In a large wooden building in Fokby Base, a colonel bearing a shoulder mark with three silver crescent moons banged on the table.
"Have your heads been kicked by a donkey or something? Even though you knew they held grudges against each other, you allowed Fitney to be assigned into Claude's tent just because he asked? Are you trying to give us trouble? How do you think we should report this to the upper brass now that such a big commotion has been caused, huh?!"
The one being scolded was none other than First Lieutenant Sidori. He was the one who allowed Fitney to be Claude's tentsman. Little did he think that things would turn out that way to the point that the whole corps knew about it.
"Sir, I... even I didn't think it'd turn out this way... I... I just thought that this Claude can't b-b-be taught or reprimanded conventionally... He is too hard to control and even sent six senior soldiers to the infirmary on his first day in camp... N-normal seniors won't be able to manage him, t-that's why I planned to have Fitney assigned to the task t-to teach him a lesson s-so that he doesn't act high and mighty in the base," Sidori explained with a pale look.
"What kind of inquisitor are you?! Don't you even read the file?!" The angered colonel flung his cup to Sidori, completely wetting his uniform.
He thumped on the table and continued, "Claude is a candidate recommended by Viscount Felidos! He was our corps' former general, our senior with amazing military merits! The first ever recommendation he gave us was Claude because he thought he was a talent to be moulded and developed! Not only that, Second Lieutenant Most also has high regards for Claude! Among the 400 or so cadets, only seventeen got distinction and Claude was ranked first!
"As for the brawl in the mess hall, everyone knows that the senior soldiers did the provocation first. That's how they ended up in the infirmary. Our corps has decided on punishing them with thirty canes each and that doesn't mean that Claude is hard to control. After the recent training incident, our investigations revealed that all Claude's tentmates have a high opinion of him and see him as a comrade worth trusting.
"First Lieutenant Sidori, I don't know why you're so prejudiced against Claude for you to completely ignore his stellar performance during his past few months of training here. As an inquisitor, you should judge each and every soldier fairly, not cause them trouble intentionally. I believe you ought to resign. You are not fit for this position. I will think about your transfer after I get further instruction from the corps."
"Understood, Colonel Montauk. Your will is my command," replied Sidori.
"You may leave." Montauk couldn't be bothered to show Sidori any courtesy.
"Understood." Sidori tried his best to puff out his chest and saluted before he turned and left. However, his stiff footsteps exposed his inner panic.
Within the building was another row of officers who stood like wooden mannequins. Claude would recognise Captain Mykes, Second Lieutenant Most and Second Lieutenant Chirp among them. They didn't move a single inch when the colonel was raging out just now and tried their best to melt into the background, lest they divert the colonel's anger upon themselves.
Montauk sat back down in his chair tiresomely. He picked up two letters on the table and looked at the seals on them and shook his head. "Our former general really brought us quite a lot of trouble! I really didn't know why he bothered to recommend Baroness Maria's disciple into our corps... Since he's an apprentice herbalist, can't he wait until he gets his beginner herbalist certification before enlisting him? Right now, even sergeant-majors have to go on the battlefield... I wonder how our former general will make up to the baroness if Claude perishes on the battlefield..."
There was another stack of envelopes on the table addressed to the same person: Claude Ferd. The two letters Montauk picked out were addressed to him as well. Those two letters were laced with golden floral patterns that signified the noble status of the sender. The return address of the letter was the Normanley estate. It wasn't hard to determine the sender.
Had it not been for those two letters by Maria, the training incident wouldn't have shaken the whole corps. Montauk wouldn't have dealt with it like it was an emergency either.
"Colonel, when Claude enlisted, his file didn't state that he was a disciple of Baroness Maria. We weren't aware of that fact," Chirp added.
"It's precisely because of that that we're in such dire straits," Montauk said with an exasperated sigh, "If nothing happened, we could've pretended not to know anything about it after the training ends. Whether he lives or dies on the battlefield will be up to his own luck and not have anything to do with us. But now that such an incident has occurred during training, it has become our responsibility. That cursed Sidori must've nothing in that empty skull of his... His actions have put us in a tight spot!"
At the sight of the expressions of wonder of the officers in the room, Montauk smiled and stood up. "You all should be aware that war will break out in half a year at most. It's incredibly possible that our kingdom will declare war against the five-nation alliance during the 6th month. We will have to mount an attack on the Kingdom of Nasri and the Duchy of Sidins. The first wave of attacks will be conducted by the corps Bluefeather, Reddragon and Griffon. The problem is that we haven't decided on whether we would be attacking both places concurrently or focusing our forces on one first while defending from the other.
"If we choose the former, then Bluefeather will have to deploy alone or along with one other corps. There's also the question of who will be vanguard. If we're assigned to be vanguard, there's no way we will be left for defence. Our general is currently discussing with the ministry of the army in hopes that we will be deployed as a sole unit, or at least be teamed up with another corps during the attack. There is no way we will be relegated to aid another corps or stay back for defence. Word is that Reddragon and Griffon have also visited the ministry of the army. Do you get my drift with this?"
Everyone nodded. The high officers' eyes were gleaming. If they were lucky, glory and merit would be theirs. No officer would hate war. That was one way they could get promoted quickly. Given that Bluefeather had only been involved in a few small skirmishes or revolts during the past two decades, they hadn't had an opportunity to take part in battle. With the war encroaching upon them, nobody would squander the chance to advance their careers with merit.
They also knew well what the general went to the royal capital for. The two nations neighbouring Aueras, Nasri and Sidins, had long readied their defensive fortifications at the border. They were like crabs sporting hard and tough shells. Only after prying the shell open could the delicious meat within be reached.
If Bluefeather couldn't be made the vanguard, they would definitely be sent to attack the defensive fortifications. While it wasn't an unaccomplishable task for them, they would definitely pay a huge price in casualties. The worst case would be if they actually managed to crack open the crab's shell only to have to retreat and let the other corps enjoy the spoils.
"But Colonel Montauk, what does that have to do with Claude's incident?" Mykes asked.
"It has everything to do with it. His herbalism teacher is Baroness Maria and she practically His Majesty's sister. She can freely enter the royal court and is just like family to the queen and the princes. Her words hold real weight for His Majesty. If Claude manages to finish training and emerges a master sergeant, then there would be no issue at all. He would have to distinguish himself on the battlefield if he wants any merits and even if he perishes there, Baroness Maria would have nothing to say about it.
"However, he's been injured twice ever since he enlisted. We can avoid taking responsibility for the first incident because it was so abrupt and couldn't have been prevented. He lashed out because of the senior soldiers' provocation and both sides ended up in the infirmary. We punished them all without exception by solitary confinement after their injuries recovered. This is still excusable so far.
"But now, Sidori has ruined everything. He intentionally assigned that Fitney to be Claude's tentsman and gave him an opportunity for revenge. And now, Claude would have to rest in bed for at least two or three months before recovering. What do you think Baroness Maria would feel if she found out about this?
"Wouldn't she think that we're intentionally causing trouble for her disciple? That's especially the case after he was once more sent to the infirmary because of somebody's payback after he has distinguished himself so well during training. Our corps will definitely be held responsible for this..."
"I heard that Baroness Maria had never liked to interfere with military affairs and nor help others with their favours. Many people tried to go through her to get a good word in to the king, only to be all refused," Mykes said.
Montauk sighed. "It's for that reason alone that we can't afford to offend her. We don't wish for her to speak on Bluefeather's behalf. All we want is for her to not ruin our plans. Think about it. If she finds that her disciple Claude got hurt because of petty revenge during training, all she has to do is to badmouth our corps in front of His Majesty and we'll definitely not be assigned to be vanguard. We might even be ordered to stay back for defence.
"That's the reason I was so mad at First Lieutenant Sidori just now. He had always been proud of his noble birth and had always looked down on peasant soldiers. Doctor Perunt told me that Claude refused to let Sidori admonish him and even talked back to him after the incident. Sidori has held that grudge ever since then and assigned Fitney to be Claude's tentsman as a result and led to our dilemma today.
"In the letter Claude wrote to the baroness, he didn't bring up the brawl and only mentioned that he finished new recruit training and would begin officer training soon. The rest of the letters was nothing but pleasantries. What we didn't expect was that she would write two replies. In the first, she said that she would be taking Claude's 15-year-old sister, Angelina, as her disciple and opined that she was more talented than Claude. She even wanted to bring Angelina to the royal capital with her for proper care and training. However, the girl refused the offer on the reason that she had to take care of her mother and younger brother.
"The contents of the second letter was even more shocking. According to our investigation, Claude helped Baroness Maria form a real estate development company in Whitestag and took charge of the construction agreement of the naval base with Viscount Wenisk. Their company took over the whole development of the base and he made Baroness Maria a fortune as a result. That's why she values him so much. She even discussed the future development of the company with him in the second letter.
"If Claude tells the baroness about how he got injured due to someone seeking payback, I believe that she would stand up for him. If our general finds out that his plans have been ruined because of this and Bluefeather would be relegated to defensive duties or play a helping role for another corps, I have no doubt that he'll swallow First Lieutenant Sidori alive without any seasoning. So, gentlemen, let's think of how we should deal with this incident to placate Claude, shall we?"