Claude regretted his choice the moment he set foot in the ring. He shouldn't have fallen for the provocation. If the four recovered and were sent to the infirmary once more in the name of training, there was no way Fitney would've been able to explain his behaviour away in the first place.
However, Claude's raged still burned for Fitney had threatened him with the safety of those four nobles. In the previous demonstration, Fitney could excuse himself for going a little too harsh because of how hard it was to fight four against one. It also wouldn't be a far cry to say that he was trying to show the cadets how truly harsh battlefield conditions were to explain his behaviour away. However, he wouldn't be able to force Claude into dueling him unless Claude himself wanted to do so.
That was why he'd provoked him. Fitney was now a staff-sergeant, a commissioned officer of the army, so he wouldn't want to leave a dark spot on his career record, anyway. Even if he asked Claude to be part of his combat training demonstration, Claude had right to refuse. There was no way to force it on him.
Only if Claude challenged him directly could Fitney excuse himself by saying that he was trying to teach a disrespectful junior to respect a senior officer. Even if he severely injured Claude, he wouldn't be punished according to martial law. That was the reason he waited for more than a month and played the role of the tentsman properly and endured the urge to get payback against Claude. The month of combat training was already opportunity enough.
Claude knew he was no match for Fitney a few moves in. The latter was indeed a master pugilist. Claude was completely at a disadvantage and had suffered a few punches already. He was only able to protect his vitals throughout the fight.
Fitney's punches were swift and powerful. He also darted around like an ethereal phantom. Claude wasn't able to attack any part of his body at all. In his previous fights against Blacksnake thugs, he had used magic to aim for their vitals and mostly reserved fist fighting for ambushes. That was why he was sent to the infirmary after the brawl despite taking out the six senior soldiers with him.
Only after he was faced with a master pugilist did he understand how much his number one rank in school amounted to. Without using magic, he had no way to retaliate at all. Fitney looked like he was toying a frenzied monkey and was easily able to land punches on Claude's face, leaving a harsh mark behind.
Claude was already on his last legs. Even with both his hands in a tight guard in front of his face and protecting other vitals such as his chest, he wasn't able to prevent Fitney from slipping a punch through the cracks in his guard. Fortunately for him, however, his vitals were still firmly guarded.
Fitney was already a blur that moved incessantly quick. He almost couldn't be properly perceived. However, Claude grit his teeth and refused to yield. He struggled to maintain his cool and waited for a chance to launch a counterattack. Fitney on the other hand was greatly enjoying the session. So long as Claude didn't give up, he could rough him up.
"Even after pushing the enemy to a disadvantage, we must not grow careless on the battlefield and give them any opportunities to strike back." Fitney was still in the mood to continue his lecture. He was feeling on the top of his world.
He moved forward, ducked left, and hooked right, striking his fist harshly on Claude's right arm and causing him to stagger backwards with both his arms open and exposing his chest. However, Fitney took two steps back and didn't advance, choosing to forego the chance to land a critical hit.
"You must be wondering why I didn't strike his solar plexus, right?" Fitney explained with a smile, "That might be a chance to deal a heavy blow, or it could also be a trap. We must be able to tell the difference between them on the battlefield. If we have lots of enemies around us, taking a few risks here and there is acceptable. Your odds of survival will only increase if you can take out one more enemy. But in our current case..."
Fitney pointed at the dazed Claude. "The enemy is already in such a state. So now that I have absolute advantage, I am prioritising my own safety and trying to exterminate the enemy without suffering any damage. As long as there's a risk, I won't take it. Just now, he had his hands down and exposed his chest. It was indeed a chance for a fatal blow, but you must also be aware that if the enemy is still capable of resisting, you might end up getting grappled by both his hands. That might give him a chance to turn the tables on you. Many people on the battlefield think that they have the absolute advantage only to end up having the rug pulled from under them and falling. What a joke..."
Apart from the other four bloodied nobles and the staggering Claude, there were seven other tentmates receiving the lecture. They clearly knew about the enmity between Claude and Fitney because the big-mouthed Moriad ran his mouth over it more than once. They didn't think that Fitney would choose this day to get back at them, however.
Even though they were rather sympathetic to Claude and the other four, they were more relieved that they weren't part of it. Fitney really did choose a wonderful opportunity for revenge. He was able to hurt Claude and the others and escape all consequences and punishment. Even as he was giving Claude the beating of his life, he didn't forget to advise the others on what to do while fighting on the battlefield.
Fitney kicked at Claude's lower abdomen and caused him to slump down while clutching his waist. Then, he gave Claude a harsh kick on the back. Claude seemed to crash into the ground unconscious like that.
Fitney approached Claude in a relaxed manner and kicked his body. He then turned to the others. "On the battlefield, that doesn't mean that you've won. Freak accidents often happen and even a soldier can be completely overwhelmed by an enemy on the ground because they forgot that the enemy hasn't completely lost the ability to retaliate.
"What you have to do is to focus on the enemy's limbs." Fitney stepped on Claude's left hand and went down hard. A soft pop of a break could be heard. "There are many weapons on the battlefield you can use to cripple your enemy. Any enemy with their limbs intact might take the chance to give all they got to take you down together with them when they awaken. So, you must be careful of corpses on the battlefield. One of them might be an unconscious, but living, enemy who will be looking for a partner together on the voyage to the war god's kingdom in the afterlife..."
Fitney moved his leg away from Claude's left hand and approached his legs. He put his boot on Claude's left calf. "This happened to a veteran of Bluefeather some twenty years ago. Back then, he was part of a war and the army managed to emerge victorious. He was left to clean the battlefield up and he didn't notice an enemy barely clinging to life amidst a pile of corpses. His mind was full of checking the enemy's pockets for money, only to end up being stabbed in the chest when he wasn't paying attention by the enemy with a broken-off bayonet. That was how that veteran became the last one to perish on that battlefield.
"The moral of the story is: the only good enemy is a dead one. On the battlefield, if you aren't able to check whether an enemy is truly dead, don't approach the corpse no matter what. Or, you can do what I'm doing now. First, inspect whether there's a weapon beside the enemy. Then, check their limbs. The best way to do that is to stomp on every limb of theirs to see whether they react."
Fitney pressed his leg down hard. He was going to cripple Claude's limbs and have him lie in the infirmary for two to three months and let him feel the pain his brothers felt.
The pain of having his calf pressed down on snapped Claude awake. He opened his eyes and only saw Fitney with his leg on his calf while he spoke to the other tentmates.
He didn't even think and raised his leg with all he had and sunk it into Fitney's crotch. After that, his eyes rolled and he fainted blissfully.
By the time he reawakaned, he was in an infirmary bed. The bandaged and bruising face of Berklin was before his eyes, wearing a beaming smile at the sight of his awakening. It took Claude quite a while to recognise who that face belonged to under all that bandage.
He felt that a metal plate weighing a few hundred catties was pressed on his chest. His body hurt rather badly and his voice was hoarse. He could barely speak. His head also felt really groggy. The sight of anything made him feel like passing out. His left hand was in a cast and his left leg felt really heavy and pulsed with pain.
Berklin was so excited he couldn't even speak properly. He pulled on the bell rope beside the bed onstop and caused quite a cacophony.
Soon, the door was opened and Perunt entered. "What's up? He's awake? Then all is well. You've been out for two days and nights. If you didn't reawaken, even I wouldn't be able to save you."
I was actually out for that long? He was still rather disoriented and no longer remembered why he was knocked out in the first place. He only vaguely remembered his last kick and seemed to recall hearing some nuts crack and an ear-piercing shriek.
"You got hurt far worse than the last time. You got a concussion, heavy internal injuries, a broken left palm, fractures on your left calf and three broken ribs on your right. Your swelling face and arms are the only external injuries you suffered. You'll have to take at least two to three months to recover this time around," Perunt reported as he busied himself with a concoction.
When he was done, he got to Claude's bedside and put the bottle to his mouth. "Drink this and go to sleep. I'll have you fed porridge at night. Do you know that I've been feeding you two of my most precious grandwood potions over the past two days? It's pained me greatly to do so, you know. I only have three bottles of that and I fed you two when you were knocked out. If you didn't wake up today, I would've had to use my third too..."
Grandwood potion was actually a concoction made from the ginseng of this world. Naturally, it wasn't actually called ginseng. It was seen as wood essence. The highest grade grandwood potions could even completely revitalise someone. Though Claude knew that the quality of Perunt's grandwood potions couldn't possibly be that good, he was still thankful that the good doctor used it to treat him.
Seeing Claude drink the disgusting concoction he made, he shook his head and clicked his tongue. "That Fitney really went all out this time. If your injuries were worse, you would've been crippled. Fortunately, he isn't faring much better either. If you could switch places, I believe even you wouldn't be willing to suffer that kick of yours. Poor guy... He never imagined that he would now become a laughing stock of the whole of Bluefeather..."
Just as Claude was about to ask Perunt about Fitney, the urge to sleep assailed him and he shut his eyes powerlessly and drifted into the darkness.