Claude was in no mood to pay attention to who the two other new knights were anymore. He waited impatiently for the end of Miselk Priest's entitlement. When the prince announced the start of the ball, he rushed to Welikro while the other young officers began searching out the women of their liking for a dance.
Welikro said he had written quite a few letters, but he'd gotten only one out before the war made the postal service go to shit. Two had been returned to him with the message that his designated recipient didn't exist, which had done his angst over Claude's life no good.
It was to be expected, since Claude's keeper and stretcher unit belonged to the infirmary and wasn't one of Bluefeather's. They were formed into a keeper band under the Eimis keepers and guarded the Audin pass. When he was again moved to the ranger tribe under the first prince, the military's postal department didn't bother to update their records. Had he not informed his family of his new posting, their letters might have suffered the same fate as Welikro's.
Welikro said after he moved to the royal capital with his family, his father's friend recommended his father to a position in a count's personal guard. Welikro, on the other hand, joined the unit in which his father had served, Line 212, as a recruit. Unlike Claude, who was hazed by the veterans in Bluefeather, Welikro's journey was a smooth one. He didn't run into any obstacles and finished his training with flying colours and became a personal guard of the linesman.
As the guard of the linesman, Welikro managed to avoid being sent to the frontlines as cannon fodder after the royal guard was deployed there. However, that didn't last forever. Later, 212 received an order to attack a heavily defended castle in Rimodra, but their numerous attempts had failed. The sight of a few enemy troops pissing from the castle walls infuriated the linesman and he asked if any one of his men could teach the enemy a lesson about arrogance.
Due to the difficult terrain, the royal guards' siege cannons couldn't be deployed. Light-infantry cannons were also useless against a whole castle, and the walls were fitted with sentry cannons that prevented the royal guard troops from approaching too close. The enemy used four scatter-shot-firing cannons to close off the route of attack. The stretch of 100 metres in front of the castle was the slaughtering grounds.
At that moment, an idea popped into Welikro's head before he marched out with his rifle. He found a spot 200 metres away from the castle where he could hide. Then, he raised his gun to aim and killed three cursing enemy soldiers on the walls with five shots, causing the enemies to no longer show themselves on the walls. His confidence bolstered, he charged 50 metres ahead and put the walls in a deadlock with one gun alone. Any foe that dared peek over it would be killed by him.
Welikro had suddenly become a huge pain in the arse for the enemy. The scattershot couldn't reach him from that range and round shots weren't nearly as easy to aim with, especially considering how relatively close the soldiers were to the walls. The firing angle prevented the cannons from shooting well. As for returning fire at Welikro with muskets, it wouldn't work given the shorter firing range of the enemy guns and Welikro's cover. They were taking the attacks completely passively and the slightest careless exposure of themselves would mean almost certain death.
Thanks to Welikro's suppression sniping and the darkening skies, 212's linesman was able to lead his troops to approach the castle. They used a barrel of gunpowder to blow a hole in the wall and charged into the castle to exterminate the defenders. After occupying the strategic castle, Welikro was promoted two ranks to staff-sergeant immediately.
Ever since then, Welikro's fame soared. When the rest of the royal guard found out about the divine sniper in 212, Welikro would be sent out to participate in siege battles at the frontlines, usually given assignments to snipe enemy cannoneers and commanding officers to make an opportunity for the rest of the troops to break through. One defensive stronghold after another was conquered as planned and Welikro rose through the ranks till he was promoted to captain just like Claude.
Claude was quite curious how Welikro managed to get those shots from a range of 150 metres. The accurate shooting range for the Aubass Mark 3 was within a hundred metres. Beyond that, the bullet would drift. He could only hit half of the time at a target 120 metres away, so it basically depended on luck.
Welikro said he wasn't quite sure, citing only the feeling of knowing how much to adjust for the drift on an intuitive level before he takes a shot. Usually, he would be able to hit an enemy with the second shot. His vision was also better during the night. That would be the best time for him to snipe. As long as the enemy was within his firing range, they wouldn't be able to escape.
Perhaps that was Welikro's talent. Claude recalled when they travelled to Egret back when they were sixteen. Despite the near-complete darkness that was broken only by the faint starlight, Welikro was able to shoot the head of a deer with his outdated Gally Mark 3. He was already gifted as a shooter back then.
Claude also relayed his experiences to his friend. As they were reminiscing, Welikro seemed to recall something and spoke a few names, which Claude found familiar, but to which he couldn't quite place faces.
According to Welikro, they were their fellow physical course mates back in middle school. They were enlisted and deployed on the battlefield as well, but were all part of the irregular corps, which were formed from the local forces of the three southwestern prefectures of Aueras. Those three irregular corps were also sent to attack the defence line in Rimodra.
Unfortunately, their schoolmates perished in battle. Welikro only found out about that when he met Shaykov during a visit to a few injured comrades.
Shaykov? A stout and pudgy figure appeared in Claude's mind. He seemed to be his classmate and was also a physical stream student as well. His results were below average, but the reason Claude even remembered him, to begin with, was because of the bakery his family owned. They made the best honeyed bread. Additionally, the fatty was often made his opponent during the physical classes. Claude often felt like laughing at the sight of the other's grimace as he braced to be beaten.
"How's he doing? Is he hurt anywhere?" Claude asked.
Welikro hesitated, then sighed.
"Perhaps it's a good thing for him. He can finally go home to inherit his bakery. He lost a leg on the battlefield. His lower leg was blasted away by a cannon. Fortunately, the bleeding was quickly stopped and he ended up saved."
"Did he get hurt when they were marching into battle in line?"
Welikro nodded. "That's right. The irregular corps still use old tactics of lining up and marching towards the enemy's defences. As it stands now, the enemy won't meet us in open battle and stay behind their fortifications the whole time. Volley fire is already outdated and every time I see those soldiers march towards the enemy base, I recall the herds of livestock being led to slaughter. The casualties are far too high.
"Had the royal guard not been issued Aubass Mark 3s and switched their tactics to precision shooting to suppress the enemy before going in for an all-out attack, they might suffer as many casualties as the irregular corps. We'd long have lost our ability to fight if a switch had not happened. Thankfully, the top ordered the change and forbade us from using the old line-and-march tactics, or we wouldn't last for so long."
They were experiencing a paradigm shift in warfare, both the kingdom and its enemies. Claude guessed that Prince Hansbach was probably swayed by the battle at Wilf Stronghold to completely overhaul their tactics. Line-and-march would cost too many casualties, even if they were able to successfully take the enemy base. It wouldn't take long for the kingdom to completely run out of troops.
It was said that in antiquity, two nations fought all-out battles to decide victory once and for all. But ever since the war between Aueras and the Alliance broke out, the latter seemed to have no plan on facing Aueras in a grand battle at all. Instead, they formed many defence lines and employed delaying tactics by consuming troops and supplies to achieve their military goals. The five nations of the Alliance were all too aware that Aueras' tactics were matched by none after all.
The war had been going on for three years and both sides still didn't seem intent on an all-out clash. Instead, they both employed harassment and siege tactics, gaining and losing ground to each other over time. Even though the Alliance had shown great resistance, the initiative to attack on the battlefield was still held in Aueras' hands. With the demise of Askilin inching ever so close, the fate of the hundred-plus thousand troops of the Alliance in Rimodra seemed grim.
"I met Boa too," Welikro said, to Claude's surprise.
"Is he doing well?"
"Real good. I think he gained weight. The Banjilia keeperage he serves in was transferred to Sidins alongside the two irregular corps from the three southwestern prefectures. However, his unit was mostly given guard assignments at the rear. They don't have to go to the frontlines. I met him at Efenasburg the 8th month last year. He was going shopping on the streets with a few others and is already a sergeant-major. He's doing really well in the keepers. He's in charge of his tribe's logistics as the former logistics officer, Second Lieutenant Genard, is far too old for the job. The man was bedridden after arriving in Efenasburg and handed matters to Boa's hands. When I met him, he was scouting the shops to see if there are any business opportunities."
"Is he still in Efenasburg?" Claude smiled at Borkal's habit of always looking out for a way to make money. He seemed to be doing really well in his post. How could he have the leisure to shop around otherwise?
"I don't know. He might have been transferred for all I know. We of the royal guard have never rested ever since arriving in Rimodra. We've been at the frontlines the whole time. When I parted with Boa, I asked him to write to me, but he hasn't gotten to it yet."
Claude grimaced and consoled Welikro that Borkal was probably too busy or transferred to another location. However, there wouldn't be a need for either of them to worry for his safety since he was in charge of logistics and probably wouldn't be deployed on the frontlines anyway.
"Hey, good evening." A young officer wearing a purple-gold sash like Claude and Welikro's came to greet them. There was also a medal on the sash.
"Good evening, Captain Mendas. This is my good friend, Captain Claude," Welikro introduced. The two were both in the royal guard. Unlike Welikro, who shot the most enemies dead, Mendas' contribution was his ideas. He designed a simplified catapult and used it to lob explosive gunpowder kegs into the enemy lines and managed to conquer four defence lines in one day, capturing most of the enemies that hadn't yet retreated and earning the knighthood.
Claude shook his hand in a friendly manner. They were both of the same rank and had glasses of wine in their hands, not to mention the ball that was going on, so there was no need for salutes.
"You two really know what's good, to be chatting over here. Most of the officers here are major and above and I have to salute every three steps I take," Mendes explained his intrusion with an apologetic smile.
The other knighthood recipient had been a second lieutenant of Bluefeather. He was said to have defended his station from two folks of enemy troops and was the only officer left. Even the linesman and the logistics officers at the rear had to be deployed on the battlefield. This officer was stubborn in his resistance and he led little more than a hundred other men to stand his ground until reinforcements finally arrived. For that, he was promoted to captain and given a knighthood, but he left the venue early as he still hadn't made a full recovery.
So, Captain Mendas had nothing better to do in the hall. Had it not been for the sash and medal on him, he would've been ordered around like a gofer. Having no other choice, he joined Claude and Welikro's conversation.
Claude looked around and saw Lederfanc chatting animatedly with an elegantly dressed woman, so he turned back to suggest that they return to camp instead. He bought a carton of wine yesterday, so they might as well go back for drinks and snacks until they were drunk.
Welikro and Mendas agreed and the three left the venue together.