"Auntie Natalie, Mister Zasrak, thank you for putting up with me this year and a half. I've been posted elsewhere, so I will be departing. Thank you again for your hospitality."
Claude bid the whole family goodbye. He had come with Myjack and Gum to pack his books -- he was leaving everything else.
Doris' stomach hung pregnantly beneath her dress. She didn't say anything, preferring to watch from the window of her room. Claude glanced at her and nodded before he left.
"Give this to Lieutenant-Colonel Manrique, we'll leave once its delivered."
The books were worth ten crowns. Claude had had his colleagues buy them as they rotated to the capital on business. He had finished them all and didn't want to lug them around, so he left them to the college library, which Manrique was still in the middle of stocking.
He hugged his old friend one last time and left with forty fellow alumni. All forty were destined for the new folk. Claude's picks were not among them. They'd left for Castle Kristo two days earlier. Only Myjack and Gum were with him.
Castle Kristo was one of the capital's four great citadels. It was built specifically to defend the city from any armies that might march against it from the north. There had once been several duchies there that posed a serious threat to the capital. They'd all long since been swallowed up by the ever-expanding kingdom. The fort was no longer the strategic fortress it had once been. It was still impressive, but it had little strategic and military important now. Instead, being on one of the crucial paths to the north of Ibnist, its trade sector had boomed.
The march lasted a day and a half, but the journey was uneventful and they were soon reporting to Miselk.
Miselk watched the merry streets from his office window halfway up one of the castle's taller towers worriedly. His voice was tired when he acknowledged Claude's presence.
"You're here. At ease. Your designation and number are on the desk, take a look."
Claude finished his salute and picked up the document in question. 'Ranger Tribe 131', it read. They were obviously not the 131st ranger tribe, it was a code signifying their nature and position in the hierarchy. The first digit signified their order, they were a first-order tribe, meaning they were under the folksman's direct command. No officer, no matter his rank, beneath the folksman himself and his designated representative, could give them orders or interfere with their operations.
The second digit signified the internal structure of the unit. A third-strut unit was an 'abnormal' unit, they did not have one of the standard unit models, specifically, they were bigger than was the norm. The third digit was their combat rank in the folk. They were the first rank, meaning of all the combat units in the folk, they were the best.
"I have a request, General," Claude started, remaining at attention.
"May we build barracks elsewhere?"
"I have much training to do with the tribe and -- forgive my candour, sir -- but the castle is too lax on discipline."
Miselk let go a long, tired sigh.
"You noticed, huh? The castle is not fit to be called a military installation. It was a mistake to base the folk here. The king wants us close by, however, and who dares question him? I expected an uphill struggle to get the men in order, but I didn't think it would be this bad.
"Just look at these reports. There are more breaches of regulation and failures of discipline than there are whores and cups of alcohol in the entire city! I've even run into a couple 'entrepreneurial' soldiers! You'd swear they weren't even in the army! The worst of them have pushed the civilians so far I've received formal complaints!"
Miselk stopped and rubbed his temples, trying to massage away the umpteenth headache he'd had since arriving. The royal family spared no effort to keep their officers loyal and in shape, but they had, as all nobles of their peerage tended to do, completely forgotten about the grunts at the bottom of their pyramid. They'd been in the castle as long as Claude had been at the college, and nearly two years without superior officers did worlds of damage to discipline.
Claude suddenly remembered asking himself why neither the city gates nor the castle gates had sentries. No doubt they were off drinking and whoring somewhere.
Miselk didn't expect to be put in charge of this mess, especially with the folk still unformed. There weren't even people in charge of the soldiers stationed there, so there was nobody to be held accountable for the mess. But surely they couldn't get the general, the first folksman of Ranger, to deal with minor disciplinary problems himself, could they?
"General, I believe we must send the officers back to their former units immediately to announce the formation of the folk, collect all weapons and ammunition, and close the camp down to enforce a strict curfew. We will be strict on the camp and all transgressions will be severely punished. We'll pursue ringleaders and encourage whistleblowers by rewarding them. Only then will we be able to stabilise the camp in a short amount of time," Claude said.
Miselk's eyes brightened as if Claude's suggestion was the sole ray of hope that illuminated the only way forward. In his initial plan, he had wanted to get the officers settled in their new posts first before assigning them their men.
But now, he didn't know where to start with the rabble. The passing of two years had completely eroded the experiences those soldiers gained on the battlefield. Miselk thought that it would be better to disband the units outright and recruit new ones, but the top brass would never agree to such a move. That was a huge number of 50 thousand people, after all.
But sending the officers back to their former units to reassert control and collecting the firearms from the soldiers before locking them up to enforce discipline might work. They could then root out the troublemakers and whip the rest back into shape quickly. What remained would be an elite force for the kingdom.
Of the 50 thousand men, they only needed some thirty thousand of them. The remaining soldiers could just be handed to the ministry of the army. Miselk believed Claude's proposal was feasible and the officers could reassume their new posts after the matter was dealt with.
"Your proposal is fitting. Are there any other requests the folk can help you with?" Miselk was feeling rather cheerful and thought Claude deserved some other reward.
"Hmm..." He gave it some thought and said, "Just give me priority to pick the troops for my tribe. Also, we still don't have a healer tent. I need them to run bodily checks for our soldiers and log their health reports."
"Alright, consider it done. As for the healer tent, I can issue an order for the transference immediately. Just go to the infirmary to pick four herbalists and other required healer troops. Your tribe will be the the top force of our folk so letting you staff up first isn't a problem."
Claude received the written order and went to the infirmary. It seemed far more orderly than the other parts of the camp, with soldiers standing guard at the entrance with their muskets ready. Before he even reached the entrance, a second lieutenant waved for Claude and the rest to stop and blocked their way.
"Why is this place so heavily guarded?" Claude asked as he explained the reason he came.
"This is the infirmary centre of the folk's logistics unit and we're responsible for training healers for the various units in the folk. Back then, a bunch of ruffians tried to break in to steal medicinal supplies and even tried to burn down our stores when they were discovered. We shot four of them dead and Lieutenant-Colonel Skri, the head of the logistics unit, increased our patrols and guards. That's why we're that heavily guarded here," the second lieutenant on duty explained.
"So Lieutenant-Colonel Skri's office is here?" Claude didn't think his former superior would be there. Last year during the 11th month, Skri left the college after a little while. Claude had wanted to seek him out when he reached Castle Kristo and he didn't think they'd get to meet so soon.
"Yes, Sir. Just head left once you're past the entrance. There are three three-storey stone-building blocks there. The lieutenant-colonel's office is on the second floor of the second building. You will need his signature to transfer away herbalists and healers," the second lieutenant replied.
"Alright, thank you."
The three buildings were built in Hogg-style architecture like Claude's red mansion at home. However, they looked rather new and seemed to have been built little more than a decade prior.
Skri's office was large and it had a huge desk to match it. Stacks of documents piled up on it. A few young logistics officers were handing Skri one document after another. Skri scanned through the documents and signed each and every one of them before handing them off to his subordinates. He couldn't be busier.
Claude stood behind his desk and looked at the lieutenant-colonel who had his head buried in the documents. Skri felt that someone was in front of him, but he mistook him for his adjutant. "Pike, get me a cup of red tea."
Claude shrugged. "Sir, I don't know where your red tea is."
Startled, Skri looked up at Claude and broke into laughter. He stood up and gave him a deep hug. "You bastard... why didn't you speak up when you came in? I thought you were someone else!"
"I just arrived to report for duty. I'm here with General Miselk's transference order to settle the healer tent of Tribe 131 first. That way, we can run checks on the soldiers in our tribe." Claude handed the order over.
"Alright. Let's settle official matters first. Join my for a drink tonight to celebrate, friend." Skri took out a set of documents from the drawer beside him. "There are 137 herbalists in the infirmary centre, 21 of who are intermediate-rank herbalists. The rest are beginners. Your Tribe 131 can be assigned one intermediate and three beginner herbalists. Take a look at the list. However, the intermediate herbalists have quite a temperament. You'll be on your own whether you can get them to serve you."
Claude opened the folder and asked, "Why are there so many herbalists here?"
Skri grimaced. "All the herbalists in the military have been transferred here in the name of training healers and information exchange. But the top brass actually intends to give Ranger priority for herbalists. Only after the folk is formed can the other herbalists and healers be assigned to other units."
Claude didn't think that was possible. It appeared that Ranger was indeed going to be the main force of the royal family. They received better treatment in most fronts. Then, he saw a familiar name: Doctor Perunt, the former chief healer of Bluefeather's 11th Tribe. There was a note at the back stating that he had become an intermediate herbalist in the 9th month of Year 582.
"I want him," Claude said with his finger on the name.