Bam! Prince Hansbach slammed the table. "This is preposterous, and an obvious sign of jealousy and envy for talent! Didn't the staff officers run multiple tactical simulations and call it an unwinnable battle? They were so certain that the report was faked. But now, it has come to light that someone else could achieve what they couldn't dream of. Didn't the joint investigation committee travel that far to verify the whole thing? They also went through all the corpses to make sure the numbers are correct. Can they be more ridiculous in their demands?"
The first prince was fuming and a little disappointed in his officers on the front. Most officers there were talented youths he decided to cultivate. Some of them had wanted to serve him on their own accord and there were some noble descendants who were recommended to those positions as well. Yet, he didn't think that such a landslide victory would cause so much commotion among the officers in frontline command to the point that it clouded their rational minds.
"I really don't understand how they think. How could we ever underplay military achievements? I believe some of them are becoming too comfortable sitting in their commanding posts. I should send some of them to the frontlines with the troops so that they understand what kind of officers the army needs. They can see for themselves the situation on the frontlines instead of remaining in their offices and doing nothing but mouthing off on others!" The first prince began pacing about in his room.
A knock sounded on the door and Captain Skri went to open it. The one who came in was General Miselk Kor Priest, the first prince's most trusted aid. He was also the new chief strategist of Bluefeather. The plan to build a path through Pikleit Mountains to attack the three southern prefectures and the ambush that wiped out the folk of Alliance troops at Columbo Valley were all devised by him.
When he was given recognition for his contributions last year, Miselk earned another gold star on his shoulder mark and was promoted from major-general to lieutenant-general. At the same time, he earned an honorary Title bequeathed by the king himself, rising from the peasant class straight into nobility as a baron.
Nobody knew how Prince Hansbach managed to get a military historian professor from the royal capital to become his aide. Regardless, Miselk was still the most talented man Prince Hansbach managed to recruit throughout the current war. His plans managed to capitalise on Alliance's weaknesses. In battles fought on land, Aueras' forces always held the initiative and advantage and the Alliance slowly gave ground until they entered a stalemate.
The prince had summoned Miselk to discuss their upcoming strategic objectives. Now that the path through Pikleit Mountains had been restored, reinforcements and supplies poured nonstop into the three prefectures. The two defence lines on the frontlines were stabilised and they would have to consider which locale to attack next to put the kingdom in a more advantageous position.
"What angered His Highness so?" Miselk asked Skri.
Captain Skri quietly summarised the lieutenant-general on the matter. Miselk seemed to take an interest in it. "Let me see the battle report. I heard about this matter, but I had thought it to be a fabricated lie. I didn't think there really could be such a miraculous victory. How did this Second Lieutenant Claude do it?"
Unlike how the prince read the report, Miselk had a map of the area near Squirrel Village with him as he read the report and marked it from time to time. It was as if he was simulating the battle according to what happened. When he finished, he found the prince standing next to him, looking at the markings he made on the map.
"What do you think?" the prince asked ambiguously.
But Miselk understood the question perfectly well. He nodded and said, "He's born to be a soldier and is really talented. Nurturing him will be worth it. I see that he hasn't been educated formally in military doctrine. He's good at defensive battles and put the terrain around Squirrel Village to his utmost advantage all the while making sure his casualties are low. The officers that graduate from our war college, on the other hand, are more aggressive and care less about the loss of subordinates. Maybe that's why they haven't been able to succeed in obtaining victory in their simulations of the battle."
"What about you? How would you fight this battle?" Prince Hansbach asked.
The lieutenant-general smiled resignedly. "I might not be able to compare to Second Lieutenant Claude in terms of defensive tactics. While I would take advantage of the terrain to stop the enemies, I wouldn't be able to dig trap holes to cut off the mountain paths completely to stop the enemy from advancing. However, I would take the initiative and attack the noble forces on Askilin's side. There's only one tribe of enemies there and our side is armed with three light-infantry cannons. It's entirely possible to find advantageous terrain to mount the cannons and decimate our enemies from there. The battered enemy troops would be much easier to deal with, but this tactic would entail serious casualties on our side."
"How do you think we should reward this Claude then? He can be promoted all the way to major with his achievements, but the ministry of the army wants to undermine his contributions with the reason that he's still young, and because the enemies he fought were only private noble soldiers and peasant conscripts with low fighting capability. They say that even if the nobles manage to find their way into the three southern prefectures, they wouldn't have a significant effect on the tide of war, so they plan to only promote Claude by one rank to first lieutenant."
Miselk shook his head.
"Your Highness, military contribution should never be undermined. It's the cornerstone of our military and the guarantee that the spirit of our military will continue to be passed on. If Second Lieutenant Claude's achievements are undermined, we can't spread word of our victory. In fact, we can't mention this battle at all. Otherwise, the officers would start to question whether they're intentionally being suppressed and doubt the fairness of the merit system.
"I even worry this would open doors for those who would use this battle report as proof that frontline troops who risk their lives for our victory aren't rewarded, while the corrupt military officers sitting in the rear gain all the benefits. It's almost certain to happen. The late king, Stellin IX, also stressed that the recording and rewarding of military achievement must be fair and just so that our forces' might will be preserved and the baseline officers would be motivated to work hard and aim for the top."
"You mean we should promote Claude to major based on the merits he earned? He's too young. The kingdom has never had a 21-year-old major. I worry he would be doubted even more. This won't be good for his future growth. My father told me being too talented isn't a good thing, because it invites jealousy and envy. Sometimes, one can't defend against a poisoned arrow fired from the shadows."
"Yes, Your Highness. I personally had quite a lot of unfortunate encounters due to others' envy," Miselk agreed, "He's still 21. I was just a sergeant at his age. He has only been in the army for three years on top of that and hasn't been officially schooled in military doctrine. It wouldn't be appropriate to make him major.
"And given his peasant status and lack of military experience, it's quite probable he would be ostracised by the other officers around his rank. At best we should make him a captain. While we can't skimp on his achievements, we can compensate for it with something else. In fact, I think the sheer odds he overcame to achieve this victory qualifies him for knighthood."
"Knighthood?" The prince was taken aback. He clapped his hands delightedly. "That's right! How could I forget? Well said, Miselk. We can't skimp on rewarding him. We can just make it up with compensation in some other form. Knighting him will be enough! Skri, record my orders down."
"Yes, Your Highness." Skri wore a look of envy.
If possible, he would rather Claude be promoted straight to major. He was fine with it even if it meant Claude would outrank him. But now, while Claude would only be promoted to captain, he was to be knighted. That was more than enough to cause the eyes of those staff officers in the ministry to green with jealousy and regret.
They had intentionally suggested Claude be promoted by only one rank. Prince Hansbach felt it was inappropriate and promoted Claude to captain. That way, Claude wouldn't go straight to major and the bastards would save face. On top of that they weren't the ones to actually hold back his full promotion, the prince was, so they could wash their hands of it. Little did they know the prince would make it up with a knighthood.
Like the members of the House of Dignitarians who used 'sir' as their title, knights in the Aueran military were quasi-nobles. It was rare for a knight to not eventually become a full noble, if only an honorary one in most cases. If Clause was knighted, he would be Sir Claude Ferd, and would officially have the capacity to attend events restricted only to nobility. It would also mean that he was the senior of anyone of the same rank, and had to be handled with respect even by those one rank his superior. If he was to act together with another captain, for example, he would be the de facto commanding officer, even if the other had more experience than him.
"To reward 1st Ranger Tribe for defending... err... what was that area called again?"
"It has no name, Your Highness. Most of the locals call it the mountain-crossing. The Duchy of Askilin considers it part of the three southern prefectures and mark it as the southern mountains on their maps," Captain Skri said.
"Alright, just call it the southern mountain crossing, then. To reward 1st Ranger Tribe for defending the southern mountain crossing despite being severely outnumbered and successfully driving back the nobles of Askilin and Canas, thwarting their plans to raid the three southern prefectures, all the tribe's officers are to be awarded a first-class merit.
"The 170-odd soldiers defending Squirrel Village against the two noble armies that number more than five thousand without fear committed a valorous resistance. Under the instructions of Second Lieutenant Claude, they managed to defeat the enemy and exterminate near five thousand of their numbers in a miraculous feat.
"In my name, all soldiers that participated in the battle are to be promoted one rank. Injured soldiers will be compensated with extra pension. Second Lieutenant Claude with his courage and wit managed to earn outstanding merits from this battle and is promoted straight to captain and conferred the Title of knight to highlight his outstanding contributions on the battlefield."
Skri handed the order he wrote down to the prince to check and had him sign and stamp his seal. That closed the curtain on all matters pertaining to that battle. As the highest commanding officer on the frontlines, the first prince has given his final say to the rewards for the soldiers involved in that battle.
"If possible, Your Highness, I want the whole process of this war to be included in our war college syllabus. It is a perfect case study of a siege which is worthy of rigorous study. And when the war ends, I hope to invite Captain Claude to the Stellin War College in the royal capital for training. I believe he'll be a huge help to Your Highness in the future," Miselk requested.
Prince Hansbach sighed. "With his knighthood, he's more than qualified to be trained in the war college. However, nobody can say when the war will end. Rimodra is being attacked from both fronts by us and is still struggling in its final moments. Askilin already know they won't be able to break our defence lines in the three southern prefectures and are beginning to form their own defence line in Eastern Askilin. They are waiting for a chance to turn the tides of war.
"Canas is still providing the Alliance with light cavalry and conscripting more herders to form new light-cavalry corps. Nasri is still holding on desperately and Reddragon has been powerless to break through their turtle-shell defence line. I called you here to discuss which targets we should attack next to accelerate our path to victory."
Miselk walked to the large map hanging on the wall. "So far, the situation has stabilised. Due to the successful reconstruction of Pikleit Mountains' path, reinforcements have begun entering the three southern prefectures. While the Alliance's forces in Rimodra still number a lot, they have the lower hand in battle. Their attacks lack momentum but their defences are still sufficient. The reason they can still hold on is thanks to their uninterrupted maritime supply routes. They are able to be replenished in men and supplies quickly.
"We can decrease the intensity of our attacks and use an encirclement strategy. Half of Rimodra's territory is in our hands and there are so many Alliance soldiers in the other half. They have nothing to rely on but their shipping routes, and even then, they wouldn't be able to feed that many soldiers if enough time passes.
"We can first focus our efforts on exterminating Askilin and putting pressure on Canas next. If word of this gets out, the Askilin forces and Canas light cavalrymen in Rimodra would be greatly disturbed. I believe an opportunity for us to completely crush Rimodra would show itself soon."