"Huh? Why did you come back? Isn't Wilkney here for his break?"
Claude watched as Doris slipped down through the hole using her roll of sheets.
Doris squirmed into his bed and said, "I asked him to come back."
"Huh? What do you mean? You want him to catch us in the act?" Claude asked with shock.
Didn't Doris bemoan Wilkney for being uninterested? Why did she suddenly have him come home? Claude saw the man three times in the 1st month alone.
"Catch you my arse. I had him come back to cover for us."
Doris had already seated herself above him.
"I want a child, but I can't get pregnant while he isn't home, can I?"
Claude was speechless. He had little choice but to do as she wished, however. Doris had been pestering him to make her a mother since she'd learnt of his son's birth. She'd, apparently, even gone so far as to call back her husband so her pregnancy wouldn't be suspect.
Time passed thusly and the 4th month came; and with its arrival came the announcement of Doris' pregnancy. Claude heard about it as he walked into the house after a day at the college. He was met at the door by Natalie, who handed him a plate of white rice cake with black sesame -- a common custom in the capital to announce a woman in the house's pregnancy.
Claude wasn't too familiar with this custom and didn't know what the rice cakes were. He wondered why the calculative woman would gift him food all of a sudden.
"Have some," she generously said, "It truly is a blessed day. I steamed a lot of these and gave every single household in the village some. I'll have to send a basket of these tomorrow to the moon goddess shrine in the town of Mordo tomorrow too."
"How is today blessed?"
"It's Doris. She is with child!" she announced with elation, "I told her long ago to ask Wilkney to come back so that the couple can work at it. To think that she'd get pregnant after his frequent visits in the recent months!"
Claude awkwardly received the plate of rice cakes and thought, the one putting in all the effort was me though. My hips are giving out after all that movement. Even though you two stare at me like a hawk all day long, you were completely oblivious to your own son's tendencies... Even the way he walks looks a little effeminate despite him being in uniform.
"Ah, congratulations. It's confirmed? How many months has she been pregnant?" Claude asked.
"It's confirmed. We invited an apothecary from the college over and his inspection reveals that she's been pregnant for around two months."
"Why it really is an occasion worth celebrating!" Claude took out a thale from his pocket. "Come, Auntie Natalie, I've lived here with you for a year now and according to the customs of my home, we have to give something on occasions like these. Take this and get something nutritious for Doris."
"How could I... You needn't spend so much..." Though she refused politely, her grip on the coin was strong.
"It's really fine. Just take it. Being able to lodge here must be a fortunate turn of fate for me too, so don't worry about it. I'll go to my room now."
Claude entered his room with the plate of rice cakes and sat down on his chair. He listened to the sounds from upstairs. Now Doris was pregnant, she was treated like a protected, endangered animal. Halbena was basically her personal maidservant now, doing errands like bringing her water and food nonstop.
Claude sighed deeply. The woman had gotten her wish, but he didn't know what to do. The baby was his, too. He couldn't say anything, however. While Natalie treated the unborn child as their kin, Claude would no doubt become their archnemesis if they found out.
Claude ascended the hole that evening. Doris was waiting for him. She told him not to worry; Wilkney had promised he would raise the child as his own. Zasrak and Natalie wouldn't have their hearts broken.
Doris said Wilkney was grateful to him for his help. It would sound laughable to others, but Wilkney was sincerely grateful. He now had an even better smoke screen for his homosexual escapades. After all, nobody would suspect a person with a wife and child of batting for the other team. His life at home and in society would be far smoother going.
"...What about when the child grows up?" Claude asked.
"We'll cross that bridge when we get to it."
Doris didn't think too far ahead. She only wanted to experience the joys of being a mother. She did say that if the child grows up and some things in the family changed, she would tell it who the real father was and have the child seek him out.
Claude returned to his own room quietly.
General Miselk summoned him at the end of the month. He followed the general's adjutant, a major, to the general's office. After half an hour's wait, he was let in.
Miselk was wearing a set of crystal spectacles with his head looking down at a document. Claude approached the desk and saluted.
"Stand at ease--" Miselk returned a casual salute and pointed to the chair beside Claude. "--Take a seat, Claude. I'm here to discuss your posting."
Claude sat down and minded his posture. "I will head to where I'm ordered, Sir. Anywhere is fine by me."
Miselk laughed. "Anywhere? No, no, no. I want you to take up a post where you can perform to your fullest potential. Otherwise, it'd just be a waste of talent.
"Claude, there's only a month left before the training course ends in the 5th month. You performed well throughout the course and got excellent grades in your tests and rank among the top in class. Naturally, your weaknesses are as apparent as your strengths too, which I'm sure you're well aware of." Miselk stood up and began to pace about in the office.
"After the course, you will be promoted another rank to a lieutenant-colonel. This much is already certain. It's a reward for your splendid performance."
Claude stood up immediately with his fist against his heart. "I will be of service to the kingdom and the throne! Thank you for giving me this chance, General!"
"Enough. Don't need to recite these pleasantries to me. You earned this glory and honour through your own talents and efforts." Miselk waved his hand casually. "Sit down. Don't need to be so formal. I wanted to discuss your posting in the Ranger folk with you. You now have two choices."
He soon got to the meat of the matter. According to the unit hierarchy of Ranger, there would be four mobile infantry lines and an additional light-cavalry line, a special independent tribe, and an enhanced cannoneer tribe, totalling up to around 32 thousand people.
After Claude's promotion to lieutenant-colonel, his rank would allow him to take command of a line. In the Aueran military, tribesmen were usually majors and linesmen were usually colonels. Lieutenant-colonels usually were adjutants of such lines, served as the head of staff, or the head of some other more bureaucratic departments, such as court martial chief inquisitors or logistics department heads.
In peacetime, the adjutants and heads of staff had a really easy time since the linesmen called most of the shots and the various department heads executed what needed to be done. Usually, adjutants and heads of staff wouldn't be involved in much and wouldn't be held accountable for anything. In other words, they didn't hold any power and were basically bystanders ignored by their subordinates and superiors.
So, most noble descendants in the military would strive for adjutant or head of staff positions. They would be able to serve long terms during peacetime and weren't responsible for much, having much free time of their own. In essence, it was the perfect position made for nobles who joined the force through family contributions to the military.
Even though the Ranger folk wouldn't be taking in people from noble families rich and powerful, the positions of adjutant and head of staff still existed and they didn't have to do much during peacetime apart from coordinating some training exercises.
Miselk wasn't about to let Claude be a waste of wages who spent his days doing nothing substantial. He thought it a huge waste to let him serve at the line level of the hierarchy, so he chose instead to give him the tougher job of being tribesman of the special independent tribe of the Ranger folk.
While it seemed like his rank as a lieutenant-colonel was a little too high for tribesmen to have, the independent tribe was different from the other combat tribes in the folk. A tribe in Ranger had 920 men split between four clans, one keeper band, one cannoneer band, one enforcer band, one logistics band, one light-cavalry scout band and tribe staff. They number around 1360 men in total and had about one extra clan's worth of men than a normal army tribe.
The special independent tribe on the other hand was even more impressive. There were four full combat clans of a thousand men in total, one light-cavalry clan numbering 280 men, and one cannoneer clan with 240 men. They had a band of keepers and enforcers like normal tribes, but their logistics unit had a clan of men as opposed to the usual band. Coupled with an additional band of guards, a support band and the staff, there was a total of around 1800 men in the tribe. It was comparable to two tribes from the irregular corps.
Claude was quite curious about the support band. Miselk explained that as the independent tribe would be assigned with two thousand war horses, six hundred race horses and 120 four-wheeled carriages. The light-cavalry scout clan had their own coachmen and the rest of the war horses fell under the care of the tribe staff. Each man would be given a mount. The support band on the other hand weren't considered combat personnel and were made up of artisans, veterinarians, carpenters, blacksmiths, leathersmiths, tailors and so on. They would coordinate with the logistics unit.
Usually, only a unit the size of a folk would have that kind of support unit the size of a band. Often, they would be used as free labour to improve upon quality of life in the force. Some high-ranking officers even hired chefs to join their support units so that they would be able to enjoy good food on the march.
The reason the independent tribe was assigned a support band was due to their solo nature. They were expected to be the wedge or razor of the rest of the folk. Not only did they need to be great at offence, they also had to excel at defence. For instance, if there was a local revolt that was going out of hand, the Ranger folk would first send out the special independent tribe to respond to the matter. They would have to travel as quickly as they could to the target location to secure the strategic foothold and wait for the main force to arrive.
Claude now knew why the tribe had so many war horses, race horses and carriages. They had to be able to react quickly, hence the need for fast travel. As for the support band, they would also be in charge of collecting resources to replenish what the tribe had expended to ensure they would be able to operate over extended periods of time in full combat capacity.
Miselk, hoped that Claude would become tribesman of the special independent tribe as only someone of his rank could serve in that position. There were many sharp-witted ones in the folk who had their eyes on that post and showed interest. The way they saw it, it was the fastest track up the ladder of their military career.
But Miselk refused them one after another. The way he saw it, only Claude was suited to be the tribesman, as in the past year of the course, Claude's command of a tribe of forces was unparalleled. Nobody was his match in the simulations. He was adaptable and swift and often emerged victorious in surprising ways with few casualties thanks to capitalising on guerilla tactics.
"The training course for some eight hundred officers in this college is going to end," Miselk said, "If you're willing to become tribesman of this independent unit, you shall have the privilege of picking out twenty of the most well-performing officers among the eight hundred first to serve in command posts in the tribe. The college shall appoint the remaining posts. On the 6th month, you shall head to Castle Kristo to pick out top soldiers to join the tribe."
Claude stood up and saluted. "I shall comply, General. I am willing to serve as tribesman of the special independent tribe."