"Today was great, Chief. I had lots of fun. Too bad our training starts tomorrow. We could've spent the night at the tavern otherwise," Berklin said as he lay on the bunk next to Claude's.
The four nobles had had fun with all they had. They almost called two maidservants each and only went downstairs for dinner, clutching the handrails, legs shaking. Claude waited at the tavern's main hall the whole afternoon and flipped through the newspapers two or three times each. He now had a rough understanding of Freia's political situation.
He paid for the meal and dragged the four back to camp. They were still immersed in the afterglow of their relaxation, but Claude was thinking about the news he had read.
The eastern half of the continent was slowly falling apart. The kingdom wiped out the pirates in three months with its new fleet and secured the new trade route.
On the 25th of the 10th month, more than 150 ships formed up and headed to the colonies on Nubissia. It was three times the size of the one that travelled to Nubissia on the 'voyage of blood' as it was known back then.
As a result, the five anti-Auerasian nations' fleets had lost their worth. They could still lock Aueras' trade routes before, but now that was impossible. Not to mention that, while it could previously fund itself with the spoils it got from its victories at sea, it now had nothing but fishing. Three of the duchies didn't have any colonies on Nubissia and were already squabbling over the fleets' future.
If not for Nasri's investments to stabilise the alliance, the fleets might have been disbanded altogether. Only Nasri's fleet and the four other duchies' could rival Aueras'. They could do no such thing on dry land.
The Alliance had barged into the kingdom's waters more than ten times with excuses such as hunting pirates or losing their way. They even pretended to be pirates from time to time and sacked a couple towns. Aueras had issued a strong and strict warning that bordered on a declaration of war in response.
Claude wondered why the kingdom's enemies dared provoke it at sea. His question was answered by a newspaper article in an issue from the previous month. Shiks, a northern superpower, had a cooperative transport agreement with Nasri. Shiks would send a corps of 50 thousand soldiers to Nubissia with the Alliance's fleet.
Nasri's colony on Nubissia wasn't large, only about equal to one Aueran colony. And, much of it was covered by desolate wastelands. If war ever broke out, it would be conquered within a couple weeks. Hence why Nasri had a love-hate relationship with the place. If they wanted to benefit from its resources, they had to guard it with a substantial military garrison. But they only had two tribes of soldiers for the task.
On the other hand, Shiks' colony on Nubissia which neighbored Nasri's was large. It occupied lots of area on the continent, second to only Aueras. However, it was located deeply inland. The coastal areas nearby lacked good places for ports, so Shiks had never paid much regard to that colony. Initially, they went to Nubissia with the intent to mine and forgot to prioritise looking for a good coastal area to keep. It resulted in them having no choice but to route their ore through the colonies of other nations on Nubissia.
From those points, Claude could conclude that Nasri definitely had a secret military agreement with Shiks. Shiks would send a corps of troops to Nubissia and they would have to rely on Nasri's Port Vebator for logistics. The ports of their own colonies were of far lower standard than that of Port Vebator and weren't able to accommodate large, long-distance vessels which could only sail in deep waters.
Nasri's aid would threaten the seven colonies of Aueras. Even though those colonies had a combined force of around 100 thousand, their areas spanned too wide and they would lose in terms of numbers if they spread themselves thin to defend all territories. Not to mention, their troops in the colonies were only armed as much as troops on second or third lines of defense and were far from capable of handling the troops of Shiks, who were equipped for open-field battles.
Most worrying for the elite of Aueras was whether Nasri would just sell their colony to Shiks. To Nasri, the colony wasn't worth much with it having only one large silver mine within. Nearby was Moknad, also called the city of silver, and Port Vebator, which was deep enough to accommodate large ships. Apart from those, nothing else was worth mentioning. There wasn't enough land to raise good crop and they even relied on yearly food imports from the homeland of Nasri, or the occasional merchant vessel for sustenance.
If Shiks had bought the Nasrian colony, Aueras and Shiks' colonies would be connected together. Should war break out and if Shiks picked the side of the five nations, they were more than capable of attacking the seven colonies of Aueras even though there was no need to worry about the Freian front.
As a result, Aueras would have to deal with war on both the Freian front with the five nations and on Nubissia with Shiks. It was a tough choice between having enough troops or enough resources for the Aueran elite. The only way out was to launch the first strike before the enemies' forces were prepared and try to best one of their enemies during that time before preparing to face the others.
Claude couldn't tell how the situation would develop. The only conclusion he derived from the news was that war was inevitable and he would have to set foot on the battlefield sooner or later.
That realisation greatly spoiled his mood. He lay on his bed blankly with his hands behind his head. Aboyev seemed unable to fall asleep too. "Chief, what do you think our officer training will be like? It feels so annoying to have to start another training course even though we just finished our new recruit training. Can't we just work as normal soldiers here in the camp and get one day of break every ten days to head to the city?"
"What will we train in? How to manage new recruits well of course. Didn't you hear what Doctor Perunt said this morning? Bluefeather's recruitment drive has begun. It will be carried out in four phases and each batch would number around five to six thousand people. When our training is complete, the last batch of soldiers will have been recruited. We will be taught how to manage the new recruits like our instructors did to us. Do you think you can boss them around without proper training?"
"Well... It's just that I never imagined I would lead recruits..." Aboyev muttered, then, "Chief, does that mean we're going our separate ways? I wanted to stay with you..."
"Of course we'd have to," Berklin chimed, "It's not just the chief. We can't stick together either. We'll be chiefs in our own right for the next round of greenhorns. If we're lucky, we'll be assigned in the same tribe. If we're not... Well, even if that's the case, we won't remain in Bluefeather for more than a year or two. Maybe when you see me in the future, you'll have to call me Lord General..."
His words brought on in a bout of involuntary chuckling. Aboyev's embarrassment turned into anger. He tossed his pillow at Berklin.
"Buzz off... You think you can become a general? Dream on! There are enough people like you for the kingdom to form a whole corps!"
Claude shook his head. Ideals were fine, but reality was harsh. Under the foot of every general was a mountain of corpses. While the path on the battlefield might come with merit and glory, one couldn't pray hard enough to survive the harsh conditions, especially greenhorns like them who would be used as cannon fodder.
"By the way, Chief, I managed to learn something."
Berklin ended his squabble with Aboyev and handed his pillow back.
"What is it?"
"The vets' training just ended, right? I heard the top 50 will be assigned as our sergeant-majors. They're supposed to teach us how to lead men."
"And just where did you hear that?"
"I overheard Lieutenant Most saying that to someone."
"It should be true, then. We'll find out tomorrow. You should take their lessons to heart. We've only been in the army for three months now. If we don't go with the training properly, we'll be in trouble. If we can't handle our recruits, we'll be laughing stocks. Alright, enough talk for now. Get some sleep. We're getting up early tomorrow."
The rest of the night was completely quiet.
The next day, after breakfast, the horn sounded for an assembly. All the cadets were to gather in the field. As expected, 50 vets were waiting for them.
The course's main instructor was absent, replaced by Captain Mykes. He'd probably been transferred out. Claude saw Lieutenant Sidori stand behind him respectfully with a reserved smile instead of his usual cold expression.
Mykes looked a little sleep-deprived. He only spoke for a couple short minutes, then announced who got which vet.
Claude watched as vet after vet received their orders, then moved to their new stations. A couple minutes in, one particular newly promoted sergeant-major approached Claude.
"I told you, you're not escaping me..." the sergeant-major said, his cold white teeth glinting vindictively in the morning sunlight.
The man's insignia had changed from the three straight bars of a staff-sergeant, to the two waves of a sergeant-major.