Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 530
Claude received two eagle messages from Eiblont. He read the dates and noticed they were sent at the same time as Blancarte and the informants' letters. They were all sent on the first day, but there was an order to them. The informants' letters arrived at noon whereas the prime minister's arrived in the evening.
While the two letters arrived on the same day, they contained wildly contrasting accounts. The prime minister's were obviously sent when he found out the queen had sent troops to attack the region's bank's branch office and capture all councillors and entitled soldiers, and transporting the 30 million crowns to the palace. It was an obvious act of damage control.
Blancarte said the queen worried for the money and the safety of those at the branch office and had invited them all to the palace. He asked Claude and company to not worry as the king and queen bore them no ill will.
Claude then read the letter sent by the king the next day. Fredrey I said that since the region's 30 million crowns had been publicly displayed in the plaza, causing word of it to spread throughout the capital.
It stirred many poisonous eyes from their hidey holes. The queen had proof of an impending attack so she sent the troops to ensure the envoys' and their money's safety by inviting them to the palace.
Claude waved the letters in his hand.
"Do any of you believe even a single punctuation in this letter?"
Eiblont hesitated, but spoke up eventually.
"While an outrage broke out after our informants' letters arrived, the new letters caused quite a number of councillors to hold different positions. Many believe that, given the prime minister and His Majesty himself wrote us, it isn't as serious as it sounds. Otherwise, they wouldn't bother to give an explanation. We should watch and see."
Claude shook his head. No wonder Bolonik evaluated Eiblont to be a great general but a bad leader. Without anyone speaking for him, he would hesitate to trust his opinion and miss out on the best opportunities to strike.
"What about General Birkin?"
"He has ordered Monolith's two folks to prepare. They are infantry, however, so it will take some time for them to move."
Claude casually tossed the letters on the desk.
"These are lies to make us hesitate. You shouldn't have waited these three days, Eilon. You should have deployed our men immediately. We should have showed the capital we have no qualms about marching on their walls.
"If this was a misunderstanding, the Lord Militant and Chairman would be the ones writing to us, not the king and prime minister. The king would have no business weighing in on this were what he said in his letter true.
"These two letters, far from correcting a misunderstanding, prove our informants were correct! The queen lusted after our money and has robbed us. This is malicious, pernicious, and damned stupid!
"The prime minister and our dear king are wiping her arse. They, at least, haven't let the money completely wipe out what few bits of brain they have left. That we've not heard from our side at all just damns them even more.
"We will wait no longer. Our friends are in greater danger every moment we further delay. Perhaps the bigwigs at the royal capital think we wouldn't dare pull such a rash move and would give up on the rest, hoping that our unity would crack and then taking our money... My orders are thus--" Everyone, Eiblont included, stood ramrod straight in anticipation. "--Send an eagle message to General Birkin. Tell him to send a folk to the roads connecting Audin Mountain Range, Eimis, and Polyvisia and take it. Increase security, gather supplies, and prepare for battle!"
The corps' chief signaller coded the order down formally and handed it to Claude for his signature, before dashing to the signalling department to forward the order to Birkin.
"Order Thundercrash's 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Folks to gear up. We set out for the capital tomorrow morning. The 4th will be the vanguard. Eilon, you will lead them. Kill anyone that dares get in your way!"
They needed to cross more than ten noble fiefs to reach the kingdom's original territory. Claude was a little trigger happy. He wanted to help himself to a few daft nobles along the way. He had the excuse, so it would be a shame if they had suddenly grown brains. If they hadn't, he'd make sure they never had the chance to.
He let 4th be the vanguard since its men were old Hansbach men. Fredrey I still hadn't pardoned them, so they still bore absolutely no goodwill for his side.
"Send another eagle message to the ministry of the army and inform them that we expect every single crown and our people returned unharmed. Tell them we are marching Thundercrash on the capital to receive them, and if they're not waiting for them at the gates, we'll bust them down and burn every building in our search for them.
"If any men stand in our way, we will stomp them into the ground as the enemies they would be. If they try to fight us, we will uproot their trees, roots and all. This is war!"
The orders and declaration was drafted and Claude stamped it.
"After sending this to the ministry," Claude told the signaller, "send the order to the whole kingdom. I want everyone to understand that we are marching on the capital, and why."
"Yes, Lord Militant!"
Just as the signaller was about to leave, Claude stopped him.
"Wait. Apart from notifying the kingdom's other areas, don't forget to send it to our troops in Thundercrash and Monolith as well. Tell our warriors that we're marching there to save our innocent representatives and our wealth! Our sacred right shall not be infringed upon!"
"Yes, Lord Militant!"
The officers were gone a moment later to carry out their numerous tasks and preparations for the upcoming war. The three folks would be departing the next day, so there was much to do. They had no choice but to work through the night. Claude could finally take a good rest. He sipped away at a glass of delicious fruit wine as he wondered how the royal capital would react after getting note of Thundercrash and Monolith's movements. Would civil war really break out?
Not long after, Eiblont returned to his office, having given all the orders he needed to. He shut the door and poured himself a glass of wine, before hesitantly asking Claude some questions.
"You said just now that the longer we wait, the more danger the others will be in, and that it might fracture our unity and allow the kingdom to get our 30 million crowns. Could that really be possible? Would the kingdom really dare to turn against us just like this?"
Claude could only sigh at the politically insensitive Eiblont. "If I were the king or prime minister, do you know what I would do to wipe the greedy Queen Christie's mess away and solve this incident?"
Eiblont shook his head. "I don't know, but since their letters arrived, we'd find out about whether this is a misunderstanding or not soon. Our representatives might be released and the money will be returned."
Claude smiled cynically. "That's what they want you to think. They want you to trust their word and stay put so they have more time to erode away at our solidarity until we devolve into chaos. They'll get the 30 million crowns as a result while watching us bicker among ourselves, pretending to support different factions among us and accelerating our demise."
"I don't believe it. There's no way they can achieve that!"
"They definitely can't in the short term. But if we trust their word and hesitate about sending our troops up, they'll drag this on for up to ten days to half a month. That's when the worst-case scenario might really come to pass.
"You know, Eilon, that the five of us got hereditary noble Titles, so we don't have to pay an elevation fee to get a fief. But the five of us stand together with the other representatives in this matter and will give up on our fiefs if they don't get theirs, right?"
"Yes. That's what we promised."
"But so far, the royal capital isn't willing to give us a good deal. They are insistent on scraping a huge chunk of wealth from us." Claude emptied the wine bottle into his glass. "President Henderman's estimations put the price offered by the king at around 100 million crowns. It's far too high for us to afford for all of us to get our fiefs, so we decided to give up on the offer.
"But before giving up, Lord Militant Bolonik and the others showed off the 30 million crowns at the plaza in front of the palace and argued that it wasn't that we didn't have the money. We showed our wealth, but that only resulted in the trouble those at the royal capital are facing now.
"We believed that the king and prime minister would be rational enough to not try anything reckless on account of our forces, lest they start a war in the process. We trusted them to be able to hold their own desires back and keep the other ministers in line so that the rest of us won't come under any threat.
"But we had forgotten about the queen completely. Her Majesty is married to His Majesty for a few years now and even bore him a son. Back then, our king still hadn't ascended to the throne, being merely a low-profile prince. It's thanks to Queen Christie's machinations and the influence her family has on the royal guard that they mounted the coup to put him on the throne.
"That's why the king is really fond of his spouse and is quite tolerant of her antics. We didn't take into account the bad reputation among the officials and citizens about this queen. Some even call her a dragon in human skin with an insatiable greed for wealth, a penchant for luxury and pleasure, and a nose so high that she always looked down on people. Like a dragon from legend, she loves to hoard wealth and treasures.
"Queen Christie didn't care about our might probably because she thinks we wouldn't dare offend her just because of her Title. Any act against her would be an act of treason against the kingdom, after all, giving the kingdom ample excuse to wipe us out with their forces. She doesn't care how many people will be sacrificed for those 30 million crowns.
"It's tragic that our king and prime minister have to clean up after a queen like that. They are well aware of our might and the fact that they are only able to have what they have now because of our two corps. So, to resolve this incident, they can only do one thing to stop us from acting.
"They'll hold us back for now to buy time and threaten the captured soldiers and council members. As long as a majority of them are willing to hand the money over for fiefs, they would be able to grant some of them fiefs at the cost of 30 million instead of all of us.
"That's the ideal way to resolve this situation. Basically, this mess will be reframed as an internal conflict between our representatives, since a majority of us spent all the money for their own fiefs, leaving the rest of us without hereditary Titles or our own fiefs.
"By then, it's no longer the responsibility of the king, queen or prime minister. They can fully claim to be worried for the safety of our representatives and money. They can say that their subordinates mistakenly transported the representatives. Then, the king only has to apologise for the so-called misunderstanding.
"As for the money, we'll have spent it all. There'll be proof, complete with receipts, signatures and seals from a portion of our representatives. Everything will be lawful and in order.
"The king will have enfeoffed those who sold us out their land according to their choice without any deception or trickery. They picked them of their own free will. As for the others that didn't get their fiefs, they can only blame the ones who did, not the kingdom."
"What... what are the odds of that happening?" Eiblont asked, dumbfounded.
"It's the most likely thing to happen!" Claude said, "I'd wager that in two weeks, some arrested representatives wouldn't be able to take their special interrogation techniques any longer. As long as some tens of them submit, our unity will be completely shattered. The 30 million crowns will then belong to the king and queen proper.
"That's why we have to rush to the royal capital as soon as possible. Eilon, send the royal capital another letter and tell them that without the signatures from all five of us of the region's military, none of the council members have any right to use the 30 million crowns. I expect to see every single coin in their chests untouched by the time I arrive."