The question of why Prince Hansbach cooped up in his quarters was one that lingered in Claude's mind. Logically speaking, someone with important duties and hundreds of thousands of soldiers under him should still be informed about the happenings in the military, even if he didn't leave his quarters. The flow of information was something that he absolutely couldn't do without, and there was no doubt he would leave Skri's matter unattended if he was informed about it. Claude began to find this whole thing quite suspicious after Duraiulo reminded him about his connection with Maria.
Duriaulo smiled bitterly and told Claude that nobody put the first prince in house arrest, or forced him to stay cooped up. The first prince was simply far too angry with Stellin X for the peace negotiations. He wanted to fight till the bitter end, but the kingdom could not fight on. The cost to feed 1.6 million troops on the frontlines was astronomical. and the kingdom couldn't afford to keep the war going, not to mention the fact that it had been doing so for more than four years. The wealth the kingdom amassed during the past two decades of peace had been completely drained away.
The prime minister, Duke Cryus, was summoned to the palace in the middle of the night to reason with Prince Hansbach and explain to him the kingdom's situation. The war could not go on, and it would be wise to stop while they were ahead. Gaining the territory of three duchies was more than worth the cost so far. They had to quickly regrow and restore civilian life after the war, pay pensions, rebuild crucial facilities and those would all drain the kingdom's resources.
Prince Hansbach hoped that the court could endure it a little longer for him to exterminate Canas first before negotiating with Nasri, but he couldn't be sure he would be able to achieve that goal in a short time frame. He estimated he would take at least a year to take Northbay and exterminate the last duchy for good. That kind of time frame was not something the kingdom could afford and Stellin X refused the proposal.
Angered that he wouldn't be able to avenge the three exterminated corps by defeating Canas, the first prince confined himself to his quarters and refused everyone and every piece of news. Word surrounding the frontlines couldn't pass beyond the doors to his quarters and were all dealt with by his personal attendants, giving the noble officers the opportunity to make an example of Skri to suppress the peasant officers that distinguished themselves during the war.
Claude looked at the captain suspiciously. The captain merely made a forced smile. "I know you suspect me for telling you all this. In fact, we merchant nobles believe that the first prince has to come out and deal with this situation. The old nobility holds huge sway in the kingdom. Not only do they monopolise key industries, they also command the trade routes to Nubissia. Those of the new nobility like us can only benefit from the crumbs they left behind.
"The war is one of the best chances the new nobility can affect actual economic change. The three duchies are sources of new wealth. Even though the war ruined much of it, the key areas are filled with business potential if civilian life can be restored. We already struck up a deal with the royal family to leave out the old nobility from these areas to prevent them from stretching their claws here.
"Initially, the plan worked well and the first prince cooperated with us. Progress was satisfactory. But now, His Highness has almost given up on everything and refuses to leave his quarters. It's not that the merchant nobles in the royal capital didn't try to talk His Highness out of it, but we weren't even allowed inside. The servants of the first prince didn't even pay us any heed and refused all our gifts. It's obvious why the first prince is doing this, though. His Highness hates the new nobility for not supporting him to extend the war and siding with His Majesty instead."
Duriaulo stood up, circled about the room and came clean with his intentions. "In the eyes of us merchant nobles, Prince Hansbach isn't a good heir to the throne. His Highness is a great military leader and general, but far from a qualified king."
Claude's interest was piqued. "Why do you think so?"
"It's simple. The first prince's long military career instilled a straight-laced military personality into His Highness. The prince is generous and casual, something which the soldiers love. But at the same time, the first prince looks down on negotiations and compromise, often ignoring the economic and developmental needs of the kingdom. It's true that the prince would be able to bring our kingdom stability. But he forgets Stellin IX's famous saying that statecraft is an art. The first prince hates compromising with the enemy the most, both internal and external ones.
"There's one thing that's commonly said about Stellin X's children. The first prince is reliable, the second prince is capricious, the third princess is unreasonable, the fourth prince is cowardly and the fifth princess is petty. It might appear that the first prince is the most reliable one of the lot, but that's hardly the case. Reliable is one thing, but the first prince is actually the brashest of them all, almost childish, even. But that childishness isn't directed at others. It's directed at his father, Stellin X. If something doesn't go the first prince's way, he would throw a temper tantrum. Something like this instance of His Highness completely ignoring his military duties has happened before, and it was only put to an end after His Majesty yields."
By the time he finished listening, Claude had his eyes and mouth wide agape. That was totally different from the Prince Hansbach in his mind, though he supposed it wasn't surprising since he had only met the prince a handful of times. It was hard to truly understand someone based on superficial impressions.
Duriaulo shook his head and sighed. "The first prince considers everything from a soldier's perspective. His Highness believes war can solve all problems, but doesn't understand that only a strong economy can support such a war. The moment the economy collapses, the victories on the battlefield no longer matter. His Highness believes the kingdom can afford to let the war continue. While it is technically possible if the kingdom directs all financial resources into it, what happens after the war? Economic stagnation will plague the kingdom for the long term. There would no longer be funds left to restore civilian life and societal order.
"It was wise of the royal family to take the initiative in the peace negotiations. Our kingdom has already occupied the territory of all three duchies and we require time to stabilise and strengthen our hold over them to rekindle the economy there so that they can provide our kingdom with sustainable wealth. But it requires investment and time. The deal we of the merchant nobles struck up a deal with the royal family is a win-win one. The royal family needs to curb the expanding influence of the old nobility while the new nobility needs our own market. We can increase our influence here in the three duchies' territory through trade.
"In other words, the new nobility is cooperating with the royal family on the matter. We're not listening to their commands unconditionally. The first prince misunderstood that and thought us his subordinates and wanted to use our funds to extend the war. That's why His Highness sees our refusal to cooperate as a kind of betrayal and refused all attempts from our side to communicate and reason with him and believes that the tantrum will cause His Majesty to change his mind, but doesn't truly understand that the war is unsustainable. It isn't something that can be turned around just because of His Highness' truancy."
Some parts of the gossip sounded a little excessive. Claude asked hesitantly, "There are many ways you can get the message across to the first prince, such as getting His Majesty to talk to His Highness personally. Actually, sending anyone suited to the task would do."
"This is where His Highness' childishness comes in. His Majesty made a visit to His Highness' quarters, but the latter claimed to be sick and wouldn't meet His Majesty so as not to spread the disease. His Majesty had no choice but to leave. As for someone His Highness would see, the moment matters of the frontline are mentioned, His Highness would chase the person away angrily. It's not a secret that His Highness is feuding with His Majesty and nobody dares to interfere.
"His Majesty had thought about switching out someone else to take care of the aftermath on the frontlines, but the problem was nobody was as qualified as the first prince and the officers from old nobility in dealing with this. Currently, among the 16 corps on the frontlines, two-thirds of them belong to the noble faction. Anyone other than the first prince going to the frontlines to take charge would only cause conflict with the nobles and delay the plans of the royal family and new nobility."
Duriaulo revealed the intricate details of the backstage political antics of the kingdom. Anyone would be troubled to have a superior so irresponsible like the first prince.
"So what's the use of seeking me out then?" Claude only wanted to save Skri, but he didn't think there would be so many complications behind that. If he thought about it, the struggles for profit between the royal family, old nobility and new nobility after the war didn't have anything to do with a minor captain like him. He simply didn't want to get involved.
"Not only that, my herbalism teacher, Baroness Maria, told me before that she doesn't have that good a relationship with the first prince. That's why she wasn't able to ask him to treat me favourably in the force. The first prince only calls her his aunt nominally, but they aren't that far apart in age, so His Highness isn't really willing to see her as his senior. My teacher also often avoids him if she's able." Claude was certain the new nobility knew about that.
"We understand your concerns," Duriaulo said with a nod, "but Baroness Maria is still the ideal person for the task based on the current situation."
He waved to dismiss Claude's question. "It's not that our friends in the royal capital didn't attempt to ask Lady Maria to help us out. However, she has refused our request to talk some sense into the first prince, which is typical of her, since she usually avoids sticking her hands in the kingdom's politics and refuses to partake in the turmoil in the royal family.
"But as the royal family's apothecary, she's the one that can actually enter the first prince's quarters given that His Highness had called in sick. According to our sources, there are quite a number of noble officers by the first prince's side, constantly encouraging him to be stubborn 'till the end until His Majesty yields.
"His Highness doesn't cooperate with us due to the influence of the noble officers and isn't aware of their true intentions. His Highness thinks they share his desire to avenge the three corps. But I'm sure you know that the soldiers on the frontlines are starting to hate continuing the fight and find the peace negotiations to be great news.
"What we hope is for the first prince to be made aware of the current situation at the frontlines. But the self-imposed house arrest and fannings of the noble officers completely shut His Highness off from this news. Sending someone else to talk His Highness into it isn't the best idea. It's one thing whether His Highness believes it or not, we aren't even granted an audience in the first place, and we could be seen as trying to push responsibility away or have other ulterior motives. Perhaps His Highness actually enjoys seeing us fail...
"We're reaching out to you because you're the best person for the job. First, you want to save Major Skri and clear him of those unfounded charges. That requires the first prince's involvement to straighten out the noble officers in frontline command. Second, given your status as someone His Highness favours and a knighthood holder, His Highness might just believe you. You're also Major Skri's subordinate and have participated in all of 1st Ranger Tribe's battles. It's completely reasonable for you to want to save Major Skri from his predicament.
"Third, your herbalism teacher is Baroness Maria, and she's the only one who has access to the first prince's quarters. You don't need her to talk to His Highness on our behalf. Just get her to leave a letter you wrote for the first prince to see. I'm sure His Highness will get a grasp of the situation after reading it and will stop insisting on continuing the war."
"I need time to consider this," Claude said with a furrowed brow. The idea of the new nobility was a good one. Having Claude write a letter to the first prince about the real situation at the frontlines was a good idea as it didn't involve national politics or the power struggles of the nobles. It would be far more believable.
Duriaulo nodded. "I hope you don't take too long, as a friend of mine from the top says that frontline command's staff officers want to drag you down alongside Major Skri as well, and use you to get to Lieutenant-Colonel Lederfanc. The lieutenant-colonel has been appointed by the first prince to become the vice supervisor of the military industry supervision office to manage the industries in the three southern prefectures. The old nobility would no doubt want to interfere in those affairs.
"Also, it's best to send someone else to take the letter to the royal capital. Don't rely on military post. If the old nobility gets ahold of your letter, they would check it and maybe even accidentally lose it. It'll never make it to the recipient."