In the coming ten-odd days, Claude could only stay crestfallenly in Squirrel. Even though the ministry of the army cleared them of any charges of treason, they weren't able to do anything about saving Major Skri. The noble officers of frontline command had been figuratively slapped in the face by the judiciary of the ministry of the army and no longer dared to accuse Claude and Duriaulo, but they halted the transportation of supplies to 1st Ranger Tribe and demanded that the clansman of 1st Clan to go claim it from frontline command.
That happened to be Claude's position. The 2nd Clan's clansman, Hamocklin, was still recovering from his wounds in the infirmary and the clansman of the 3rd, Heickham, had been sent to an infirmary camp of the frontline command due to injuries too severe. He didn't participate in the siege of Count Krilaus' castle and his clan was instead commanded by Skri. Kurdwak was the clansman of 4th Clan and was currently put in charge of tribe headquarters ever since Skri was arrested.
Skri had a premonition that something like this would happen when he ordered for the tribe to retreat, so he ordered Claude to station his clan in Squirrel Village to help Duriaulo defend the mountain path. Apart from that, he transferred all the veterans from the other three clans to make up for the men 1st Clan lost. In other words, Claude's unit was the strongest and the best equipped. It even had a band of cannoneers.
Initially, Claude's clan was supplied by tribe headquarters in Rosa, but since frontline command no longer sent the tribe supplies, Kurdwak had no choice but to register with frontline command. However, he was stopped by the noble officers who demanded that he write a report to accuse Claude and Skri for conspiring to abandon the castle and give away the kingdom's territory to the enemy.
Kurdwak didn't yield either and claimed that he was newly transferred to the tribe and didn't know anything about those matters. Currently, he was only taking Skri's place as acting tribesman and he wouldn't write any expose no matter what. The officers had no choice and they only put their stamp to supply the tribe's troops in Rosa, excluding Claude and his clan.
In the official notice Claude got from frontline command, they stated that the war had ended and other factors such as the number of men and their arsenal had to be considered. As Claude's clan was posted in Squirrel Village and not tribe headquarters, when no proper tribesman was serving, the clansman had to personally go to the logistics department of frontline command to apply for supplies to prevent corruption.
The documents seemed to be in order, but Kurdwak secretly sent people to warn Claude not to go to frontline command. They were leading him into a trap. Claude had never planned on going in the first place. He was no fool. As for his supply problem, it was fortunate that Duriaulo's keeper tribe stockpiled three months' worth of goods which Claude could use to alleviate the situation.
Claude felt particularly emotional as he laid in the bed of his lover, Sheila. His recent experiences had greatly shaped him. The reason the noble officers no longer dared to send their men to trouble Claude was that it was his turf. He had a full clan of armed, capable men who obeyed his orders without question.
The noble officers, on the other hand, controlled up to a million men, but they had no right to mobilise them. The most they could send was a tent of guards and that would amount to nothing but unnecessary casualties. The guards would definitely not be making it back. That was why they had to rely on such tricks to get him to go to them. If he went there, his life would be in their hands.
If the noble officers actually had any authority to mobilize troops, they would definitely not allow the ministry of the army to close the case on the two incidents. They would hurriedly send a force there to blast Claude and Duriaulo to smithereens and they could charge them with whatever crime they wished. After all, dead men tell no tales.
Claude felt that he was blessed with quite the fortunate circumstance. If he didn't have a clan of men, frontline command could easily arrest him with a few people and once he was on their cutting board, it was game over. Even if he cooperated with them to incriminate Lederfanc, that wouldn't make much of a difference.
By the time he was no longer of use to them, he believed the noble officers wouldn't allow him a good ending either. It was most possible that they would silence him, or fake his suicide, or plan an accident, such as choking on bread. In the eyes of those nobles, a mere captain like him with a knighthood wasn't that much better than an ant at their foot.
He had the epiphany that gaining authority was the best solution to protect himself. Before, he was far too naive and only wanted to learn magic and gain dignitarian status after he served his term. Now, it seemed so jokingly childish. There were many things that could involve him even if he had nothing to do with it. It was just like being hit by a stray bullet.
Take for instance Skri's arrest. Even though he claimed sole responsibility for the allegations and Claude ought to be fine, the noble officers wanted to use him to drag Lederfanc, the former tribesman, down as well. He couldn't avoid it even if he wanted to. The only way to deal with it was to bravely resist and put up a fight.
Duriaulo, on the other hand, might not necessarily stand on his side if the interests of the new nobility weren't being undermined through that plot. Given how adept he was at dealing with the schemes thrown at him, he was obviously far more practised in the matters of subtle plots and Claude was no more than an ignorant bumpkin in comparison.
Bechmil and Jiblik's murder at the hands of Duriaulo and Claude actually managed to be spun into something that had nothing to do with them with Duriaulo's machinations. They even earned the investigation committee's praise for it.
The more Claude thought about it, the more fearful he got. After experiencing something like this, he came to understand how many more unknown truths were behind public announcements. If he didn't want to be the one people tried to sweep under the rug, he would have to grasp even more authority and power. Only then would he be able to ensure that he and his interests wouldn't be harmed.
He had thought he was satisfied with the captain rank and be able to brag about it back in Whitestag. But now, he felt far too insignificant. He could easily be used by those noble officers that he pissed off to mop the floor with. If he didn't have Maria as his herbalism teacher, Duriaulo and the new nobility might not stand on his side either and choose instead to watch the show from the sidelines.
While Duriaulo was just a captain and tribesman of a keeper tribe, having far inferior rank to his commissioned captain rank, he definitely had far more soft power in the form of networks and allies. The allied forces of the new nobility could hold their own in the struggle against the old nobility, after all, and even let the lofty royal family depend on their wealth.
After seeing how Duriaulo managed to convince the committee that a deer was actually a horse, Claude raised his evaluation of the man. Even though he was on his side for the moment and had the old nobility as their common enemy, Claude still reaffirmed his wariness for the new nobility to prevent them from screwing him over in the future.
Back on old Earth, his boss would always tell him that there were no eternal enemies or friends in the market, only eternal profits. That was why everyone put on a mask before discussing business but never signed a contract until they were doubly sure of their profits and costs.
Claude felt the new nobility were just like businessmen in that way. On old Earth, he could rely on his boss and he didn't really like doing business negotiations anyway, so he could live the free life he wanted under his boss' care. He could easily go to pubs and clubs with his boss to let loose and womanise without having to put on a mask and act like a serious gentlemen in a huge charade.
But this world was evidently not like the one before. He didn't have anyone watching his back and had to deal with everything himself. He needed to learn how the interactions of the elite worked and had to strive to climb the ladder. It wasn't even a matter of whether he liked it or not. Only by doing so could he make sure his loved ones and family had a safe environment to live in. He would learn from his boss to gain even more power and prestige.
"Why aren't you asleep yet? Something on your mind?" Sheila asked as she snuggled in.
"Ah, I was just about to sleep--" He hugged his lover tight. "Well, the war's over and I'm starting to miss home. I haven't been back for five whole years so I've been feeling a little disturbed. That's why I've been losing sleep lately."
The next morning after an intimate and exciting 'morning warm-up session' with Sheila, Claude got out of bed energised. He finished breakfast and bade his lover an unwilling farewell before mounting a mountain horse and going his way.
When he arrived in the village, he saw Duriaulo's adjutant, Siegfried, standing at the entrance. He seemed overjoyed to see him. "Sir Claude, you're finally back! The captain had been complaining the whole morning that he wasn't able to find you cause you didn't tell him where your lover lived. He wants me to take you to his office immediately."
Claude dismounted. "What happened?"
"The captain received a carrier eagle message this morning and seemed overjoyed and asked me to seek you out. He recalled that you told him you were spending the night with your huntress girlfriend and would be back this morning and asked me to wait here." Siegfried took the reins from Claude.
"Alright. I'll go to your captain immediately."
When he entered the office, he saw Duriaulo downing one glass of wine after another till his face was flushed red. He stood up excitedly and waved the letter in his hand around. "Friend, we've won! Prince Hansbach returned to frontline command and took back control! The old nobility's goons didn't dare to disobey a single one of his orders at all..."
The joyous news came too suddenly and overwhelmed him with both shock and joy. The return of the first prince meant that everything would be put back in order and Major Skri would be fine. He hurriedly asked, "Why didn't we get any word of this a few days ago? When did His Highness return?"
"The secret letter states that His Highness showed up at frontline command all of a sudden yesterday night. According to His Highness' guards, His Highness had gone to the outskirts of the royal capital to hunt. Nobody knew that the first prince was actually going to the frontlines. When they left the royal capital, they travelled quickly and disguised their identities as messengers heading for the frontlines, so nobody noticed," Duriaulo said with a gleeful smile.
Claude poured himself a glass of wine and downed it in a gulp. "Guess we can truly relax now. The noble officers won't dare to pull any shenanigans with the first prince there. I wonder how long it'll take before Major Skri will be released?"
"It should be fine now. In this letter my friend sent me, His Highness ordered all corpsmen on the frontlines to travel to frontline command within three days by carrier eagles. At the same time, a folk of royal guards were mobilised to Pacasia to take charge of security and defence. I believe His Highness is planning a purge."