It all began when Second Lieutenant Most, put in charge of the defenses in the mountain range, was ordered to take the irregulars and the captured deserters and return to Gourneygada. Oddly enough, the message didn't make any mention of Claude's keepers, who were watching the pass' entrance. Claude had little choice but to head to Eimis and ask about what was going on.
His orders, however, remained the same: stay put. The 11th Tribe was about to withdraw to Kafreizit to reorganise, resupply, and reinforce. His healers were still needed in Eimis. Claude's force was the only one still fully intact, and so he had to stay to hold the pass.
He thus returned to his post and continued counting stars at night. The two months that followed were not <i>entirely</i> soulless. He had to check everyone that came and went through the pass, and the kingdom was constantly moving supplies and men back and forth. And the post, for all its boredom, did come with perks.
If anyone was transporting alcohol or extraneous supplies, for example, they had to pay a fee for using the pass since they were not essential military supplies. The keepers kept a good portion of it for themselves, and nobles seemed to be unable to abstain from such luxuries, so it was a lucrative business. Claude's personal share of the fees, which was not insubstantial, netted him about a crown in the first month, and about as much the second.
The end of their second month saw Perunt packing up and returning to Kafreizit with most of the injured. Claude tried to tag along, but Perunt said he'd been ordered explicitly to move only his personnel and the injured. From what he'd heard, Eimis was to get a new local keeper unit and Claude would be put under their command.
Claude didn't know he'd been abandoned by his unit, so he had little choice but to obey. Bluefeather was undergoing extensive restructuring, and his unit had been pressed into campaign before they were officially instated.
He'd gotten all the failures, and now that the unit was being restructured, it made sense they'd want to get rid of such an underwhelming, unnecessary, and unwanted group of men. Neither Claude nor any of his men had fought alongside any of the rest of the unit, either. They had no bonds and had not proven their abilities in real combat. No one thus felt any compunction to give them the benefit of the doubt. No one wanted to offend Claude's backers by taking his unit away from him, however, and on top of that they didn't want to handle such a hot potato, so they took the easy way out and tossed him into a small, new, keeper unit far away from everywhere else in the kingdom, quite literally cut off from it by a mountain range.
Claude was completely flabbergasted. He'd been moved from one of the kingdom's most renowned and respected forces to a backwater, barely held, recently conquered city quite literally cut off from the rest of the kingdom. He'd gone from an up-and-coming soldier, rapidly climbing through the ranks, to a stooge in a dead-end job, forgotten by everyone.
This was unreasonable! He had only heard of local forces being absorbed into forces like Bluefeather. He'd never heard of standing army units being kicked out to pasture in small, local backwaters!
Perunt wasn't happy to leave him behind either, but orders were orders. He had his guesses as to why this was being done, but he knew better than to blather, lest they decide Eimis might have need of someone of his skillset as well.
"It's not that bad when you look at it this way. Bluefeather will be on the battlefield in a couple of months again. You won't have to march with them, though. You've got a nice and safe job watching this pass."
Perunt had a point, Claude had to admit. He sent the man off and hitched a ride to Eimis with Moriad and Berklin to meet his new superiors.
The local keeper tribe's HQ was a small two-storey building just a couple down from the ruined city hall. Claude was quickly informed that right now the unit was only a clan strong, and most of them were already on duty manning the city gates since the city had nothing in the way of town guards at the moment.
The captain in charge was a man named Wardlov. The man demanded a name list for Claude's unit the moment the youth stepped into his office. He sent for someone to replace Claude immediately as well, since Claude didn't have the appropriate rank for his command.
Claude didn't mind losing his command. He only wanted to maintain control over his sharpshooters.
Claude handed the list Perunt had prepared for him before his departure to the captain. He'd shaken so much when the man had taken it out. It had been physical confirmation that he'd been put out to pasture.
The captain flipped through the dossier quickly, then stared at Claude, flinging the papers onto his desk.
"What is the deal with your band? Are these profiles real?"
The files noted the comments of the instructors during the training session. The files of each and every member of the keeper band were filled with bad comments and stamps that marked their failure status. Only Claude and the four nobles as well as the three corporals and one sergeant transferred from Most's unit were considered normal.
Claude could only smile bitterly for having accepted such a ridiculous assignment. It was quite ironic that he went all the way to Sidins with his failures and remained in Eimis the whole time without suffering any losses, while the normal combat units were almost completely annihilated.
"I'm sure you've noticed, Sir, but my unit is full of failures. They only mastered reloading, shooting, standing guard at outposts, and patrolling. They don't know anything else, including getting in line, not to mention volley fire. That's why the tribe had us hold the pass. These are the better ones, though. The stretcher bearers that left earlier today were completely useless even as sentries."
"I know about that stretcher unit," Wardlov interrupted, "They're working as labourers at the warehouses and even caused quite a mess yesterday. They caused a lot of stacked up supplies to topple when a fight for food erupted and two died as a result."
"Uhh..." Claude was speechless. It was no wonder he didn't see any trace of the stretcher troops when Perunt visited. Bluefeather also gave up on the stretcher unit and left them to rot in Eimis too.
Though, it was admittedly hard to argue with that decision. The mentally challenged stretcher troops were nothing but burdens for Bluefeather and it only made sense to get rid of them during a reorganisation effort. They had been drafted to fill the local recruit quotas in the first place and they couldn't just be cast aside. But after suffering such huge losses, crossing out their names from the list was no difficult task for Bluefeather and they wouldn't let go of that opportunity to rid themselves of that burden. It wasn't like the fools could actually make a complaint anyway.
Claude couldn't be bothered with their problems. He wasn't cold-hearted, but he never claimed to be a saint. Since Wardlov said that they were working as laborers, Claude would leave them to their own devices. What he was mainly concerned with was whether he could finally return to Bluefeather after the captain took over his band.
Wardlov cursed Major Jebson for taking two bottles of fine wine for the allegedly powerful keeper company.
The three junior officers stared at each other, their mouths agape and their eyes dark. Was their entire band worth just 2 bottles of wine?
It took several minutes for the cursing to stop, but it did eventually, and Captain Wardlov turned his attention back to the three junior officers.
"You're called Claude, right? I'll let you keep your command and post. We'll let you know if your orders change."
"I do not have the rank for this position, Sir. It's only appropriate that someone else take over. I wish to return to Bluefeather anyway."
"Negative," Wardlov said firmly, "I paid two bottles of fine wine for you, so you better not think of leaving me with this--" He jabbed a finger at the dossier. "--mess anytime soon. I'm told you're the one that trained them. So you are the perfect man to keep an eye on them. Sit on that pass until I tell you otherwise; and don't cause me any trouble!"
"I object! I want an appeal!" Claude fumed.
The hell they were worth just two bottles of wine! He alone had made more money than that in just a day of traffic checks!
"Appeal denied! Tell me, Claude. What are the three duties of a soldier?"
"And the second?"
"And the third?"
"Very good. You have no excuse to disobey my orders. You will not march from that pass to so much as piss unless I order you to. Do you understand? And I don't want to hear about Bluefeather ever again.
"Speaking of blue feathers. I don't want to see those feathers in your caps ever again either. And get rid of those damned sashes. You're my keepers now, I will not have you wearing Bluefeather uniforms or insignia. My men don't waste time or money on costumes. You're soldiers, not peacocks!"
The three were sent out sans feathers and sashes in a daze.
"What do we do now, Chief?" Berklin asked.
"We suck it up!" Claude snapped.
Screw that damn Wardlov! Since he wanted Claude out of his sight, since he wanted him to sit on that pass, then he would do so. He would sit there and look down on the city until he was let go, he would not march from that pass if it was not to return to Bluefeather. Even if the city was burning he would not move an inch!
"Let's go claim our supplies and salaries. I want to get out of here. If I never set foot in this godforsaken shithole ever again it would be too soon."
"Alright, but can he hold off on return for a few hours? I want to hit the taverns," Berklin pleaded.
"Go ahead, but I'm heading back now. Be back before nightfall though. I don't want any trouble, you hear?"