"None of you have been on a battlefield before, have you?" Claude asked the fuming Darik.
"That has nothing to do with this. Captain Claude, you can reject First Lieutenant Halchik's estimations, but you can't deny 1st Rangers wasted your food."
"I reject the allegation that our tribe wasted food--" Claude looked at the three officers and turned to Vaoli. "--Lieutenant-Colonel, can you guarantee they're commissioned officers of our kingdom's army? I suspect they're imposters pretending to be soldiers. I am formally requesting an investigation. I also want to see your proof of identification. No true officer of the army would ever make such ludicrous statements, much less as accusations against another officer. I refuse to believe these disgraces are commissioned officers."
"You... you!" Darik panicked.
This damned captain was doubting their authenticity as officers? There was no greater insult an officer could suffer!
"Captain Duriaulo, as witness, may I ask if it is mistaken of me to hold such suspicions?"
He was on keeper territory, so he turned to their representative in the room.
"No, you are right to suspect them. I share similar doubts. I refuse to believe our army has such useless men even among the non-coms. I especially refuse to believe the army would commission officers who don't know the most basic of field operations doctrines. If frontline command is made up of such incompetence, we should thank our lucky stars the war ended when and as it did, and we should start cowering with our wives and children over what should happen to us in the next war." Duriaulo went to the door to summon his men.
"Wait... wait! Captain Claude, Captain Duriaulo, it's just a minor misunderstanding!"
Vaoli lost all of his former calm as he darted from his chair.
Claude and Duriaulo looked at each other and instantly knew something was off. Claude was intentionally trying to cause trouble and Duriaulo was only going along. They had only wanted to cause the bastards a little trouble, but neither had really believed any of them were imposters. Now, however...
"Freeze!" Claude warned, "Lieutenant-Colonel Vaoli, please produce your proof of identity! Otherwise I will treat you as an imposter!"
"You're the imposter! How dare you accuse nobility?!" Darik yelled.
He seemed to be all bark and no bite, however.
"You know the truth. Produce your identification and officer certificates!"
Duriaulo returned with a tent of men following him, filling the room up instantly.
"W-we didn't bring our papers... Our certificates are in frontline command HQ. You can follow us back to retrieve them," said the bespectacled Halchik with an ashen face.
"No identity papers? No officer certificate? What officer goes out on official duty without them? Arrest them!" Duriaulo ordered, before he turned to Claude. "You're amazing, friend. You exposed their fraud right away. I was still wondering why they didn't even know combat protocols and tried to frame you with utterly stupid arguments. That was a close one."
Sids, both his arms bound behind him, didn't yield.
"What's so odd about not knowing combat protocols? I've been busy at frontline command HQ. It's only normal to forget insignificant things! You two, however, dare to go against our authority! Wait for your court-martial! I swear I won't let the two of you off!"
Duriaulo laughed as he approached the man and gave him a slap, sending his hat flying. He grabbed his hair and tugged violently, causing him to grunt in pain.
"You, let me off? Huh. I think that's my line. You must be as unaware of what 'impersonating an officer' means as you are of what military doctrine is. Let me enlighten you a little and spare us all some time and embarrassment. It's a serious offence punishable with the firing squad, not just of you, either, but your entire family. As for what you call 'insignificant' combat protocols, open your eyes and look! They're hung on the wall!
"Look clearly. The second part is about logistics. When facing battle, all participating personnel must be fed well. Each soldier gets three full meals a day! Those working the night shift get extra meals. These regulations are there to ensure our soldiers are fighting fit at all times! No excuse, no situation, can justify breaking from these rules, especially not the one regarding meals. How dare you impersonate an officer and trouble Captain Claude without even knowing something so basic?!"
Duriaulo let go of his hair and waved to the other keepers.
"Lock them up separately. We'll deal with them when we have the time."
Turning back, Duriaulo let out a wry smile. "Mister 'Lieutenant-Colonel', I will need your proof of identification and officer certificate."
Vaoli's face paled as he shuddered nonstop. Sweat gathered on his forehead nonstop, He was already involved in the imposter scandal and there was no way to escape.
"I-I have i-i-dentification... I'm a commissioned officer of t-the kingdom... not an im-imposter..." Vaoli opened his uniform pocket and took out his documents.
Duriaulo took the papers and checked it with Claude. He was indeed a commissioned officer.
"Arrest him too!"
"No, I'm a commissioned officer, a lieutenant-colonel! You can't arrest me!"
Vaoli cried as he slumped to the ground.
"I can't?" Duriaulo waved the papers around. "Lieutenant-Colonel Vaoli, yes? You are a commissioned officer. But you're from logistics! Why are you impersonating someone from the army judiciary? I doubt the judiciary would make such a mistake. You better let the top investigate you thoroughly!"
"No..." Vaoli was dragged out by two keepers like a dead pig.
Duriaulo waved and called the two archivists over. Everything that happened was recorded. The records were handed over for Claude and Duriaulo to sign before the archivists left the two captains in the office.
"Hahahaha..." Duriaulo burst out laughing with a euphoric look on his face. "Friend, this is a great chance for us! The noble officers made a wrong move. I really don't know what goes on in their heads. They actually gave us such a huge weakness to exploit."
"A chance? A weakness?" Claude didn't understand what was going on. He only wanted to trouble the four officers by casting their identities in doubt. He didn't think Duriaulo would actually follow through with the whole thing and even seem so happy.
"You still don't understand?" The captain was aware that Claude was born in a small town and didn't really know about the struggles and schemes of the elite. Since he was in a good mood, he explained the whole thing in detail.
"Friend, I can only say you were incredibly lucky. I don't know which noble officer in frontline command got a seizure and let a logistics lieutenant-colonel impersonate someone from the judiciary and took three other noble officers to cause trouble for your tribe.
"If we didn't see through it, nothing would happen. But they actually exposed themselves. This won't be good for the noble officers. This will be a really serious incident that will send waves through the army and the royal court and involve everyone.
"Impersonating commissioned officers is a huge offence whether it's committed by noble or peasant. Serious offences are punished with death by firing squad while lighter ones get at least ten years of forced labour with no possibility of bail. I suspect the nobles in frontline command are getting ahead of themselves because nobody has been keeping them on a leash lately. They wouldn't commit a mistake like this otherwise.
"What we need to do now is to get this news out there. The more people that know this, the better. That way, if the noble officers want to save these four, they'll have to pay a huge price. Or, we can get them to do our bidding."
Claude wasn't interested in the scheming of the nobles in frontline command. He believed that life had to be simple to be enjoyable. But that didn't mean he didn't understand the intricacies of such matters. He just couldn't be bothered to.
"Can we use these fools to force the nobles to free Major Skri?" That was the only thing Claude cared about now.
"Hmm..." Duriaulo shook his head after some thought. "Impossible. The noble officers are under instruction from old nobility. Using Major Skri, they want to barge into the new territories the kingdom claimed, stop the rise of peasant officers, and take away the new nobility's investment and force the royal family to give them a monopoly over all military industries.
"They would rather give up on these noble descendants than Major Skri, who is crucial for their plans. They can compromise, but they won't go beyond their baseline. We have to question those fools immediately to see how much they're worth and how far their families would go for them."
"Alright. I'll leave this to you and look forward to hearing from you."
Morning the next day, Duriaulo sent for someone to call Claude to him. He looked rather tired and probably missed out on sleep.
"It's clear now." He pointed at a set of documents. "Sids Van Rulmke, 23, is the guard of First Lieutenant Hendlir from the logistics department of frontline command and is a corporal. Darik San Klenzout, 28, is the guard of Second Lieutenant Metz from communications staff and is a staff-sergeant. Halchik Lor Wardony, 26, is a proper officer, but his rank's only honorary. He's not a commissioned officer and was one of those sent to aid refugees in Rimodra.
"Van Rulmke, San Klenzout and Lor Wardony are all old nobility. While they're not the top dog, they're at least second rate. They had no choice but to enlist some of their members in the army because of the war, but they managed to work some ways to get the other established noble officers to make them their guards or buy them honorary Titles to get them to serve other local duties. That way, they can avoid being sent to the battlefield.
"As for Lieutenant-Colonel Vaoli, he's a parasite in logistics without any firm backing. He managed to set up a business arrangement between logistics and one of the old nobility that owns some military factories and benefits of the noble officers. He was the one who suggested taking the three nobles here. He wants to take down you, a knighthood holder, to advance his career."
Claude flipped through the interrogation records. The four fools' testimonies were roughly summarised by Duriaulo.
"It boggles me that the noble officers casually let them commit something so taboo as impersonating commissioned officers."
Duriaulo burst out laughing. "I have to admit that you really lucked out. Claude, my friend. The noble officers aren't actually aware that they came over. They've been busy dealing with other stuff and reclaiming enemy property. They wouldn't let anyone help them with pocketing wealth and couldn't free themselves up.
"The other reason is Major Skri stubbornly insisting that he was the sole person to call for the withdrawal from Count Krilaus' castle. Since he took all the responsibility, the nobles aren't able to escalate the issue and drag you down with him.
"The four fools here are part of the conspiracy and they know you're also on the list of people to take down. They also want to bring Lieutenant-Colonel Lederfanc, who's supervising the industries in the three southern prefectures, into this mess. So, they hid what they were about to do from the other noble officers and came here on their own accord to get you to yield. That way, they'd be able to gain some clout among the noble officers.
"They didn't think they'd be dooming themselves. We caught them red-handed and I already sent a carrier eagle to the ministry of the army to report about this impersonation scandal. I also used carrier pigeons to notify all units stationed nearby to warn them to check the papers of any person that claimed to be an officer from frontline command. I believe the noble officers in frontline command already got wind about this. I wonder how chaotic it is over there as they figure out how to fix this fiasco..."