nobody else in frontline command heeded the call to mobilise by the noble officers gave the ministry hope to regain control over their army at the frontlines.

So, the ministry sent an eagle message with a secret order for Claude and Duriaulo to not cave to the pressure. They also ordered the disciplinary officers in the various corps on the frontlines to form an investigation committee to find out about the matter in Squirrel Village. Lastly, the ministry also sent some high-ranking military officers with Stellin X's decree to frontline command in preparation of disbanding much of the army.

Duriaulo looked at the stack of letters on his desk and said with glee, "Did you see that? Of the 20 irregular corps and two main corps, only around 30 high officers, mostly folksmen and above, advised us to admit our crimes. However, the linesmen and tribesmen subordinate to them sent us secret correspondence to express their support for us, almost a hundred in total. Even if the higher-ups want to deal with us, none of their subordinates would be foolish enough to carry out those moronic orders."

"It can't hurt to be prepared. The troops are also lazing off a bit too much lately, so letting them work is a good way of keeping them in combat shape." Claude finished the rest of his wine. "When will the committee arrive?"

Duriaulo took one letter from his desk and said, "Three days later according to them. The royal section of the judiciary will send out their chief disciplinary officer, General Welster, eight irregular corps will send eight supervisors and sixteen disciplinary officers, and one royal guard enforcer band will accompany them. There are 136 people in total."

"I hope they will come to investigate this properly instead of blaming us all the way."

"Haha, you don't have to worry about that. General Welster is known as Welster the Just. He commands great respect in the royal guard. Some noble officers know him as Welster the Stiff, however, as he judges nobles and peasants equally without argument."

Duriaulo poured another half a glass of wine for Claude. "Also, I realised that five of the eight supervisors from the irregular corps are peasant officers. Half of the sixteen disciplinary officers are also of common birth. They are our natural allies since nobody likes those haughty noble officers."

Claude almost laughed. "You should be a noble officer, you know."

Duriaulo waved the wine glass in his hand. "No, no, no. You're mistaken. Claude, my friend, I'm only noble in status, but I'm not a noble officer. I can't compare to the noble officers whose families have been serving in the military for generations. They are the ones with the wide network of benefits in the military and the grasp over the military industries in the kingdom, so the royal family has no choice but to tolerate them.

"I, on the other hand, joined the war to serve the kingdom, even with my status as a noble. Now that the war is over, I believe it won't take long before my keeper unit will be disbanded. By then, I can take off my uniform and return home to my peaceful life of hunting, going to balls and banquets, and talking to beautiful noblewomen in the gardens instead of drinking my boredom away right here."

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