Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 326
Claude was quickly beginning to regret his amorous adventures. He had woefully underestimated the succubus' drive. He was certain that were it not for the need for secrecy he would be tied to the bed the entire day. A cow for the milking.
He had done far less than he had in his previous world, but he still had his fair share of conquests. He gave his virginity to Baroness Vaskiri. She had not sought out sexual encounters since her husband's death years earlier, and was very passive in bed. Sheila had been his second woman. They'd shared sweet summer love, which, as all summer romances must, had come to an end, though they still frolicked on the bed, the floor, the couch, the table, and against the walls, well, and nearby trees, in his dreams. Kefnie was his third, though he would of course never tell her that. His first was passive by nature, and the other two had been completely inexperienced and so easy to dominate. His entire life, both lives, in fact, he had been the dominant one, he had been the driver of when and where copulation happened, and in each event he dictated the rhythm.
Now, however, he was the submissive one. Doris had taken complete control. She decided when, where, and how they hopped. The two barely spoke two words when they weren't naked and sweating. In front of others she completely ignored him, even glancing at him coldly. Once the clothes went, however, she was a succubus, a mistress, at times even a dominatrix. For the first time in Claude's two lives, he was the one hesitating when new positions and scenarios were brought up. Worse than her adventurism was her amorosity. She ripped his clothes off every chance she got, and once they were off, they usually didn't come back on until sunrise. Over the last week she had drained him so much he had to support himself as he walked, and couldn't stand for more than a couple of minutes at a time.
Claude had finally drummed up the courage to tell her enough was enough when she appeared to have finally sated her pent-up lust. For the first time since they had started their debauchery, she was done after a single expulsion. A couple days later, she stopped coming all together. Apparently her time had come. Claude praised the heavens for giving him a couple days' reprieve.
He had not let their escapades go to waste, however. He had pushed the succubus to reveal more about her past and why Zasrak was so cautious about her being around males. He learnt that, while she was the old bastard's son's wife, she could not go with him to the capital because she was a fugitive. She had eloped with him from her previous husband, a butcher in the capital, which was a crime. If she returned, she would be imprisoned.
She said it had not been her choice to marry the man. She had been just sixteen when she was given to the butcher in payment of the debt they couldn't pay. Selling people into slavery was illegal, but the informal collateral, which became a marriage upon recall, fell through one of the loopholes. She could not wed him until she was eighteen, but that didn't stop him from bedding her on the first night she lived with him, still just sixteen.
She was his wife in name only even after the marriage. He treated her like a slave. She was often beaten over the smallest of mistakes and sometimes for no reason at all. The only thing the butcher wanted from her was children, which he never got. He blamed her for the infertility, yet another reason to beat her every time he saw her.
The butcher was the primary supplier of the royal guard barracks' meat and Wilkney, Zasrak's son, was usually the one to come pick it up. The connected quickly, though they never loved each other, or were even attracted in any way. Their marriage was a transaction, much like the one that had gotten her with the butcher, though this one she entered voluntarily. She got her freedom, or at least she got rid of the butcher, and Wilkney got a pretty wife.
Their marriage was not legal, of course, since she was already wedded to the butcher, but everyone in town, everyone who mattered, at least, considered it as binding as any other marriage. As such, her frolicking with Claude was fornication, adultery. She cared little for such things, however. She'd already broken one marriage, and her current one, while far from unpleasant, was a business transaction, and agreement between individuals that benefitted both, not a vow between parties in love.
Wilkney saw it exactly the same way. He wanted a pretty wife for the sake of having one. He had absolutely no interest in bedding her. He much preferred to be bedded himself. He was not part of the royal guards logistics department. His running frequent errands for them, such as picking up the meat, was just an excuse to spend more time with his lover, the commander in charge of the department.
Neither of his parents knew of their son's proclivities, hence his need for a wife. They very much hoped the two would give them a grandchild soon. On the few occasions their son returned, however, he never so much as set a toenail in her bed, much less penetrated her. Things had been like this for five years now, and she could hold it no longer. She'd not been penetrated by a male in all that time, not even once, and it was driving her insane..
Batting for the other team was very much a sin on Freia. A world constantly in need of youth to replace the elders killed by illness or war could not tolerate any players not doing their part. They were, in a very pragmatic and practical sense, a plague on the species. Society protected, raised, fed and clothed its members so they could make offspring. Anyone that couldn't, or wouldn't do that was a waste, a parasite draining valuable resources that could be far better spent on someone else. In such an age, few people articulated the situation in such straightforward terms, of course. Instead homosexuals were pathologised as demon-tainted. Few people, however, knew the full extent of homosexuality amongst the uniformed. It was understandable, when all one had to work with was male, one made it work, and learned to like it. Or perhaps it was the other way around; perhaps those already batting in that direction sought out the military for the abundance of candidates it offered.
Regardless, many made arrangements similar to this pair's. A wife at home, perhaps a baby in the belly from an unseen third party, was good cover, enough to satisfy those too curious for their own good that the man was doing his part, leaving him free to give, or take, his homoerotic love as he saw fit.
Claude's guilt vanished when he learnt of their arrangement. He felt nothing for the parents, but he did feel bad for her husband. He would not be happy if he were to return to Kefnie and learn some other f*cker had been plumbing her depths in his absence. Given this husband's proclivities, however, he doubted he would have a complaint. He might even be grateful to Claude for filling in. His last reservation gone, he fully enjoyed his rainy season at home, making lots of his own rain.
The rainy season quickly came to a close and Claude once again had his meals on campus. He was happy to do so, too; the old woman didn't have much of a repertoire in the kitchen, and he had grown tired of the same bowl of soup or porridge after the fifteenth time eating it.
His report found itself on General Miselk's desk on the first day of classes as well. Claude took a few minutes to explain some of his main arguments with the general and a couple other officers also there to hand in their reports before heading to the cafeteria.
Despite classes having started, the first couple of days were quite leisurely, until General Miselk brought five other generals with him on the 7th. They took their place by prepared chairs on the platform and Miselk dove right into the reports without introducing them. Much of the day was spent reviewing their reports and running scenarios on the sandtable.
They started with the worst of the reports, and worked their way to the better ones. Claude was happy to see his report not mentioned in the first couple of hours. He was not in the top three, however, barely making fifth. While Miselk had few criticisms of the content of his report per se, he said its scope was too small, that it failed to consider the war at large. It was an excellent report for junior officers, which Claude, admittedly, still was, but inadequate for those dealing with the larger war effort. He had written a report on tactics, not strategies.
Claude was somewhat dissatisfied with the general's assessment. But he could not argue with him in front of so many other big figures. A full day was dedicated to each of the top three reports, evidence of their scope and depth, and they showed Claude how much he had failed to consider.
Claude's report was complete for the scope within which he'd written it, considering every single variable of every operation, but it lacked breadth, it failed to posit solutions to the grander questions of strategy, questions essential to the formulation of army doctrine. Most crucially, all his suggestions dealt only with a single unit. He had not considered coordination or cooperation with other units at all. War could not be won with one unit, and so he had failed to win the war, settling for the battle instead.
No matter how well a single unit did, if the operation needed two units to succeed, and one failed, then the greater battle was lost even if the first achieved all its objectives flawlessly. If two units had to hit a position at the same time, and one was ten minutes late, the attack would fail no matter how good the tactics of the first unit. At the same time, colonels and generals could not take command of every unit in the battle, not when there were dozens of units spread over as many kilometres. They had to give the grand objectives and trust their subordinates to figure out how to achieve them on their own. And their grand goals had to be robust enough to succeed even if one or two of their units failed to achieve their smaller objectives.
The four who had done better than Claude had all written on grand battles or entire campaigns. They abandoned tactics for strategy, relinquishing that to their subordinates. It was a very humbling experience, though Claude couldn't be blamed for his lack of scope. He had only commanded on that level so far, whilst his contemporaries had had months, sometimes years, of training and experience on the larger scale. What little he knew of such things was all from his previous life, and his obsession with military thought.
Harvest season started with the end of the 4th month. Doris naturally worked in the fields the whole day and was usually too tired to play around, so Claude finally had free evenings again. Well, evenings free from her, at least. He had his own occupations.
The time had come to begin working on preparing the new Ranger folk, and everyone in the advanced strategy class was occupied. The grunts that would form the fighting bulk of the folk were also arriving, streaming in on carts and carriages daily. They were fed onto the training fields as they arrived and began wargaming the various tactics and strategies the class had developed in their many reports over the preceding months.
Major Skri was among them, now the chief of logistics, and brought good news. Most of the officers from the old tribe would be promoted at the end of the year and Claude's name was on the list.
Claude wondered why. Why would they promote so many new officers when they had so many available from the many units that were disbanded after the war. Certainly they could simply take their pick from those battle-hardened veterans.
Skri just slapped his shoulder and told him not to think too much of it. No other unit in the army was going to see such promotions. It was both a compensation for their unique levels of suffering and their substantial contributions, and a way to fill the new folk with officers experienced in the use of the tactics that would be its mainstay. The loyalty such promotions would win from the officers for the royal family was also no minor consideration.
Loyalty was a major concern, and bringing in officers from other units severely risked the integrity of the unit's loyalty. The first prince had raised this concern more than once with his father, the king. Promoting peasants up the ranks stopped the nobility from getting their claws in the unit, clobbering two birds with one stone.
The next four months were spent, aside from sorting out the details for the folk, on running countless scenarios on the class sandtable, or on the field with real troops, and invariably writing more reports on them. Any scenario involving tribe-level forces or below were won by Claude, at one point his opponents simply started surrendering at the start of the match to spare themselves more embarrassment. All his peers had tried their hand at outwitting him, but he would come up with a new outlandish tactic just as they thought they had a counter down for his previous one.
When the troops became larger, however, the situation was reversed. Claude lost almost every match he fought. He just couldn't get a grasp of the complexities of grand command since he lacked the years of training his opponents had. He had no lack of innovative ideas, but he didn't have the ability to control his officers at the level necessary to make them work, and his subordinates lacked the skill to be left to their own devices so he could focus his finite faculties elsewhere. Claude had never fought on large scale field battles, since he'd served in the light infantry his entire career, and as such was unfamiliar with the heavier equipment, such as larger cannons, at play in these scenarios.
Nearing the end of the four months, however, he had picked up enough bits and bobs from his readings and from the class analyses of his losses, that he had started winning about a third of his battles with lines. He was still completely hopeless with folks, however.
Despite his still-poor performance, everyone, even General Miselk, admired his determination and quick progress.
The folk marched out of campus for a long field trip after the harvest festival in the 9th month. They marched from the village to the former border of Askilin and Canas to pick up their ten thousand war horses. The journey took two months round-trip, and they marched back in through the campus gate at the end of the 11th month.