Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 401
Thoughts and Self-preservation
Bolonik listened to Claude's suggestion and left silently with the royal guard folk for Port Vebator. It was a measure of self-preservation. Skri was right in that given their predicament, it would be better to await punishment after doing something praiseworthy first. At least it would end much better for them if they raked in another contribution for the kingdom.
Claude's analysis helped Bolonik firm his decision. In some sense, the few generals in the war theatre were Miselk's disciples and were loyal to the first prince. It was too bad Prince Hansbach only favoured the Lord Militant and didn't pay that much heed to the rest in the war theatre.
Ever since Miselk was injured during that assassination attempt and began his recovery, it was clear that the prince hadn't paid the slightest bit of concern on the war theatre at all. Otherwise, he wouldn't send General Aljess to Nubissia to become the field marshal and claim the merit from conquering Port Vebator at all. Had Miselk still been with the army, he would definitely hear about the revolt happening within the borders of Shiks and order Claude and the rest to take Port Vebator without waiting half a year for the royal guard folk to arrive.
To put it more frankly, while Claude, Skri and the others were considered to be aligned with the first prince, they were merely small fries in the prince's camp which he didn't pay attention to. Perhaps he believed that Miselk's disciples wouldn't be able to help him much in his cause and weren't worth his care at all.
There was another thing Claude suspected. Could the first prince have intentionally let General Aljess come to Nubissia as a compromise to the old nobility? After all, the first prince's base of support and influence was with the kingdom's army, which he shared with the old nobility. They were two forces competing for influence in the same turf. For instance, many peasant officers that aligned themselves with the first prince didn't get along with the noble officers.
Yet, Aljess managed to lead the royal guard folk to Nubissia without any resistance from the first prince. Even though Claude led Thundercrash to exterminate three standing corps of the enemy and obtained victory in the third colonial war, he was relieved of his position as field marshal by the kingdom and was rewarded with a paltry one-rank promotion and elevated only one honorary Title higher than before. For the first prince to not make a sound about an injustice like that, it was clear that he had abandoned the generals in the war theatre. Though, it could also be said that since the prince saw them as people on his side, they could afford to suffer a little for his sake.
That was the reason Claude decided to cooperate with General Aljess after getting word of it from Weyblon. While the general was a member of old nobility and Claude was of a peasant background, that didn't mean he was obligated to fight him to the end. He was a lieutenant-general of the kingdom, after all, and was quite the attractive prospect to many others out there. Since the first prince didn't take him seriously, it only showed that he wasn't that good a judge of talent in the end.
So, Claude immediately agreed when Aljess wanted to purchase the rights to produce mortars without being the slightest bit unwilling, gaining the general's favour. During the banquet that night, they talked up to two hours and Aljess revealed much about the things that happened behind the scenes in the royal capital, allowing him to understand how truly dire the power struggle between the two princes actually was.
He still remembered Aljess' assessment on Prince Hansbach. He believed that while the prince was known for appreciating talent, that was only limited to low-ranking officers in the army. His strength lay in promoting high-performing soldiers into junior officers, something which was unrivaled in the kingdom.
It was too bad that after the officers of whom he had taken notice relied on their own abilities and got promoted to the ranks of field officers, the first prince stopped involving himself personally in their promotions or outright forgot they even existed. He still saw those he promoted as the little soldiers they were back then. He punished them without reservation when needed and didn't show them any courtesy at all.
Humans were really complex creatures with their own desires and thoughts. The soldiers who were promoted by the first prince to junior officer positions would naturally feel thankful and pledge their loyalty to him. But in the following decade of service after that, not all the officers were given equal care by the first prince. When they eventually became high-ranking officers, they began to hold their own aspirations, whether it be wealth or political power befitting of their status.
However, the first prince wouldn't care about something like that. He still ordered the officers around like they were mere privates and joked around at their expense without reservation. While he might think of it as an expression of closeness and familiarity, some high-ranking officers took that as insults to their character. The first prince simply didn't care about how his actions made them look. Additionally, those that end up promoted to become high-ranking officers weren't simple. They were the cream of the crop. Even though they were from peasant backgrounds, they wouldn't be that straight laced by the time they became high-ranking officers. Some were even willing to get along with noble officers.
Yet, the first prince considered it a betrayal against his person. He didn't think about the kinds of difficulties and troubles faced by the officers. In the end, he drove most of the high-ranking officers away. That was why Aljess concluded that while the first prince had a great support base among the lower-ranked officers, quite a number of high-ranking ones detested him.
While he was a capable commander, he was far from a great leader. Claude was a little surprised to hear that coming from Aljess, but it sounded reasonable. When Ranger folk was stationed near the capital, the first prince would often visit their camp and even joke around with Claude and the rest. But ever since the formation of the five enhanced folks in the colonies, he no longer cared about them in the slightest. It was as if he didn't know that the core members of Ranger had transferred there.
Claude didn't care what kind of compromise or deal the first prince had struck with the old nobility and only cared about doing his part and satisfying the brass' needs. After Aljess conquered Port Vebator and got his promotion to Lord Militant, the colonial conflict would end for good. All Claude had to do after that was send the glorious Lord Militant back to the royal capital and wait for the good news alongside the other generals in the war theatre.
The way he saw it, the ministry of the army would order them to stay put in the colonies to prevent the Shiksans from rising up again. It would be quite a simple assignment. All they had to do was to guard the coastline and prevent the Shiksan navy from docking. After that, he would develop the local area and build up more wealth for his family. He would remain on Nubissia and watch the power struggle of the two princes from the sidelines. It didn't matter to him which one of them took the throne in the end.
At least, that was his initial plan. Now that Aljess was assassinated, everything went to chaos. He motivated his colleagues to proceed with conquering Port Vebator the first thing after he regained consciousness out of self-preservation. Since he was now aware of the first prince's predisposition, he knew he couldn't count on him to put in a good word for them on account of Miselk. The more likely scenario would be the first prince punishing Claude, Bolonik, Skri and the other generals who used to be in charge of the war theatre to appease the anger of the old nobility, essentially throwing them under the proverbial bus.
If they had done as Bolonik suggested and awaited the capital's decision on how to deal with this assassination debacle, the best-case scenario would be demotion. Claude was a lieutenant-general, so a one-rank demotion would make him a major-general. As for Bolonik, Skri, Eiblont and the heavily injured Birkin, they would be demoted from major-general to colonel. It would be much harder for them to cross that wall again in future. As for Saljorak, he would definitely be fired, or worse: convicted and forced to serve ten years of labour.
That was why Port Vebator was their only chance for salvation. Claude made it clear that Bolonik had to lead the royal guard folk to conquer the port, but he also had to do it with the smallest casualties. At least, the noble officers in the folk must not fall on the battlefield. Not only would they gain merit from that, they could also help put in a good word for the generals when they returned to their families. Ideally, Claude and the rest would be able to make up for their blunder with this deed.
Even though they had mortars and could most likely take the port without trouble, Claude still decided to send Myjack along with Tribe 131 and two light-cavalry clans to go along with Bolonik. That way, their safety would be ensured and they wouldn't fall prey to the grey-robed magi once more.
Weyblon Manor was now on full alert. The men of Tribe 131 wouldn't even let so much as a fly through, much to the inconvenience of Claude's family. He decided to send a clan from the tribe to guard Anna Farmstead and leave only one clan in Weyblon Manor. At least now it no longer looked like a heavily fortified military base.
Though he had regained consciousness, he still couldn't move and needed to recuperate for a long time. Perunt said that the two broken legs he suffered would take half a year to recover at least. His burnt back and injured innards would take three months. As for the cut on his left shoulder and the puncture wound near his right abdomen, they would heal in just half a month.
Saljorak came to the manor once more. He was the one working the hardest over the past half month, pulling multiple all-nighters. His eyes were bloodshot and he seemed really sleep deprived. Even though he knew that it wouldn't end well for him because of the assassination, he still mustered the resolve to see this matter to the end. He wanted to find proof that Majid III had been the one to hire the Greytower Magi to assassinate them as Claude had suggested.
Currently, he had two pieces of reliable evidence. The first was the two Shiksan informants Saljorak managed to capture after having 3rd Monolith search every corner of Lanu. According to their neighbours, a few days before the incident, a lot of relatives suddenly showed up and lived in the informants' houses. Two of the corpses of the dead magi were identified to be those so-called relatives.
That meant that the magi had lived in the homes of Shiksan informants before the attack was carried out. The second piece of evidence was how the attacks were conducted at different times. The magi targeting Aljess launched their attack early because the team that went for Claude ran into more trouble than they expected and caused a huge commotion. They were forced to act in a rush. That went to show that Aljess wasn't their only target. The fact that Claude was also involved meant that the assassination wasn't ordered by someone with a personal vendetta against Aljess.
Unlike Aljess, Claude had a relatively simple military career and he had no personal grudges against people that would prompt their hiring of seven magi to claim his life. The only party he wronged would be Shiks, given how he almost single handedly obliterated three of their standing corps and completely changed the outlook of the war and even sparking an internal rebellion in Shiks. Nobody but Majid III would have that much hate for him.
Saljorak had come to ask Claude for a testimony. Claude had, after all, killed the seven magi that came for his life, which was easily far more shocking than the fact they came to assassinate him. While he ended up gravely injured as well, that didn't mean he would be left alone. He would have to explain how he killed the seven assassin magi.
Fortunately, he only used Energy Barrier and no other spells throughout the engagement. He could excuse himself as having used a spell scroll or enchanted item for Energy Barrier easily. He also got Bloweyk to hand in two items: a ruined silver necklace and a revolver.
"This silver necklace was something I bought from the black market of Efenasburg while I was on the way to visit my family after the war ended. It cost me 12 crowns and the owner told me that it was made by the magus appointed by Duke Sidins for his lover's younger brother. The necklace contains a magical barrier that activates right before an attack spell strikes to prevent the wearer from sustaining any harm."
He seemed really emotionally charged as he gave his anecdote. "I only noticed that I had been scammed. The necklace does indeed have a magical barrier of sorts, but it shattered after taking only three hits. Even the necklace ended up like that. Had it not been for my rapid-fire revolver, I would've died by the grey-robed magi's hands..."
Saljorak took out a few more documents, all eyewitness testimonies from the crowd who saw Claude kill the seven magi. After making sure that his testimony lined up with the others', Saljorak breathed a sigh of relief and began playing around with the revolver. "Claude, I bet you'll be having a huge headache soon enough. I'm sure after this incident wraps up, you'll have lots of bigwigs coming to you with the intent of getting one such revolver with which to defend themselves..."