Claude sent Welikro off the next day, but the two didn't talk much. They merely hugged and bade each other farewell. Mendas, on the other hand, shook Claude's hand nonstop. He had come to see Claude as a kindred spirit over the past two days. For instance, the idea he offered to chip the round shots so that they would explode upon impact and damage the enemy soldiers with shrapnel was genius. It solved the issue of the relatively unimpressive round shots.
Claude sighed as he watched the members of the royal guard fade away into the distance. He was a little worried about Welikro. Though he managed to convince him to go to the room with the maidservant for 'relaxation', he left an hour later feeling defeated and worn out. Mendas was completely different; he went in with two women and came out energetic and boasting.
There were no mental health professionals in this world. If Welikro developed a trauma from his time on the battlefield, he could only rely on himself to break out of that state. Claude felt that Welikro seemed too tense the whole time. It was as if he couldn't relax, or hadn't yet found a way to self regulate his mental state. Being tense all the time would make it easy for mental problems to develop. Yet, there wasn't much he could do about it. The best he could do was give a sound reminder. Welikro had to find his own way to unwind.
After that, Claude took Myjack and Gum around the city for shopping and had to buy another carriage because he bought too much. Fortunately, the roads from the three southern prefectures to Squirrel Village had been mended by Claude's captives. Four-wheeled carriages could now drive through. He decided to sell that new carriage to the village chief when he made it back since he happened to need one for transporting goods.
Lederfanc was quite drunk when he returned later that night, but his expression was pleasant. He kept mumbling a woman's name. Aligesia, it sounded like; but Lederfanc's adjutant took him to his tent before Claude could hear her name clearly. Claude couldn't exactly go in with him, so he returned to his tent.
When they were about to go back the next day, Lederfanc was shocked to see two filled carriages Myjack and Gum drove.
"Claude, did you spend all the prize money you got?" Lederfanc estimated the goods to be worth at least forty crowns. If those were luxury products, the price might be double that.
"More or less, I guess." Claude didn't keep count. Myjack was the one who made the payments. He reported that it cost about fifty crowns.
"You're still young, so you ought to save up your money. Don't blow them all in one instant. You obtained a huge victory because you lucked out and no accidents happened. You should've saved the prize money up for future use," advised Lederfanc.
Claude knew he was being thoughtful. Lederfanc was of common birth and he saved up most of his salary, and perhaps did send some back to his family too. Claude nodded. "I won't spend too much the next time. Thanks for the advice. By the way, how's it going with your marriage? Is it set?"
With the subject successfully changed, Lederfanc forgot about the goods Claude bought and rambled on about his sweetheart. According to him, the one he called Ali was a 27-year-old widow who had a four-year-old daughter. Her husband had perished at sea. Back then, they were married for two years and she was expecting. The man spent a huge sum to secure a voyage back home to make it in time for their daughter's delivery, but the ship was wrecked during a voyage in the night and her husband went with it.
She grieved for her husband's death, but stayed strong for the sake of their daughter and inherited the business. But without her husband weathering all the troubles, her huge estate attracted quite a lot of greedy stares. She had spent the past few years rather uneasily and it was the first time a relative of hers asked her to join the ball. She didn't think she would meet Lederfanc and get along well with him.
"You don't mind her status? She has a daughter, you know."
Lederfanc didn't know what Claude was getting at. Claude suddenly realised he had misspoken and slapped his forehead. Unlike back in his world, single men weren't discouraged from marriage by a woman's status as a widow. There were simply too many widows to worry about it. Take Aueras. Every war left thousands of widows, and they were frequent and severe. The lucky or richer and more attractive men bedded and wedded a woman and left her for the war with a child in her belly. The less capable, but probably luckier, men that couldn't get a woman before leaving, came back and bedded and wedded the widows.
"Her daughter's a cute angel. I don't mind being her stepfather," Lederfanc said with a bright smile.
"Then I can only wish you the best," Claude said.
The journey back took a day more than coming -- the extra carriage hadn't done their speed any favours. Nevertheless, Claude did make it back two days before new year's eve.
A third of one carriage's goods was for Claude's magus lover, Sheila. Even though she was a magus, she was still a woman and couldn't help being overjoyed with the new clothes and accessories he bought for her. He got to spend a few exciting nights with her as a result.
Year 579 of the Sacred Light Era passed just like that with the flames of war still burning bright in Eastern Freia. Claude celebrated it with Sheila and his clan in Squirrel Village. During that year, he obtained a massive victory, was promoted to captain, and was awarded a knighthood. After that, he spent the rest of that year guarding Squirrel Village and hoped he could spend another year there in peace.
Lederfanc's predictions were right, however. Less than a week into the new year, tribe headquarters called Claude in. Lieutenant-Colonel Lederfanc had left 1st Rangers for a higher post. Claude, however, wasn't to be his replacement. The higher-ups had shoved someone else in ahead of him. The man had called him in to meet his new underling before sending him off to the front lines.
Claude hadn't wanted Lederfanc to leave. Good superiors were hard to find. He'd had it easy under the man and had become somewhat complacent. He had little say in the affairs of his superiors, however, least of all their promotions. The tribe was the smallest independent combat unit in the army, so it would be doubly inappropriate for someone with Lederfanc's rank to have the command.
At the very least the man to take his place was someone Claude knew: Captain Skri. He'd not met the man many times, but he'd heard about the man from Lederfanc, and he'd always described him as an upright man and the first prince's most trusted aide.
"Where are you heading, Sir?" Claude asked Lederfanc.
"I'm heading to Pacasia. His Highness has created an office to oversee the local military industry and has asked me to become its second-in-command," Lederfanc chuckled giddily.
It was indeed a good posting, but Claude knew the real reason he was happy.
"It seems your wedding will be sooner than we all thought!" he exclaimed congratulatorily.
The bastard couldn't wait to go because that was where his bride-to-be lived. Hoes before bros, huh? Damn bastard!
"Nice to see you, Captain Claude. A pleasure to see you again," Captain Skri said as he saluted before offering his hand.
The two were of the same rank, but Skri would be Claude's senior if not for the latter's knighthood. That said, though Skri saluted first, he did not do it as a junior would a senior.
"Ah, yes!" Claude half-choked as his hand shot to place for a salute before clasping his new commanding officer's hand. "I apologise for my lack of manners. A pleasure to serve under you. Might I ask why you were posted here? I thought you were a trusted aide to High Highness."
Skri smiled awkwardly.
"I am indeed High Highness' trusted aid, but promotion is rare for aides when the one they serve is not promoted himself, and there is little, if any room left in the army's hierarchy for High Highness to be promoted. It is thus necessary to take a step back from the prince's side to take a step up the ladder."
Skri nudged his head at Lederfanc.
"This one's the one who got me thinking about promotions again. We were both captains just two years ago, but now he's twice my superior and I'm still the same captain I was back then. I could not let it go on like that, so I asked His Highness for a break from his side to build up my merits some more and he posted me here."
Claude had to admit to being slightly miffed at being robbed of a chance at promotion, but he appreciated Skri's frankness. At the very least it would seem he had gotten a decent superior.
"His Highness is right," Lederfanc said, putting his arm around Skri, "This is the place for you if promotions are what you want. Just do two things: trust Claude; and let him do what he thinks is best. Other than that, just wait for your next promotion. I suppose you should get in the thick of it once or twice, as well, but that's less important than those two things."
Lederfanc, detached from the tribe as he now was, was still unhappy with the lack of combat the unit had seen in his last months as their commander, so he didn't forget to throw some shade on Skri before leaving. He would have complained outright if not for the man's close relationship with first prince. If he did, the prince might just come down on frontline command, and they would take it out on his now-former subordinates in his absence. He was not a man to make a mess as he left the building.
"I will," Skri nodded, "in fact, I come with our new orders."
"Great. You two talk it out. This no longer concerns me," Lederfanc said casually as he walked out the door.
Captain Skri walked to the maps on the walls and stopped in front of the one of Canas.
"The frontlines has stabilised. Rimodra's hundred-thousand-plus-strong forces are surrounded on two sides. Askilin's capital, Bravisosburg, is encircled. I've been told it'll fall as soon as the rainy season lets up. The only enemies left would then be Canas and Nasri.
"Canas is mostly open plains. They train lots of cavalry there. His Highness believes they've been the Alliance's main supplier of mounted forces for the entire war. The lands are currently guarded by two light-cavalry corps, and almost a hundred thousand in Rimodra. If we add the ones we've killed so far in the war, that's 300 thousand.
"Frontline command believes that's as much as Canas can supply. They're of the opinion that the duchy must be all but stripped bare of people. The kingdom is wholly occupied at the moment, however, so High Highness has sent all four ranger tribes to deal with Canas."
Indeed, most of the war should be wrapping up at the moment, Claude thought.
"From where will we launch our march?" he asked.
"We'll descend on the plains from the mountains, along the path through which the nobles attacked Squirrel. We'll occupy their land and take what supplies we need as we establish a foothold on the plains before marching further.
"As for 2nd Rangers, 3rd Rangers, and 4th Rangers, they'll come in from the east, setting off from Askilin. Once they've surveyed their areas, the kingdom's main army will march in. High Highness has left what we do after we establish our foothold up to us, so we can act at our own discretion."
Claude stared at the map in thought.
"Alright. I need to make some preparations before we depart."