Orders were absolute. No matter how badly he wished to stay, he had no choice. Miselk had called him to give him an order, not negotiate. He understood that, given that the ministry of the army would elevate Ranger to corps after the war, nothing could stop Miselk from mobilising his men.
Miselk's greatest wish was to have a corps, so battle was unavoidable. As the folk's razor and tribesman of 131, Claude had to pave their way. In Miselk's plan, Tribe 131 wasn't just the first unit sent to Nubissia. They were also the folk's eyes, their scouts. They were to sniff out the enemy and the battlefield.
"Orders received and acknowledged, General," Claude replied.
Thanks to transportation difficulties, the folk would be sent to Nubissia's Tyrrsim colony in two batches. The second batch would arrive three months after the first. Miselk put Tribe 131 and two other mobile lines in the first batch. The mobile lines would set up defences and wait for the reinforcements before launching their counterattack.
The 131's mission was to do what they'd been trained to do. They were to target the enemy supply depots and slow down their advance. The enemy would split up to better protect their supply lines which would decrease their threat.
Miselk put a lot of faith on 131. He wanted Claude to break through the enemy's lines and buy time. Hopefully, it would keep them from conquering more of the kingdom's colonies before the folk had completed the move and reorganised.
Nubissia was too far, after all. By the time they were informed of the attack, a few months had already passed. The latest news was that Shiks had conquered half of Cromwell and were besieging its capital, Wickhamsburg.
The trip to Nubissia took a fortnight in ideal weather, closer to three weeks on average; a whole month wasn't uncommon either. Miselk didn't know what the current situation was. He did know that the longer they took, the worse the situation would be when they finally got there.
The kingdom's officials were confident of only that the seven colonies were too big. It took a fortnight of nonstop travel to cross them all by horse. A conquering army was much slower.
If not for their horses, the entire folk could go in one batch, but the animals were crucial to their doctrine. They stood no chance of holding the colonies without them, so no matter how much it complicated things, the horses had to come along.
The other reason Miselk summoned Claude was to tell him about this in person, to keep it secret. The brass didn't want anyone knowing about the conflict, to make sure the people were calm and united. Claude could only tell his men about the true nature of their assignment after they left the coast. On the way to Whitestag, they would be told they were on an overseas transportation drill so none of the local officials would suspect anything.
Claude was only dismissed after he had agreed and repeated their objectives. Miselk told him he had to start preparing once he got back as well, as 131 and the two mobile lines had to depart for Whitestag within a week. They would only embark once Storm finished their preparations.
Claude returned to his camp coldly. He could only be glad about the light-cavalry's clansman's transfer. Berklin replaced him.
Berklin was chosen to take over because he'd escaped from the Great Plains. He and his comrades were practically glued to their mounts for most of the day. They only got off to feed and brush the horses. They spent two days and three nights riding without sleep to escape pursuit from the Canasian light cavalry. He was quite familiar with the mounted scouts on the Great Plains and Claude believed he could use his knowledge to better train the cavalry as scouts.
Tribe 131 set out for Whitestag three days later. All the soldiers thought they were going to train there again. But as they neared the three sisters, things felt odd. When he was asking for supplies from the local officials in the towns, Major Schnak would often be asked whether they were heading to Nubissia. He once joked about it with Claude; luckily he didn't notice Claude's pale face.
When they reached Whitestag, Viscount Felidos came to their camp personally and gripped Claude's hand as he wished Claude the best in teaching the invaders a harsh lesson. Claude knew he couldn't keep the secret any longer so he asked Felidos how he knew they were heading for Nubissia.
"What's so secret? Nothing about the fight in Nubissia can be kept from Whitestag. Don't forget we have Storm over here. They escort the merchants to and from Nubissia. The sailors gossip worse than women. The whole city knew the moment the first ship in the convoy anchored. It's not acknowledged or talked about publicly, of course."
Felidos was well informed. Cromwell had now been completely conquered and Shiks' army had split in two. One was heading for Balingana and the other to Robisto. The garrisons had crumbled quickly. The other bad news was the death of High-Commissioner Machek.
Viceroys were the senior officials in the colonies, and high-commissioners were the most senior military officers. Viceroys were in charge administration and civil government while high-commissioners took care of security. Usually, apart from the standard garrison line the capital cities in each colony had, each town only had a tribe. In total, a high-commissioner controlled two corps. They were irregularly small, however.
The seven colonies had seven viceroys and seven high-commissioners. Since Cromwell had fallen, the whereabouts of the viceroy and high-commissioner were unknown. Additionally, Felidos said High-Commissioner Machek was a senior officer from Anfiston and had led his own garrison to reinforce Cromwell. His forces crumbled almost instantly and he was shot off his horse by a stray bullet. Though his attendants pulled him back, he stopped breathing before they reached safety.
Felidos knew the kingdom would send reinforcements. He knew Claude's men were the reinforcements the moment he heard of their arrival outside the city. As a passionate warmonger, Felidos bemoaned his crippling injury which prevented him from going with them, so he darted to the camp to give Claude some encouragement. The way he saw it, Claude was lucky to be part of another war so quickly.
After much trouble of dealing with the viscount and sending him off, Claude turned to his men and made a pained smile. The cat was out of the bag, so he told them about their mission outright.
Tribe 131's officers didn't think they would really go to Nubissia, but unlike Claude expected, they didn't show any fear. He saw only eagerness in their eyes.
Ever since the war games victories, the soldiers had become arrogant. They believed they were the kingdom, if not the continent's, best. They looked down on the enemy. They saw this as just another training exercise a little excursion to fight off the boredom.
Thankfully, the soldiers were easy to placate. However, his mother and wife were grief-stricken when they heard the news. Madam Ferd had wanted Claude to quickly be discharged to spend the rest of his life peacefully at home instead of waging war far away in Nubissia. Claude didn't know how to respond. His order was finalised and being discharged was no longer an option. He would be branded as a deserter if he chose to drop out at a time like that.
In the end, he consoled his mother and Kefnie and returned to camp two days later. With everything on his side ready, he now only waited for Storm to get their transport ships in order for the voyage.
The other two mobile lines of Ranger soon arrived at Whitestag. The two linesmen were Claude's seniors in Kleibon Royal Army College who had a good relationship with him. The order they received was to form the defence line, stabilise the situation and train and reorganise what remained of the garrison forces in the colonies into reserves to join in the counterattack when the second batch of reinforcements arrived.
The two linesmen and Claude ran a few sandtable simulations of their battles in Nubissia. For everyone involved, Nubissia was a foreign place and Shiks was a mysterious enemy they hadn't fought before. They weren't confident in their odds, so the best they could do was to try to make up for their weaknesses they identified through their simulations.
Another one week passed and Storm's ships were finally ready. It took two days for all the forces to board. Claude was sent off on his journey to Nubissia at the docks by his parents, friends and associates.
They would disembark in the colony of Tyrrsim. According to Captain Leisding of Storm's flagship, the Dragonwhirl, the journey should take 17 to 25 days depending on how smooth it was. He had sailed the same route for six years, around four round trips in each, and could find the way even with his eyes closed.
As the top commanding officers of the first batch of reinforcements, Claude and his two linesmen seniors were invited to board on the flagship. It was the safest place in the entire fleet, as Dragonwhirl was one of the kingdom's seven class-one warships, armed with 78 cannons spread across three floors and both sides. It had great firepower as well as six masts which could hold 23 sails of different sizes, making it one of the forerunners in speed and agility as well.
The only thing Claude and the two linesmen were unhappy about was the attitude of Storm's high-commissioner, Count Saramento. He probably only invited the three to board the flagship out of tradition and didn't bother to see them again after their first meeting, choosing instead to hide inside the bridge the whole time. His distaste for the three peasant officers was quite apparent since he was a noble himself.
Claude, on the other hand, got along well with Captain Leisding and would look for him for a chat on the helm from time to time. On the 11th day, they encountered an unexpected guest in the Tranquil Ocean. A ship with black sails appeared near the right flank of the fleet. It tailed the fleet from three kilometres away for a good amount of time.
"That's the ship of the Blacksail pirates," Leisding explained, "It's just a scout ship, don't worry. They won't dare attack our navy. We have more than 200 ships with us and they'd better not bite off more than they can chew."
"Piracy is still rampant in this area?" Claude wondered.
Leisding looked around and made sure nobody was nearby. "This route has been free of all pirates, save for Blacksail. The leader of the pirates is actually a traitor of Storm. I heard he's really young and his lair is located among the islands deep in Tranquil Ocean. Storm has tried to pursue them a few times to no avail. Instead, we only have lost warships to show for it. The brass now orders us to close one eye and let them pass if they don't mess with us first."
A young traitor... Claude wondered whether it could be Eriksson.
At noon on the 18th day of the voyage, the fleet finally arrived at Port Cobius in Tyrrsim.