Ibnist was one of the largest and most fertile plains in Eastern Freia. In Ancient Hez, Ibnist meant 'land of the light', though an alternate meaning was also 'fertile land under the sun'. In countless works of literature, it was described as a place full of sunlight where one could harvest rivers of honey -- a land blessed by mother nature.
After Aueras' founder, Stellin I, conquered Ibnist, he decided the royal capital would be built there to give the kingdom the foundation it needed to thrive. The capital was completed during Stellin III's reign, nearly eighty years after construction started. Even such a timescale could not do the scale of the project justice.
Whilst the largest work was indeed finished during Stellin III's reign, minor work, such as renovations and reworks of older parts of the project continued without halt well into the seventh monarch's years on the throne. Even so, the city only became recognised as one of the continent's four great capitals two generations later, during Stellin IX's reign. It also stood as the largest human settlement in the eastern half of the continent, with a population over a million.
The capital covered the whole of what had once been known as Ibnist. All of the region's once four separate citadels, nine towns, and 56 villages were now part of one great metropolis. Despite its size, however, the capital suffered few, if any, of the shortages so common in big cities. Careful planning and forethought had ensured that all the people's needs were met by an extensive system of infrastructure stretching across the entire kingdom. In the most recent reigns that network stretched beyond the kingdom's borders, tying up the entire eastern half of the continent in the city's prosperity.
Lake Bryanopest was the continent's second-largest freshwater lake, and the largest in the eastern half of the continent. Its shores marked the inland border of Ibnist Plains, and fed over four fifths of the farmland that supplied the city's most essential crops.
Aueras's line of kings prioritised irrigation works, so they had a complex net of aqueducts and canals that covered the entire area around the lake, and beyond in some areas. Several dozens of the canals were also wide enough and deep enough to carry barges that formed one of the cores of the city's trade transport infrastructure.
"Actually, there's no need to head to the capital before setting off for Kleibon. It would only delay your journey," Donoby said. He drew a straight line on the map. "You cross Lake Bryanopest and head to Kleibon directly, which would shave off two days."
"Go across Lake Bryanopest?" Claude mused.
"Yes. During the 11th month, I hailed three boats to cross the river and deliver my goods to the village. As it's winter now, the lake is covered by a thick layer of ice. You can just cross it directly. Perhaps you could hire a guide at the bank of the lake to lead you across. It would be much safer that way," the peddler said confidently.
"Could we hire your services as a guide?" Claude asked, "If we weren't in such a rush, I wouldn't have asked to trouble you, but in a foreign place in this kind of weather, it'll probably take too long to fumble our way to the village. I would gladly offer a crown for your guidance."
Claude didn't have a choice. Having a guide was much better than travelling aimlessly like flies. It wasn't even certain that they wouldn't lose their way using their original route to the royal capital and then to Kleibon Village. But if they used the route Donoby recommended, it wouldn't be as simple as looking at a map. They weren't even familiar with the place and landmarks and losing their way would be far too easy.
"This..." Donoby seemed rather hesitant.
Some of his other associates overheard the conversation and sounded their agreement. "Let's make a trip then, Donoby. It's only another five to six days. You'll already have missed the deadline you told your wife you'll be home by, so might as well give our three brave warriors a hand and earning some extra cash while you're at it. We'll tell your wife about it when we get back to prove that your return was delayed because of business, not because of a vixen."
"Alright then. I'll take you there," Donoby decided. The crown proved to be rather tempting.
The snowstorm only stopped after two days. The road was covered in half a metre of snow. It was the 11th of the 1st month and they had to report for duty by the 15th. It meant they had to arrive on the 14th no matter what. For convenience, Donoby advised them to not ride on horseback and instead squeeze in the sled Donoby used for his shipments that was pulled by his own three horses.
The peddler didn't lie and did in fact take them to Kleibon Royal Army College after two days and nights of travel. After paying him a crown and bidding him goodbye, Claude and the other two looked at the college a little doubtfully.
The only thing that barely resembled what they were expecting was a sign with the name of the institution marked on it. Myjack even tried to wipe the sign off to make sure he wasn't reading it wrong.
"This place looks like it's been abandoned. There isn't even a security station here," Myjack muttered.
"Let's go in and ask around," Claude said, leading the way.
"Halt! Who goes there?" The three were called to stop the moment they stepped in. It appeared that the lookouts were waiting inside where it was far warmer.
"Are you here to enroll?"
A couple soldiers weaseled out of the station and eyed them suspiciously.
"How did you come here? Did you not receive a notice?"
How had they gotten there? Claude was quite speechless.
"What notice? We rushed here for the enrollment after our family visit and ran into a snowstorm on the way. We worried that we wouldn't make it in time, so we hired a guide and crossed Lake Bryanopest to reach Kleibon Village directly."
The soldiers widened their eyes in realisation.
"Oh, so you didn't come from the capital? No wonder you came here without hearing about the notice. We thought you used another route. The last two days' snowstorms had covered half the capital in snow. It's the same in the road to Kleibon. The deepest parts have up to a metre of snow. Travel is impossible. The college has pushed back the start of the semester to the 1st of the 2nd month. Everyone's been notified."
The trio were stupefied. What would they do now? They had spent so much time and effort to rush to the college to enroll and end their vacation. While the enrollment was no longer an urgent concern, they didn't have anywhere to report the end of their break. Going back to 1st Ranger Tribe would be useless since Skri was resigning as tribesman and the tribe would be reorganised once more.
In other words, the three might not even be able to locate their tribe even if they went to the royal capital. Not to mention, Skri had sent their files to Kleibon Royal Army College, so now they had nothing to do with the tribe any longer.
"Go to the office building over there and look for Lieutenant-Colonel Manrique. He's the highest-ranked officer over here. I think he can help you with ending your vacation," suggested one of the soldiers.
The office was a long, two-storey building made of wood. Half of the first floor was underground, about two metres of it. That way, the roof of the second floor could angle enough to let snow slide off it to avoid snow piling up.
Lieutenant-Colonel Manrique was a well-built, middle-aged officer. He was dressed in thick winter clothes as the underground part of the office was really cold. To save on supplies, he didn't light the fireplace either, only lighting it up personally when Claude and the other two arrived.
They explained their situation and why they came and their problem was soon dealt with. The man didn't push responsibility to someone else and instead looked for the three's files himself before checking the name list of officers to be trained. He stamped their files to register their enrollment and the conclusion of their break and signed his own name.
Claude breathed a sigh of relief. Had they concluded their break on the delayed enrollment day, they would've gotten two weeks of extra break. That would've resulted in punishment and the transgression would be registered and it might affect their future breaks. Fortunately, the lieutenant-colonel took care of it for them.
Even if Claude had something to say about it, it was fact that he took longer to conclude his break. There wasn't much he could do about the black-and-white regulations and he would be punished no matter the reason.
After the procedures were complete, Claude got a really good impression of Manrique. He asked him why he did everything personally instead of getting his adjutant, orderman or guard to do it for him.
Manrique smiled and said that the college didn't assign him any, nor did he request for any for the simple reason that he couldn't afford it. Everyone in his large family counted on his salary to survive. Since they lived in the royal capital, the living costs were quite high. He could only barely keep the family afloat with his salary of two crowns a month.
Two crowns did seem to be quite a lot. Claude was quite curious about the details and he got Myjack to bring him two bottles of fruit wine he bought from Fang to go with the chat he was about to have with Manrique. Since he was now a captain, his salary and bonuses amounted to around a crown. He was already earning three times as much as his late father did.
The lieutenant-colonel got far more talkative with two glasses of wine down. He didn't have anything better to do there anyway and said he hadn't drunk so much since his marriage. His life story was a simple one. Born a peasant, he graduated from a war college at a young age and joined the ministry of the army as a staff officer. After many years of service, he got promoted to lieutenant-colonel. Working in the ministry of the army did come with the benefit of easier promotions, after all. Many of his colleagues who graduated from the war college were only still majors.
Peasant officers like Manrique didn't have much power in the ministry of the army and would at most serve as the adjutants of certain department heads. Manrique wasn't that ambitious a person either and was quite satisfied with his current post. His greatest wish was to finish all the work he was given without making any screw ups.
He had gotten married at the age of 27 with his childhood friend and daughter of his neighbour. When he was promoted to major, his parents had grown quite old. Both he and his wife were only childs of their respective families, so the four parents were up to them to sustain. They had three of their own children so the whole family numbered up to nine people. As their parents grew older, their medical fees soon became the largest part of their family's spending and most of their savings had been spent on that.
Manrique said he couldn't remember the last time he bought a bottle of wine for himself to drink. Living in the royal capital did cost far more than other places, after all. Claude had quite a long conversation with him and found that even normal honeyed bread cost two times what it did at other places. Not only that, blackwheat ale, which usually costs around three to five fennies a cup, cost one sunar in the royal capital, about three times the price.
Manrique, however, did regret coming to Kleibon Royal Army College a little. He didn't know how he caught Prince Hansbach's eye and was transferred to manage the college. Had it not been for the extra crown of benefits that came with this post, he wouldn't have agreed to leave the ministry.
It was only after arriving that he realised the college was still being constructed. He also heard news from his friends in the royal capital that the future of the college seemed bleak at best. It wasn't just the college; there seemed to also be a huge problem when it came to the formation of the Ranger corps.
Had Claude not been a captain and a recipient of a knighthood, Manrique wouldn't have so happily disclosed the goings on behind the scenes, though part of it was just him unloading his worries. Claude was quickly informed on why the lieutenant-colonel didn't see a bright future for the college.
The reason Prince Hansbach wanted to form the Ranger corps was so that the Stellin royal family had a loyal and reliable force that answered only to it. That was why noble officers were forbidden from taking part in it. Consequently, that caused the corps' formation to be put under severe pressure. Noble families, regardless whether they sided with the royal family or not, didn't wish for the royal family to have their own private army.
The war had just ended and the kingdom was short on funds to rebuild. So, a lack of funding became the most common excuse. Of the four standing corps, Griffon and Reddragon would be stationed at the border of Nasri to keep the enemy wary and in check. The newly reformed Bluefeather on the other hand would be stationed at the border between Canas and Askilin to repel enemy invasions.
The royal guard, on the other hand, had to return to the royal capital. The four new standing corps also had to be formed to be stationed in the new territories acquired by the kingdom through the war. So, Ranger became a pain in the neck for many nobles. They suggested for the cancellation of that corps' formation to cut down on military spending. So, the college that was built to train officers for them was also involved and had their budget cut by half. Part of the reason for the delay was the snowstorm, but the other part was due to their efforts to raise more funds for the college.