Many things happened on the frontlines in the following week. As Duriaulo had predicted, Prince Hansbach carried out a purge. He disbanded frontline's strategy department on account of the war's end. He also discharged nearly a third of its noble officers. Along with them went six irregular corps.
According to Duriaulo, though the first prince was impulsive and unfit to be king, he was a brilliant military leader. He summoned the corpsmen for a meeting and relieved the nobles allied to old nobility of their duties.
At the same time, he also replaced the keepers of frontline command with the royal guard. It gave him the brawn he needed to carry out such a purge. Dozens of noble officers were tried in court martial on charges of corruption and such and tens of noble officers were discharged and would never have another chance to further their careers in the kingdom's army.
The initially suppressed peasant officers were given huge promotions and filled the top positions of frontline command. Duriaulo heard from his friend that Prince Hansbach had handed over authority to General Bodenkampf, whom Stellin X had sent over. What would follow were the disbandment and reorganisation of the forces by the general and it wouldn't take more than a few months before everyone could return home.
The other good news was that Skri had been saved by the first prince. In fact, according to new inside news from Duriaulo's friend, Prince Hansbach used the so-called loss of kingdom territory to deal with a bunch of noble officers.
When the first prince took back power initially, the noble officers united and put their signatures on a request to be granted merit for the case files on Skri. However, the first prince backslapped them hard. Not only did he turn back the whole case, he even managed to push responsibility for the crimes they charged Skri with back to the nobles.
The first prince had asked the nobles whether frontline command orchestrated any rescue operation when 1st Ranger Tribe was encircled by the enemy and trapped in the castle. The nobles proudly defended themselves, saying that they sent five carrier eagles to ask about the situation without a single one of them replying.
"And so you stopped caring after that?!" roared the prince with rage before he railed on the officers in the strategy department and the command department for not doing their jobs. Even though contact with the main tribe in the castle was cut off, the band defending the mountain pass did send them a notice about the tribe's encirclement and that they weren't able to provide them with supplies. They had requested frontline command to send reinforcements to bail the tribe out of the situation.
Yet, frontline command did absolutely nothing other than sending their carrier eagles and deciding on their own that the tribe had been wiped out when not one of them returned. They sat there doing nothing as 1st Rangers held their ground for three whole months before withdrawing after running out of food and ammunition, only to be blamed for losing kingdom territory by frontline command!
The prince was completely livid and the table they used for the meeting kept being banged on. Not a single person on the scene managed to come up with a counterargument. It was true that when 1st Ranger Tribe was surrounded, the battles had subsided at the frontlines and the million troops of the kingdom were on orders to be on standby. Frontline command and the strategy department should've delegated some resources to save the tribe or be gathering troops for a counterpush.
Even though crossing the mountain path was a difficult task, sending a line of troops would've been enough to beat the enemy back and saved the tribe. In fact, they could send even more troops to build even more routes through the mountains so that more reinforcements could be sent through. Yet, the nobles of frontline command and the strategy department didn't put the peril of 1st Ranger Tribe on mind and were busy giving the peasant officers a hard time, such as driving General Miselk Kor Priest, the acting commander-in-chief, away.
The first prince tore the case files on Major Skri into little pieces and left only the list of people requesting merit for closing the case. He looked at the document and said, "I will make sure to investigate every one on this list thoroughly and give them what they deserve."
Nearly all the noble officers paled at those words almost immediately.
Though Skri had been released and restored to his former position, he wasn't in good shape from all the interrogation and beatings. He had been sent to the infirmary tribe of frontline command for recovery. At the same time, Captain Heickham of 3rd Clan was sent back to tribe headquarters after his full recovery and took up administrative duties alongside the clansman of 4th Clan, Kurdwak.
Skri got Heickham to bring Claude a letter and said that he was doing well and there was no need to worry. He would be back at tribe headquarters in another half a month and asked Claude to come up with a list of five names for an unspecified purpose. It was worth noting that he also asked Claude to include his own name in it.
Duriaulo saw the request and congratulated Claude that he would be promoted, but the man in question himself didn't know how Duriaulo arrived at that conclusion.
"It's simple," Duriaulo said, "Major Skri asked for a list of five names including yours. That means you are to be transferred to another position and the other four will be your helpers. Nobody else can order them around by you by the time you're transferred to the new unit."
"But isn't the war over already? The troops on the frontlines are about to be disbanded and sent home. Why would there be a new position for me to fill?" Claude found it rather hard to believe.
"Well, I have inside word that--" Duriaulo looked around to make sure nobody was listening. "--the top brass has decided that apart from the four main corps of the kingdom, the kingdom is going to form four more standing corps. Three of them will be stationed in the territory of the three occupied duchies and one will be stationed in the royal capital to be a rapid reaction force. These four standing corps will have all the benefits of the four main corps and be seen on the same level..."
"You mean to say there's a chance I'll be transferred into one of those four standing corps?"
"It's not just possible, it's almost certain. In fact, it won't be just the five on the list. There will be many from the 1st to 4th clans in your tribe that will be transferred there. The top brass intends on transferring elite units to the four standing corps. And Prince Hansbach decided to exclude the noble officers to prevent the old nobility from exerting influence on those corps."
Claude had an epiphany. Aueras had occupied the territories that belonged to Sidins, Rimodra and Askilin and they needed a strong force to suppress local resistance, so that was where the four corps came in. Additionally, the first prince had excluded the noble officers from the four standing corps as a direct result of their recent shenanigans in frontline command to ensure the royal family could have forces they could trust.
Fortunately, the nobles of frontline command didn't have authority to mobilise troops. The first prince wouldn't have that easy a time grasping power back from their hands otherwise. That was a wake-up call for the royal family as well. Had the nobles been able to mobilise troops, the return of the first prince to frontline command might've turned into a tragedy. Being imprisoned by them would be the best case scenario. The worst was he would be used by the nobles as a puppet to cause chaos in the kingdom.
Without a force they could rely on, the noble officers were helpless to do anything. They weren't able to pose any threat to the first prince who suddenly returned and could do naught but yield to the purge. The tables had turned overnight and the transgressions the nobles committed in the newly occupied territories were proof of their misdeeds. Much of the territory the old nobility got their hands on were confiscated. It was no wonder Duriaulo was in such a good mood.
There wasn't much else to discuss. The people Claude trusted most in his clan were Moriad, Dyavid, Myjack and Gum. As for Mazik, even though he did rather well, he didn't come off as particularly trustworthy to Claude. The other tentsmen and bandsmen only obeyed Claude's orders because of his rank. While some of them might be genuinely loyal to him, they didn't make a show of it so Claude could only mentally apologise to them.
Claude wrote Myjack and Gum's names on the list even though they weren't back yet. If it really was as Duriaulo predicted, Myjack and Gum wouldn't be able to continue serving Claude in the other unit if they weren't picked. They were registered as troops of the 1st Ranger Tribe after all and the new unit would assign new ordermen and guards for Claude.
There was something else troubling him apart from the picks for the list, and that was Sheila. The frontlines had returned to normal and the irregular corps were gradually being reorganised and disbanded. The moment Skri returned to tribe headquarters, Claude was confident he would receive an order to leave Squirrel Village soon, so he wanted to leave with his lover. After that, he would take some leave to return to Whitestag with her and marry her with the blessings of his family.
However, Sheila refused his offer as she wasn't willing to leave the witch's forest. She insisted on waiting for her mother's return and wouldn't budge even though Claude offered to take her hand in marriage. She told him that they were magi, not the mundane folk, and there was no need to rely on a societal convention like marriage to maintain their relationship. If it worked out between them, they would stay together, and if not, they could simply part. That was how her mother left her father back then and brought her along to live secludedly in this place.
It was the first time she talked about her father. "Your father's a magus too?" he wondered.
"Yes. He lives in Siklos."
"Siklos? The nation of magi? Did you and your mother come from there as well?"
"Yup. I lived for six years since my birth. My father's one of those hell-bent on avenging their brethren and has nothing on his mind but attacking Freia to reestablish the dominance of the magic civilisation. My mother, being a nature magus, doesn't wish for war. She was worried that war would turn out to be the worst thing to happen to magi and cause them to lose their last bastion of survival and development on the island. They often argued heatedly about this and my mother took me and a few other nature magi to the mainland and live in isolation."
Sitting by Claude's side, she hugged his arm. "Claude, I know you truly love me, but there's no need for us to marry. We magi follow the conventions of nature. There's no need to bind ourselves to each other with family. We need our time to explore the intricacies of this arcane field. Now that I have my mother's precious library back, I regret having spent so much time back then on fooling around. I don't wish to leave this place and there isn't a better place in the outside world for me to study magic freely anyway.
"That's why I won't be leaving with you. I will stay here and continue my studies. Don't worry about me, I'm used to living alone. Blackwind is here to accompany me anyway. You won't have to worry about my safety either, since I have a number of combat spells already. There are also the four muskets you hung up on my wall. I've practised much with them and can shoot fine. Two days back, I even shot a fat turkey dead from a hundred metres away in one try.
"If you miss me, just take some time to visit me here. I'll be staying here for the foreseeable future. If you want to write to me, send it to the village chief. I'll get Blackwind to bring me the letter whenever they want to trade more things for medicinal paste."