It was around eleven at night in the royal guard encampment near Eimis.
Some thirty metres away from the commander's tent a row of normal tents stood. Nobody could imagine the crown prince of Aueras, Prince Hansbach, was actually staying in such a run down place.
The prince still hadn't gotten any rest. He stood in front of a table and inspected a musket on it. It was the Rimodran musket Claude had returned.
"What does Master Krilado think of it, Captain Skri?" the prince asked.
"Master Krilado believes it was made in the Aula factory in Sidins. The design is based off our Aubass Mark 3 and it's used for sniping. As their technology behind ours, and this is merely a knockoff, it's not as accurate and can't fire as quickly, but it's still a serious threat, especially if they start producing it en masse."
If Claude could hear the captain now, he would probably kiss the man.
The crown prince nodded and circled the table a couple more times. The other men in the tent stood like statues and waited for his next words. They'd all been with the prince long enough to know he did not take kindly to being disturbed when he was thinking like this.
The prince stopped after several minutes.
"It looks like we have to attack sooner than planned. We might just still catch the enemy unprepared. We should be ready to move now. Griffon have disguised themselves as irregulars, so the enemy should be completely unaware of the nature of our presence."
The prince continued to mumble to himself as he made his way to the table. He took it and tested its heft.
"Who captured it?"
"Sergeant-Major Claude, Your Highness. He ambushed a tent of Canasians but was counter-ambushed by Rimodran infantry. Luckily, he managed to turn things around and brought us back several of these muskets. He did lose half his detachment, however."
"Claude? He sounds familiar... Where have I heard it before... Ah, right. Have Lieutenant-Colonel Rosley... No, have Captain Lederfanc from the ranger tribe come over."
Captain Lederfanc was the one in charge of the ranger tribe's logistics as well as the prince's eyes there. His task was to observe the lieutenant-colonel's activities and everything else that happened in the tribe. He would record it in his periodic reports to the prince.
About an hour later, he remembered who Claude was after hearing Lederfanc's account.
"You mean to say Sergeant-Major Claude and Lieutenant-Colonel Rosley have a bad relationship and Rosley's really wary of him? But since he can't do much against him despite wanting him dead, he keeps assigning him difficult and dangerous missions, which the sergeant-major always accomplishes perfectly?"
"Yes, Your Highness. In fact, more than a third of the rangers trust the sergeant-major unconditionally. He never has a shortage of volunteers even for the more ludicrous missions. He's made a number of suggestions to change the unit's doctrine which the lieutenant-colonel has turned down but most of the rest of the commanders wish to see implemented. I don't know why the lieutenant-colonel would want to suppress Claude so much; he doesn't even report his accomplishments.
"I've kept my own record, however. Claude's taken 70 dog tags so far. He's always operated with a whole tent of men, but, even so, that's still an impressive accomplishment. The lieutenant-colonel refuses to acknowledge his achievements, however. Claude should have been promoted to second lieutenant long ago."
"You think Lieutenant-Colonel Rosley is right or wrong in suppressing him?" the prince asked.
"I don't know, Your Highness. I am your eyes and ears, not your brain."
The prince laughed.
"You did well, I'm pleased. I put Rosley in charge of the tribe because I value his loyalty. He carries out my orders without question. He's done well to test the Aubass Mark 3 for me thus far. His common birth and his ambition has made him jealous of anyone that he feels could rival or outshine his accomplishments. He doesn't seem to understand that the superior shares in the glory of his subordinates' achievements, and in the shame of their failures. I suspect that's why he's been suppressing Claude. He can't see the bigger picture, which is a big reason why he hasn't been made a noble yet, and probably never will be.
"Claude has a lot of talent. He's still too young; a promotion now will only make him prideful. He needs more tempering in the bottom ranks before we can let him blossom. Leave the situation be for the time being. We'll promote him after the war."
"Your Highness is wise!" the officers exclaimed.
"Tell Rosley that, while Claude does indeed require tempering, he ought to humble himself and implement reasonable suggestions. As for Claude's unit, keep them at full strength, the boy may not be ready for a larger command, but there's no point in wasting his talent with an understrength unit. We shouldn't shackle his mind either. Tell Rosley to stick to giving the boy missions, and to leave it up to him how he wishes to complete them. Let him decide his own training regime as well. His mind is clearly built for ranger doctrine, so give him all the freedom you can to keep developing it. Lieutenant-Colonel Rosley has changed the ranger tribe into a mercenary unit. It's not what I want for it, so bring it back on track.
"As for Master Krilado's thoughts, I completely agree. We should try to train our new recruits on the Mark 3 from the very beginning. Don't get them befuddled with the old muskets. Find out what tactics Claude has suggested, in detail, and incorporate them into our training regimes. We need to make optimal use of the new musket's strengths if it is to be worth anything. Lederfanc, send a message to army HQ and have them start doing that immediately.
"Understood, Your Highness," the captain saluted.
"Alright, that's all for now. It's getting late and I'm tired. We'll continue our talks tomorrow."
The prince waved his attendants out of the tent and headed for his as well.
Claude was summoned to the tribe's HQ the next morning. Rosley was wearing a dark expression and Captain Lederfanc stood beside him, all smiles. Claude was told about the changes that would be made to his disposition, minus mention of why these changes were being made, of course. He was just told that his band had been chosen to be a testbed for the new tactics and doctrines the rangers were going to implement. He'd shown some promise, and so high command wanted him to keep coming up with and testing new tactics and doctrines to help improve the army's use of the new Mark 3s.
Claude's face was the epitome of confusion when he left the HQ building. Claude had commanded a band before, but that was purely as their instructor during their training. It was highly unusual, in fact, strictly prohibited by army doctrine, for him to be given a standing command of this size as a mere sergeant-major. And on top of that he was to be given far more freedom than he'd ever heard of someone of middle-command rank, which was what he now effectively was, though he lacked the rank, being given.
The only possible way this could have happened, was that the higher-ups had somehow heard about his accomplishments despite Rosley's best efforts otherwise, and had decided to effectively promote him to second lieutenant without actually doing so to save the fart some face. The only one Claude could think of with both the authority and disposition to do this was the first prince.
He wasn't going to complain, however. His newfound freedom meant he could approach his ridiculous missions however he wished, screw current doctrine. It also curtailed some of Rosley's worst inclinations, such as telling him to stay out in the field until he had ten dog tags, despite only letting him take a tent with him.
He didn't understand why, given his merits, the prince hadn't simply overruled the fart and promoted him. Surely someone as crippled by jealousy as Rosley didn't deserve the protection of his dignity and pride he was being afforded. So he didn't know what they were going to do about his merits, if they were going to recognise them or not. He wasn't inclined to kick up a fuss and risk his new liberties, however, so he just kept his thoughts to himself.
Claude was in the midst of reinforcing his unit and training the new transfers when the quiet front exploded again. Aueras launched a massive offensive on the Amilia Plains. Nearly a million soldiers stood on the two sides, quite literally, and shot at one another. This particular battle would eventually become known as the Battle of Blood Ground.
Aueras' side deployed 460 thousand men. Seven corps and thirty tribes, including the royal guard corps and the two irregular corps which fought in the vanguard. Their enemy stood 580 thousand strong. They crumbled quickly under Aueras' 400 cannons, however and Aueras pushed onto Efenasburg.