"Our tribe was involved all because of you..." Lederfanc complained, "Do you know why we've been treated as a keeper tribe and have not been given a combat assignment yet?"
Claude shook his head innocently. He didn't know what was going on at all. His strengthened clan had been stationed in Squirrel Village for half a year. It was near the year's end, yet there had been no combat missions for them, as if their existence had been forgotten entirely. According to Lederfanc, the kingdom had begun its counterattack on Eastern Askilin with two of its irregular corps.
Currently, the Duchy of Askilin's newly formed corps couldn't resist Aueras' two irregular corps' beating at all. They were like leaves at the mercy of the winds. They were either defeated or forced to surrender. Currently, Askilin's capital, Bravisosburg, was surrounded by the kingdom's forces. The siege might succeed come spring next year and that would mark the end of the Alliance.
As the tribesman of 1st Rangers, Lederfanc wanted to earn more merits in Askilin. Most of Askilin's elites were in Rimodra, so it was the perfect chance to earn some cheap merits. The kingdom's two irregular corps had no trouble at all breaking through the defence lines those nobles set up and exterminated their enemies in the blink of an eye. In other words, they were completely incompetent.
Even 2nd Ranger Tribe and 3rd Ranger Tribe who came to the three southern prefectures later were included in the attacks on Eastern Askilin. Those two combat units under direct instruction from frontline command swept through the noble dominions in that area. For the past half a year, news of them breaking into noble castles could be heard intermittently.
Lederfanc couldn't stand being in such a situation. 1st Ranger Tribe was fully restaffed and resupplied. The new recruits' training was also completed and their morale was high. The local rebellions had also stopped. 1st Rangers was wasting away. Even though they were perfectly ready for joining the final battle in Eastern Askilin, why would nobody use them?
In fact, they held the path leading from the three southern prefectures straight into Eastern Askilin. They could launch their attack on the path to cut off the connection between Canas and Askilin to prevent the two duchies from communicating. The moment they were given the order, Claude and his 1st Clan could be deployed as the vanguard to breach into the zone between the two duchies.
Of all the repercussions the battle report generated, Lederfanc certainly didn't imagine this to be one of them. He made so many submissions to be deployed that he received a reprimanding letter from frontline command, which once more emphasised that 1st Ranger Tribe only had to prevent the troops of both duchies from passing through the mountain path to cause trouble in the three southern prefectures.
Lederfanc didn't understand at all why a combat unit like them was tasked with something even a keeper tribe could handle. Not to mention, the Canasian nobles were still back home licking their wounds. There was no way they could possibly come back that soon, and the Askilinian nobles fared even worse. According to informants, the nobles that returned to Askilin were either imprisoned by Duke Askilin or forced to sell off their property to pay for their crimes. Additionally, their duchy was being attacked by the rest of Aueras' forces, so how could they spare any more people to target the mountain path?
Regardless, Lederfanc was still a close subordinate to Prince Hansbach. He had earned the prince's favour with his staunch loyalty and was made the logistics officer of the ranger tribe in its experimental days, before he was promoted to tribesman of 1st Rangers. He still had close associates on the frontlines and upon inquiring about their predicament, he received an answer that completely baffled him.
"It's all because of the battle in Squirrel! It caused too huge of an uproar! Not only were you promoted straight to captain, you were even knighted! You're the youngest captain in the kingdom's history, army or navy! The entire army is envious of you! They don't want to give us any combat assignments because they don't want to give you another chance to rise even higher!"
Upon hearing the revelation, Claude looked at him innocently, the question, 'and that's supposed to be my fault?', implied.
It couldn't, in fact, be blamed on him. Lederfanc sighed deeply. He was an officer that served under the prince and understood the others who served the prince as well. They were naturally talented in their own right. Otherwise, he wouldn't be working for the prince in the first place. However, the young and haughty officers all thought themselves better than their peers, had grandiose theoretical plans and never yielded to others.
The prince was served by many young officers, but even they were much older than Claude. Most were between 26 and 30 and the highest-ranked was a lieutenant-colonel. Most were second lieutenants and above, and had served at least five years. There were even three factions. One were the nobles, who wielded the most influence. They had impressive military careers and were clearly informed on the kingdom's military capabilities.
The second was made up of peasants who had graduated from the war college. They joined the army to climb the social ladder and were ambitious and thorough. Lederfanc used to be part of that faction. The other faction was comprised of low-ranked officers selected by the prince himself to serve. While they didn't have proper military education, their talents still shone bright. That was the smallest faction and they got along the worst with the nobles and often got into conflicts.
Influential and appreciative of talent as Prince Hansbach was, he couldn't prevent the friction between his subordinates. Though, one could argue that was exactly what he wanted. Those on the top wanted their subordinates to compete, after all, instead of uniting to become an immovable metal brick. Only through the strife could one truly see who really stood out.
It came as a shock for the young officers when the first prince appointed Lederfanc to be the logistics officer of the ranger tribe. Everyone knew that the ranger tribe was an experimental unit formed by the prince and should it ever succeed, one's career path would be bright, so many of them wanted a post there.
But nobody imagined that Lederfanc would be the one to get it. Among the other officers, Lederfanc didn't really stand out. He was quiet and seldom expressed any fresh opinions. The only characteristic that distinguished him was his attention to detail and responsibility. No accounts under his review had any mistakes. His appointment to the post saw him promoted to major quickly and made a tribesman whereas his fellow officers were still ranked captain and below and had to salute to him when they met.
At the sight of Claude's young face, Lederfanc suddenly remembered the other young first and second lieutenants he used to work with. Now, they had to salute both himself and Claude. They were certain to be quite dissatisfied from that. But what he was certain was that his former colleagues had made a mistake. Talent couldn't be that easily hidden from others. Since the first prince awarded Claude with a knighthood, that meant Claude made an impression on him. Perhaps in a few years, if Claude was lucky enough to survive unharmed, he would even supersede Lederfanc.
However, the major wasn't envious in the slightest. Everyone had their own strengths. What was important was to not compare one's weaknesses to the strengths of others. Even if a hammer was kept in a sack with other rocks, it would eventually be taken out. And after a few hits, the hammer would show its shine. In fact, Lederfanc was only able to become major because of his subordinates. He recalled something the first prince said. An officer's responsibility is not to storm the battlefield with his men. His real duty is to enable his subordinates to fight at their best.
Now that Claude got the attention of the prince, which faction would he belong in if he was transferred to serve him? Lederfanc reasoned that he should be one of the third faction of low-ranked officers, but that didn't quite fit, as he was already a quasi noble after being awarded a knighthood. The noble faction probably wouldn't welcome him either. If they did, they wouldn't have suppressed the 1st Rangers' request to be deployed in combat.
"Sir, it's getting rather late and snow is falling. Are we going to lodge in this village for the night?" Claude asked, derailing Lederfanc's train of thought.
The two were en route to Pacasia, the capital of Pauralto, one of the three southern prefectures. Prince Hansbach held a celebratory banquet there and would award Claude personally with his knighthood order of merit. Lederfanc would also be promoted to lieutenant-colonel as he had wanted, so it was imperative that they arrived on time.
Claude brought only Gum and Myjack with him while Lederfanc brought a tent of guards. All of them travelled with haste on horseback. Due to the snow, they needed at least two days to arrive. But given that the prefectures were stable, they would be safe on their journey. Even so, the ones at the checkpoints along the way were still tense from the war.
Pacasia was heavily guarded as well. Claude and the rest were checked for their identity and registered before they were led into a camp by a keeper.
There were still two days before the celebration. Lederfanc said that he had come earlier after he considered that the prince might want to have an audience with them. But apparently, his worries were unnecessary. Prince Hansbach was probably too busy to meet the two of them.
Nevertheless, Claude wouldn't have it any other way. He had the time he needed to go around the city shopping with Gum and Myjack. The city was a little too orderly, perhaps because of the presence of the prince, and the market area was incredibly merry with all sorts of goods on display. Almost all the shops were open, the lights within spilling onto the road outside.
He bought a large bunch of stuff, most of them for his little lover Sheila. The heaviest of the bunch were books to add to her cave collection. The rest were mostly daily necessities, some beautiful dresses as well as accessories. He believed she would be overjoyed to receive them and the fire of their relationship would burn even brighter.
Claude wanted to go out the next day too, but he was stopped by Lederfanc just as he was about to leave. The banquet would take place that night, after all, so he had to be prepared.
The preparation entailed getting his hair done, washing up, and changing into a brand new set of military uniform. Not a speck of dirt was permitted on the boots and his belt had to be polished to a shine. His hat also had to be prim and firm. He put them all on and checked the mirror to see if anything was out of place, before getting Lederfanc to double-check.
When all of that was done, everyone ate some white bread to fill their stomachs before going to wait in the camp. The carriage would come later to transport the awardees to the banquet.
The wait was rather long. After an hour, a second lieutenant in charge of transporting them came up to them for a salute, before inviting Claude and Lederfanc to leave. Gum, Myjack and the tent of guards were to stay in the camp obediently. That night, the city was under curfew and nobody was allowed to go out as they pleased.
The venue for the banquet was the city hall. According to the second lieutenant, there were more than three hundred participants, all officers who've distinguished themselves in battle. They were there to receive their promotions formally from the first prince and the generals of the corps.
After looking Claude in the eye enviously, the second lieutenant said three others had been knighted. Two were from the royal guard and one from Bluefeather. General Miselk Priest was also to be promoted to a full-fledged noble.