Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 357

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Claude returned to Line 131's command centre with a gloomy expression. He threw a giant tantrum, only calming down after his vice-linesman, Lieutenant-Colonel Schnak, and chief logistician, Siegfeld, ministered him carefully.

He immediately ordered all his men to deny any cooperation with the investigation. Any soldier asked would have to get Claude's permission before being allowed to submit to interviews.

Claude intended to go against General Fansnik. Fansnik's interference was not wise and went against protocol. If the army's funds belonged to the kingdom, then he, as the corps' chief logistician, had full right to investigate the matter since it fell under his jurisdiction.

However, the missing funds belonged to the enemy, Shiks, and weren't given to Ranger by Aueras. As the new corps chief logistician, Fansnik had no right to stir up trouble and even suspect Line 131 of pocketing the money.

According to standard procedure, looted armaments, gear, and supplies were turned over. Non-military items of value, such as jewellery, belonged to the looter. Take for instance when 1st Ranger Tribe was in the three southwestern prefectures of Askilin, they took a noble's vineyard and distributed the fine wines to the men, as well as some gold and silverware. It was a reward for the soldiers.

Naturally, that didn't mean that every single thing the soldiers took would go straight into their pockets. The spoils had first to be handed over to their superiors, who would redistribute the unit's loot equally. That was the difference between organised and disorganised looting. Organised looters' acquisition rate (read: efficiency at robbing) was the highest and they wouldn't miss even the smallest valuable.

If Line 131 had discovered the 500 thousand crowns, they could distribute it according to normal protocol. Seven-tenths of it had to be given to the corps while the other three-tenths could be distributed among the troops. Even thirty percent was quite a hefty sum for the men. When they heard about the missing sum, even the soldiers of Line 131 found it quite regrettable that they missed it.

The issue was that Line 131 didn't even discover such a huge money stash in the ammunition storage area of Wickhamsburg. They had left in a hurry after setting fire to the warehouses in fear of the explosions that might ensue. The money, if it was ever there, had probably been reduced to ash in the crater from the explosions.

As the one in charge, Claude handed in all evidence to prove that Line 131 did in fact neglect to do a detailed check of the ammunition storage area and missed out on the money. Occurrences like this weren't uncommon and mostly due to bad luck. People would only joke about it for a bit and leave the matter alone.

Even though the sum was huge, it did belong to the enemy. If they got it, it was a good bonus. If they didn't, tough luck. Nobody would really consider that sum the property of Aueras like General Fansnik would and keep on pestering his men until he found out what happened to it.

What he didn't expect was for Claude to completely ignore the chief logistics officer, who had been appointed the position instead of being promoted to it. When Claude got into a huge argument with him at the logistics department, he demanded to know on what basis Fansnik considered the sum of money to belong to Aueras and demand him of all people to hand it over. It wasn't as if Aueras funded Shiks to attack the colonies.

Fansnik, on the other hand, highlighted that, since Ranger reported directly to the Stellin royal family, all honour and glory the corps received belonged to them, and the same went for spoils looted on the battlefield. According to his argument, all spoils had to first be handed over to the Stellin royal family before being distributed to everyone in Ranger. Only then could the loyalty of the unit be maintained. The royal family would also continue to look after the soldiers of Ranger.

It was all pointless rhetoric. Claude immediately accused him of wanting to monopolise the right to distribute spoils. He brought up the wagons filled with luxury goods Claude handed to the corps' logistics department. Claude had wanted all officers of Ranger to get a piece of them, but Fansnik came over and confiscated those goods and handed them all to the Stellin royal family as a measure of his performance. He only cared about his own benefit and ignored that of the other soldiers in Ranger.

The accusation embarrassed Fansnik deeply. His face looked like it would melt. He claimed Claude shouldn't have just given four of the wagons to the corps and keep one for his own line. The fact that he did so was a huge insult to the royal family.

Fansnik even proudly took out Line 131's spoils inventory book as proof. He said that Claude's actions showed that he was disloyal to the royal family and shouldn't have been included in their exclusive unit. Fansnik would request the brass to revoke Claude's honorary Title and charge him with the crime of corruption until the 500 thousand crowns were answered for.

The argument between those two got ever more heated. Had the vice logistics officer of the corps, Colonel Skri, not heard it and came over to grab and restrain Claude, Claude would've gone over to beat General Fansnik up. The matter went big and the two were sent to General Miselk for a huge chastisement. However, Claude knew that his days in Ranger would no longer be as easy going as it used to be. General Fansnik, who had recently been promoted straight to the post of chief logistics officer, had his eyes on him.

Seeing Lieutenant-Colonels Schnak and Siegeld leaving his office, Claude had a pensive look on his face. The tantrum he threw in the office was for show as a sign of his innocence. However, he still wasn't able to tell which of the two had betrayed him. Perhaps they didn't see it as such and thought they were serving the greater good of Line 131.

Myjack, Berklin, Moriad and Dyavid, his most trusted, hurriedly entered his office. Gum stood outside it automatically to keep any uninvited guests out. Myjack closed the door and asked concernedly, "Sir, what did the corpsman say?"

Claude sighed. "Do you know the saying, 'a subordinate too outstanding terrifies even his superior'?"

The four shook their heads.

"General Miselk's days will get tougher from now on. General Fansnik is actually someone the brass sent there to keep an eye on General Miselk. Ranger is the royal family's private forces and the brass wants to prevent it from being completely in the general's control as a result of how much his reputation has shot up during the war. That would put the royal family in an awkward position if Ranger listened to no one but General Miselk, given how much they have invested in the corps. That's why the royal family will be transferring even more officers here to fill up the high posts of the corps.

"I've not only been targeted by General Fansnik because of the matter of the missing money. Instead, they now consider me a loyal subordinate of General Miselk. To deal with a strong tree like him, they have to cut off the branches first. Unfortunately, I've now been considered to be the strongest branch on the tree. Without me, they believe that General Miselk would lose the most crucial faction that supports him. After all, the combat ability of our line is known for being the best in all of the corps."

"It can't be... Shiks just announced they would be forming ten standing corps lately to fight this war to the end. How could the royal family cut their own feathers at a time like this? Who would Ranger count on to drive the enemies away with General Miselk out of the picture?" Berklin said.

"You're right.--" Claude nodded. "--The problem isn't the royal family trying to get rid of the general. Instead, they're putting him on a pedestal. not only did they make him Lord Militant and give him command over all of the kingdom's ground forces, he was also given a trigenerational Title and a manor. On one hand, the royal family is trying to spoil General Miselk. On the other, they're sending their own officers to take up high-ranking positions in our corps to firm their hold on Ranger without a hitch with the general's cooperation.

"From the distribution of rewards this time around, you can see that the brass has intentionally embellished the general's contribution and suppressed those of the other soldiers. That can effectively cause a rift between the general and the rest of the soldiers. They want them to think that General Miselk claimed all the credit for himself to undermine the position he holds in their hearts and incite their dissatisfaction. They don't want Ranger to only answer to General Miselk's beck and call.

"As for fighting the ten new standing corps of Shiks, it's still a little too early for that. You should all know that it takes a long time to form a new corps and give the soldiers basic training. It would take at least a year and a half. Based on the report from the ministry of the army, Shiks has indeed starting forming new corps, but they've only managed to complete one and a half so far. Progress is incredibly slow.

"Forming a corps is not only a matter of recruiting soldiers. There's a lot of sourcing of gear, training, and officers to take up vacant commanding positions. To form ten full standing corps, Shiks need about two to three years. Not to mention, transporting all those corps to Nubissia means that they would have to prepare enough supplies to sustain all those corps for a long enough period to wage effective war. The brass estimates that Shiks wouldn't be able to continue the war here in another three to four years.

"That is a relatively long time. It's not certain what could happen in that period. Perhaps the kingdom's economy will recover and they can transport other corps here to take over the war. That's why the brass has the luxury of worrying that General Miselk is turning Ranger into his own private army. Sending high-ranking officers here is one way to prevent that from happening. The Stellin royal family did invest a huge amount in us, after all, since we are supposed to report to them directly. They can't afford to predicate the corps' loyalty on General Miselk's own loyalty to the royal family.

"The main reason General Fansnik has his eyes on me is because of my position. Though, we can't discount the possibility that he's also trying to curry favour with the royal family. It's said that our king, Stellin X, has been bedridden for up to three years and doesn't have much time remaining. By then, no matter which prince takes the throne, General Fansnik can use the contribution of 500 thousand crowns to secure an important position in the new administration. The prince he chooses to support will have a much better fighting chance in the struggle for the throne."

"That's our wealth! How dare this darned Fansnik hand it over like he was the one who found it?!" Moriad complained, "Chief, why don't I take two others with me to off this General Fansnik. We can make it look like it's done by Shiksan spies and blame it on them instead. I doubt anyone will be able to tell."

Claude shook his head. "Don't be crazy. Don't you know that General Fansnik bears the Tam Stellin name? He's from a branch family of the royal family. If he's really assassinated like that, the whole corps will see no end of it. I'll only become main suspect, given how public my fallout with him was. Then again, we can't let him harp over us nonstop like that. We have to find a good way to funnel out that huge sum so that he stops suspecting us.

"Mod, go with Dyid to the place where we buried the money and unearth some golds, silvers and coppers. Hand half of them to Myjack. Myjack, I want you to hand them to Anna. Get her to make it look like those coins were melted and crushed like they were wrapped up in a huge explosion and fire. We'll order Line 131 to go to Wickhamsburg tomorrow to excavate the rubble. General Fansnik wants an explanation, does he? We'll just hand over the devastated remains of the coins we found and make it seem like the sum was indeed caught up in the explosion."

"But Chief, what about the other half of the coins we unearth?" Dyavid asked.

"Hehehe... I need you all to secretly scatter them around the rubble. Have the soldiers 'accidentally' discover some of them. That way, some will report that they've found them, but even more will pocket them for themselves. Even if the amount of coins we found don't match up, the soldiers who excavated the area would be suspected instead. That way, the true sum which we have hidden away will be safe..."

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