Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 331

Doctor Perunt was both shocked and happy to see Claude. He had not imagined Claude would be promoted all the way to lieutenant-colonel in just a few years. Perunt had been just a beginner apothecary in Bluefeather's 11th Tribe when the two had met while Claude had only just enlisted. How time flew!

Perunt easily agreed to be Tribe 131's apothecary. He even dragged three juniors with him.

Claude was busy dealing with the other positions in the tribe when he finally received Miselk's first order as folksman. Miselk ordered all officers to hand in their old equipment at the logistics depot in the castle. He also mentioned a double-salary month as a 'sign-on bonus'.

Many of the men had waited two years for this order. The handing in of their old equipment was the final severing they would do with their old unit; their equipment was the last thing tying them to their old units. The handing in of their old equipment, while nothing but a simple logistical formality, was a kind of personal officiation of their reassignments, the final severing of ties with their old positions. It was significant for every soldier that had served for any length of time.

There was no time for celebration, however. The moment the last set of equipment was signed in at the depot the barracks were locked down. For the next fortnight no one was allowed to leave their barracks. The barracks were thoroughly combed by inspectors one by one, and anyone guilty of even the tiniest transgression against military law or army regulation was arrested and tried. Those guilty of more severe crimes were summarily executed.

By the end of the 7th month, the roads leading to the castle town were lined with 1027 corpses on poles, fixed there after execution by hanging. Over 3486 men were sentenced to hard labour, and 194 officers were dishonourably discharged for malfeasance. Even more were caned for various minor transgressions.

Nobody had expected the general to have such a merciless side. Prince Hansbach even rushed to Castle Kristo in the middle of the night to negotiate with him. He could not abide the loss of so many elite soldiers, even if some had committed serious crimes.

Miselk would not hear any of the prince's arguments, however. He said it was exactly because they were elites that they could not be treated with mercy. The same crime was a worse transgression for an elite, who was supposed to be an example of excellence, than for a common soldier. The men could not be trusted with the kinds of dangerous missions they would inevitably be given in the future if they were so lax about the army's regulations.

The prince eventually caved and withdrew his protest. They were at peace now, but that would not last forever, and peace actually made it more imperative that this kind of behaviour be corrected. If it wasn't, it would only fester and get worse in the years of idleness between now and the next war.

The locals were quite happy to see the severe punishments, unlike everyone else involved. Sweet revenge sat well with civilians.

The newspapers quickly took to calling the month the 'Bloody 7th'. Even in wartime, the kingdom had never sentenced so many of its soldiers to death at once. Quite a few also called the next month the 'Stinking 8th', as the corpses along the road started to rot and decay under the summer sun.

On the 10th of the 8th month, Tribe 131 finished its final arrangements. Claude returned to folk headquarters and handed in his final report.

"You want to conduct long-distance training?" Miselk asked, reading Claude's accompanying request.

"Yes, General. My men are all veterans. I have no need to do basic training with them. I must instead drive our new doctrine into their heads. I've discussed it with my captains, and they are in agreement with my request," Claude explained.

"Why the three sisters? Why not any of the 29 new prefectures? A couple are still plagued by resistance."

"I considered it, but they already have 3 standing corps. It'll be crowded, and with the resentment between the rest of the army's noble officers and our men, I doubt it'll lead to anything good for us to operate on their turf."

"The first part of my question still stands, why the three sisters? You could just march onto the Ibnist Plains."

"The same problem, but with civilians. You can hardly spit without hitting someone's house or shop on the plains. Everywhere is someone's farm or vegetable garden. We don't have rugged wilderness in which to train field marching and wilderness navigation. The three sisters are very undeveloped and have vast stretches of nothing but untamed wilds. It also has the necessary climates for severe climate combat and survival training."

"Wait, Claude, what is this severe-climate combat and survival training?" Miselk interjected.

"It's one of the things I thought up. The men will be sent into the wilderness for seven days with just three days' supplies. They have to hunt and scavenge for food, water, and other supplies to survive the other four. Besides training them to survive extended periods without supplies, I want to train them in small-unit tactics and independent operations, especially infiltration. I call it 'Unconventional Warfare'. Instead of facing the enemy on the battlefield, we slip behind their lines and cut off their communications, destroy their supplies, and take out any other targets of opportunity. Basically, we wreak havoc in their rear."

"I understand."

Miselk nodded thoughtfully. His mind wandered to Claude's command during the war, how he'd often done what he had just described.

"Alright, I will write up the orders. You may go to the three sisters for three months. I will send a liaison with you to keep an eye on your training."

"Yes, General."

Claude saluted and left the office.

He cheered silently the moment the door closed behind him. He had come up with good arguments for choosing the three southwestern prefectures, but the truth was he just wanted to go back home. His son was almost two now, but he'd not seen him a single day. He'd wanted to return for all of those two years, but he never felt he could. Now he had the perfect excuse for going home, and he didn't even have to ask for leave.

The corpses sat on their poles for the entirety of the 8th month before being cremated. The general, already revered as a scholar, was now also feared as a coldblooded killer. Nobody dared so much as hint at second thoughts about any of his orders. The requests for leave to visit family even stopped. People were afraid he might see them having families as a weakness and kill them so his men would not be distracted.

Lieutenant-Colonel Skri knew the general better, however. He had also been the one to give Claude the idea to use training as an excuse to go see his wife and son. The tribe needed train anyway, so why not have it back home, or close enough that he could pop in to say 'hi'?

Claude submitted his training regime to the general and started packing.

Claude finally understood why command believed he needed a whole clan in logistics when he saw Major Siegfeld's departure report. Siegfeld had requested 125 carts and carriages in their supply train, which meant that the entire logistics clan could only man each with two men.

"No, Major. We can't put so many in the supply train. We'll never travel at a decent pace, not to mention that it would leave us completely vulnerable." Claude refused to permit that arrangement.

"Give five to the healers. They know how to drive, so don't bother with drivers. The support band needs thirteen as well. Give them fifteen. They have heavy equipment to move.

"The cannoneers need 22 for munitions. Twenty will have to do. They can supply their own drivers as well. You can have the light cavalry's carriages. They don't really need them for feed, not while we're moving in friendly territory. Just give them one per band.

"The combat clans will have the usual five carts or carriages per clan. They can provide their own drivers as well. That leaves just 55. Mobilise two bands on guard duty. You should still have enough space."

"Yes, Sir. We should still have enough."

Siegfeld breathed a sigh of relief. Claude's micromanagement could be bothersome at times, but it did mean Siegfeld only needed to mention a problem to have the lieutenant-colonel jump in and solve it for him. Now he had a surplus of personnel, where before he was strapped for enough men to man all the carts.

"We'll keep the extras. It won't hurt to have some room for extra supplies," Claude said as the major turned to leave.

"Yes, Sir."

On the 21st of the 9th month, Tribe 131 arrived at Whitestag and set up camp just outside the city. They'd marched for 18 days. Claude decided to stay for a fortnight while he dealt with some of the problems that had cropped up during the march. They would then head to Egret for a month of survival training.

Shockwaves ran through the city with the 131's arrival. Not only was it a brand-new unit, and an elite one at that, and it marched under the royal colours, but its tribesman was an old Whitestagian. He was the highest-ranked local from anywhere in the three sisters, and he'd climbed halfway up the ladder in just eight years. It was not an understatement to say he was a celebrity.

Felidos met him at the stone outpost to welcome him personally and escort him into the city. Their arrival was met with a banquet, which Felidos hosted himself and to which Claude and all his senior staff were invited. He also gave blanket approval to all Major Siegfeld's request the moment he heard he was the tribe logistician, without hearing any of them.

Claude didn't have a free moment for most of the day, but he slipped away from the banquet as soon as he could and headed home with his two shadows, Myjack and Gum, to see his family.

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