Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 396
Gunshots at Midnight
Claude flipped the invitation in his hand around, finding it a little weird. Wasn't the new field marshal, general and hereditary count, Aljess Kai Osmolin, out to inspect 1st and 2nd Monolith for the next two days? Why would he invite him to a private dinner?
Was he trying to recruit him to his side, or did he think Claude was going against him because he wasn't there with him for the survey? Was the general trying to find an excuse to deal with him? No, if that was the case, why would he need to invite him to a meal? A private dinner was a social occasion meant to pull ties closer or facilitate some sort of private deal.
"You said Aljess began his journey back to headquarters this morning?" Claude asked Anders, who had come back to deliver the invitation.
"Yes, Sir. According to the original itenary, the general should be inspecting 1st Monolith today. The whole session should take five days. But for some reason, he cancelled all his plans and began heading back to headquarters while sending his aide to bring that invitation to you."
Claude thought about it for a moment.
"Did General Bolonik come back with him?"
"No. I heard General Bolonik has returned to 1st Monolith."
"Alright. Tell the aide who sent this I would be honoured to accept the general's invitation."
It was already late and the horses' hooves rattled away into the distance. Claude sunk into deep thought in his carriage. He did not imagine Aljess would invite him to a private dinner to get the blueprints of the mortars and the rights to produce them.
Aljess had booked the most premium room in the most luxurious tavern in Lanu, Mezka, to host him. Claude was surprised he would be dining alone with Aljess.
The atmosphere was a little awkward at the start but Aljess was a master of conversation, as was to be expected of old nobility. While there was an age difference of nearly two decades, Claude didn't feel any sense of distance talking to him. They first discussed some gossip from the capital before moving on to the topic of educating their children as well as the plans he had for his sister's farmstead. Soon, Claude was relaxed and laughing without reservation.
After the meal, red tea was served and the real talks began in earnest. Claude found out the reason the plans for other inspections were cancelled. He had seen the attack drill carried out by 2nd Monolith and discovered their trump card: the mortar. Confident that Port Vebator could be conquered with ease, he stopped the inspection immediately.
He said that he now understood the key to their victories against the three standing corps in the third colonial war after witnessing the destructive capabilities of the new weapon. When he heard from Bolonik that Claude was its inventor, he immediately returned to Lanu. He wanted to buy mortars for the royal guard folk as well as obtain the rights to produce mortars.
As a member of the old nobility and its representative in the kingdom's army, Aljess was nobody to be trifled with. While his military career was slightly marred by the casualties incurred under his command, he still had his reputation of never failing in a siege. Otherwise, he'd never have been promoted to his rank as general in the first place.
He was well aware what having mortars in a siege battle meant. The kingdom's troops could break through one fort after another with minimal casualties. Had it not been for his consideration of Claude's status and power, he would've loved to use other less savoury methods to obtain the rights to produce mortars.
Naturally, Claude understood how that could be achieved. It was all too easy to forge the mortars. All one had to do was to crack them open and the internals were plain for all to see. Given that there weren't any intellectual property laws in this world, if a faction like the old nobility had their eyes on the mortars, they could produce counterfeit versions of them with his permission or not with a superficial change from the cylindrical shape to a round shape. The fact that Aljess was willing to invite Claude to a banquet and request to be allowed to produce them was already a sign of heavy courtesy towards him.
Claude immediately agreed to the request and signed his name on an official document. He also drew some standard drawings with the internals of the mortars on a piece of white paper and made detailed markings where certain special manufacturing techniques were required, which greatly satisfied the general. He didn't think Claude would be so proactive about it and immediately gave him a 10-thousand-crown bank note as payment.
However, his next gesture would be his main token of gratitude. He immediately placed an order for 20 thousand mortars for the royal guard folk. However, it wasn't at the internal price of one crown each that the five enhanced folks enjoyed. Instead, he bought it at a high price of three crowns per round. Aljess told him that while the first 50 thousand mortar rounds produced and sold in the war theatre for a cheap price of one crown was fine since they were still being tested, the official price had to be raised to three crowns each, or he would be making a loss.
Though, Claude didn't understand how there could be a loss. Each mortar round only cost around a thale to make. Coupled with other miscellaneous fees, they totalled up to less than two thales. Selling each for one crown already made three thales of profit. Now that the mortars' efficacy had been proven in actual battle, and the drill also showed off their power, the kingdom's army would definitely be buying them en masse. How could he make any loss?
Aljess laughed and said that he admired how well the five enhanced folks in the colonies got along. There was no internal strife or struggles, unlike the rivalries between the main standing corps of the kingdom. They were always at the brink of tearing each other's hair out. At worst, they could even sabotage one another.
Aljess didn't set the price at three crowns for his own greed, nor was he trying to make the old nobility make a huge profit. Instead, two of the three crowns were there for everyone involved to benefit from the sale. Only then could they keep the production methods and secrets of the mortars among themselves, preventing other military factories in the kingdom from making counterfeit versions.
Now, Claude had two extra bank notes with him. The first was a 10-thousand-crown one for the rights of production, which he could pocket personally. The other could be exchanged for 60 thousand crowns. Aljess graciously paid for the 20 thousand mortars he intended to order for the royal guard. He even told Claude that he would be using funds from the royal guard's budget without spending a fenny from the war theatre's funds.
This time around, he took 300 thousand crowns with him to the war theatre to conquer Port Vebator and seal his promotion to Lord Militant in stone. He was prepared to spend all of it. Claude was shocked at how immensely wealthy someone from the old nobility could be. Naturally, Aljess wasn't the one paying out of his own pocket. Most of the members of the royal guard folk that came with him were backed by old noble families as well.
Aljess also told him to not worry that he would sit in the position of field marshal for long. He was only in Nubissia for the merits. After conquering Port Vebator, he would soon return to mainland with the royal guard. The position was Claude's to hold after that.
On the way back, Claude recalled Aljess' promise and suspected that the kingdom might not maintain the war theatre after Port Vebator was conquered. Without the threat from the Shiksan colonisers, rule of the colonies might return to the viceroys and high-commissioners. By then, Thundercrash corps and the three remaining Monolith folks might have nowhere to go. Instead, they might undergo mass discharge like the other irregular corps of the kingdom and only keep a skeleton crew.
Just as his carriage was about to reach Weyblon Manor, it suddenly stopped. Gum gave the order to be alert, causing the situation to tense up immediately. Claude looked out of the window, only to see the escort guards huddled behind their mounts with their muskets raised.
"What's going on?" he asked.
Gum reported, "General, there were five to six drunks just now. They seemed to be new settlers and were causing trouble by the side of the road. We chased them far away, so it's fine now."
It seemed like they made a big deal out of nothing but a few drunks. There wasn't a need to be that alert. However, ever since Gum took up post as bandsman of Claude's band of guards, he didn't skimp on security one bit and did everything according to protocol.
When Claude reached home, he got into bed with his wife and performed obligatory husbandly duties before falling asleep with her in his arms. But soon, he was startled awake by a clear gunshot. A commotion built up around the manor and torches and candles were lit all over the place.
Kefnie was still fast asleep, so he carefully removed the arm she put over him, got out of bed and put on his pajamas, before he left the bedroom. Gum quickly came over with a lit matchlock in unkempt clothing.
"General, are you alright?" Gum asked as he checked the surroundings carefully.
"I'm fine. Who fired that shot?" He lit the candles in the living room. Gum was only relieved after the room was fully illuminated.
"Our sentry upstairs made the shot. He said he saw three figures climb over the walls into the manor. He seemed to have shot one of them. Currently, the intruders could still be hiding in the manor, or they might've gotten away. We have to run a search immediately."
"Perhaps they're mere thieves. I heard the security in Lanu has gotten rather bad lately. General Saljorak has complained to me about it a number of times. He needs Lanu to form a garrison unit instead of relying on some 50 keepers to patrol a town with near 100 thousand people. Yet, the war theatre didn't approve of the funds necessary for the garrison's formation. Perhaps I should remind General Aljess about this tomorrow..."
Lanu should long have been elevated from town to city status. Ever since the 100 thousand immigrant households were settled down in Anfiston, many skilled artisans weren't willing to become farmers. Instead, they borrowed loans to start their own ateliers and shops in Lanu, causing the town to instantly expand three to four times in size. With the increase of people came more security problems. Thievery and bar fights were all too commonplace and the town patrol that numbered only a band were overwhelmed. They were unable to deal with the security crisis in Lanu.
General Saljorak, the one in charge of the local garrison forces, security and informants of the war theatre, had long planned to introduce a new garrison tribe to help maintain order in Lanu. However, he lacked cadets and funding. The war theatre prioritised matters of war and the formation of the garrison tribe could only start after General Birkin's 4th Monolith folk, now renamed 3rd Monolith, was complete.
But following the folk's completion, news of Claude's victory in the third colonial war spread. Given the serious casualties suffered by Thundercrash, they had priority over the new recruits, much to Saljorak's frustration. However, he didn't have a choice. Frontline troops always held higher priority over local security forces.
Saljorak had submitted the request to form a garrison tribe in Lanu for the third time right before the position shift, so Claude couldn't be bothered with it. The new field marshal, Aljess, wasn't that interested in local matters either and was more concerned by 3rd Monolith's combat prowess as well as his own royal guard troops. He couldn't wait to conquer Port Vebator and get it over with.
It was only after the attempted break in of his home that Claude felt that the security endemic had to be dealt with once and for all. The fact that someone would dare to come after the home of the corpsman of Thundercrash spoke volumes about the town's pitiful state.
Gum had two sharpshooters stationed at the highest floor of the manor every night just in case. Unexpectedly, they were put to good use that night. The one who fired the shot was brought to Claude and he said that the three figures crossed the walls after the patrol unit passed by.
It just so happened that the moon was unobstructed by the clouds, so he was able to see the three figures clearly as they climbed over the walls. Right after he fired, the clouds blocked the moonlight once more, so he didn't manage to see whether they escaped or went into the manor to hide. However, he could be sure that his shot hit one of the intruders.
Later, they found a small blood trail near the manor's wall. It looked like the three had climbed over the wall once more to escape. However, Claude still personally searched the manor with his men and shook the place up through the night.
The next day, Saljorak received word and came over immediately. Claude returned to headquarters with him. When Aljess heard about the matter, he generously approved 20 thousand crowns for the formation of the garrison tribe and asked them to restore order to Lanu as quickly as possible.
When Claude returned to his manor, he found Weyblon there with three black kratt hunting dogs. With them there, they no longer had to worry about thieves trying to sneak into the manor at night.