"I've only heard Nubissians have red skin. I didn't think even their seas would be red," Claude said at the sight of the approaching coastline.
It was beyond imagination. It was noon, but the clouds streaking through the skies were pink and the beach and coastline was pale red. Claude and all the officers were quite curious about the new sights.
"What's so weird?" Captain Leisding asked, "You're only awed because it's your first time. You won't think it anything if you stay for a while. I recall the kingdom sent a survey group here a few years ago. I heard a professor say the continent is rich with a kind of reddish matter. It makes the seawater red. As for the reddish skies, I heard it's because of the colour that reflects off the waters and the mountains..."
"I see. How much longer will it take to disembark?" Claude asked.
Leisding looked at the busy port and shook his head.
"I think it'll take two to three more hours. They'll have to move the ships that didn't dock properly out of the way for us to dock. We came with more than two hundred ships after all, so it'd definitely keep them busy for a while. This ship we're on is also a class-one warship, so we must defend the cargo and transport ships as they dock and will only get to dock later."
"There are so many people here at Port Cobius. It seems like the capital of Tyrrsim is a rather populous place indeed," Claude commented.
Leisding laughed heartily. "The reason there's so many people here at Port Cobius is all thanks to the new trade route. The kingdom's ships used to sail east to Port Patres in Robisto, but when the new trade route came around, this place started to pick up in popularity. Conversely, Port Patres became much less crowded. The viceroy of Robisto, Count Farwat, had demanded to switch posts with the viceroy of Tyrrsim, Viscount Cruz. The two had been bickering for quite a while."
"Is the Tyrrsim viceroy still Viscount Jerrihausen Van Cruz?" Claude asked.
"Should be. I'm not too certain about his given and middle names. I only know his family name is Cruz. But I heard he's been viceroy of Tyrrsim for 17 whole years. He'll finish his fourth term in three years and retire to the royal capital. Do you know the Lord Viceroy?"
Claude shook his head.
"I haven't met him before, so I don't have any idea about him. However, my late father did tell me he's my godfather. Apparently, he was the one who named me."
"Then you can finally see him now. I'm sure he'll be incredibly glad to see you," Leisding said as he eyed Claude's lieutenant-colonel shoulder mark.
Claude laughed dryly. He had no plans on going to see his so-called godfather. According to Morssen, Viscount Jerrihausen Van Cruz happened to be travelling through Whitestag on the day of Claude's birth and Morssen was invited to a banquet there. Morssen was overjoyed when he heard that Claude was finally born and excitedly asked the viscount to name him and be his godfather.
Seriously speaking, Morssen was just trying to get to the viscount's good side. In the following years, he took the initiative to write to the viscount about Claude's growth, and the man reciprocated by sending some gifts and toys to the cheap godson of his. But when he took up his position as High-Commissioner of Tyrrsim, he cut off contact with Morssen. Later, Morssen found that the viscount was later promoted to viceroy.
Claude had still been sixteen at the time and his father was contemplating sending him to Tyrrsim to seek out his nominal godfather to serve in his personal guard because that could help him avoid the fate of being drafted and sent to the battlefield. Serving as the viscount's personal guard was no doubt far safer than soldiers on the frontlines, and getting merits and promotions was far easier too.
It was too bad what happened next would be completely out of Morssen's plans. He took a wrong step and went on a downward spiral and was forced to commit suicide. Claude, on the other hand, was recommended to enlist and managed to shine in the war. Not only was he a commissioned lieutenant-colonel of the kingdom, he was a legendary figure in Whitestag.
The viceroy would definitely be glad to acknowledge Claude as his godson now. After all, Claude managed to climb to this rank and control a whole tribe. It could be seen how much brighter his future was compared to the viceroy who was going to retire in three years.
But was there a need for it? The trade route had been established for eight long years. If Viscount Cruz truly cared about his godson, he would've sent someone, or at least a letter, to show his concern. However, no such letter came. He saw them no differently than he would passers by on the street. Perhaps he did ask about the Ferds but thought that they no longer merited any attention after Morssen jumped and Claude enlisted, not to mention the five-year war that proceeded to break out.
Colonel Bolonik approached them. He was Claude's senior and was the linesman of Line 033 of Ranger. Like Claude, he was concerned about when they could dock and asked, "Captain, do you know how many garrison troops Port Cobius has, as the capital of Tyrrsim?"
Leisding gave it some thought and said, "The docks and nearby citadel are guarded by a cannoneer tribe to prevent pirate attacks. There's also a garrison line stationed at the camp in the outer city under the jurisdiction of the high-commissioner that takes care of security and quelling civil revolts. Additionally, the Lord Viceroy and Lord High-Commissioner each have a clan of personal guards that defend their manors. That should be the gist of it. I'm not sure about the rest."
Bolonik looked at the busy docks and saw tent after tent of soldiers disembarking from the transport ships and getting into neat formations. They waited for their mounts to be unloaded before mounting them and entering the city. The crowd at the docks and the roads nearby cheered from time to time.
"How many citizens of our kingdom does Port Cobius have?" Bolonik asked.
Leisding shook his head. "I'm not sure about that either. I heard the whole of Tyrrsim has around 300 thousand people. Since Port Cobius is the capital, there's probably about 80 thousand people here. However, many of the residents here are mix-blood natives, around 40 thousand by my estimation. You should know that they aren't considered Aueran citizens and only pay taxes and serve as labour..."
Dragonwhirl was finally able to dock around three in the afternoon. Admiral Saramento finally stepped out of his cabin and nodded his acknowledgement to those on deck before being the first to disembark. He entered a carriage that was waiting for him at the docks and left with his escorts.
Leisding whispered to Claude, "Count Saramento here has a manor in which he keeps his women. Two sisters live there and the count would always go there every time he comes to Port Cobius. He even deals with his official business there. If the viceroy hosts a banquet tonight, Count Saramento will definitely be attending. Perhaps you'll get a chance to see the sister beauties for yourself..."
When Claude and his two seniors disembarked with their respective attendants, the ones expecting them on the docks came forward.
The leader was a middle-aged man who claimed to be the viceroy's personal secretary. He extended his invitation to Claude and the two linesmen just as Leisding had predicted. Viscount Cruz was holding a grand banquet and ball at his manor that night and all high-ranking officers of Ranger were invited to participate. Naturally, only officers ranked captain and above enjoyed that privilege.
The one who came next was the adjutant of the one in charge of the forces in the colony, High-Commissioner Baron Strassen, the linesman of the local garrison line, and the tribesman of the cannoneer tribe. They were there to welcome the reinforcements and settle their camping and logistics arrangements.
The last of them were some people of repute from Port Cobius. The two white-haired old men were so moved they were crying. They said they hadn't seen the almighty forces of the kingdom for so long. They were awed by the domineering forces and wished them the best of luck on the battlefield and asked them to teach the horrid dogs of the Shiksan colonial forces a harsh lesson.
Claude was confident that those folk would once more put on that show when Miselk arrived with the rest of the forces. He looked around and noticed that most of the people watching near the docks were dark-skinned native youths who wore dejected expressions. When he asked Leisding about it, he was told that the fleets that came would hire them to move goods. But the army didn't have any need for their labour, so they were disappointed they wouldn't get a chance to earn money.
When the two seniors finally finished the long-winded pleasantries with the locals, the three of them finally boarded the carriage to their destinations. Even though they would be meeting again that night during the viceroy's banquet, they would have to go back to prepare. Claude had to head to the new campsite too. Leisding bid the rest of them goodbye since he had left some personal artifacts on Dragonwhirl and had to deal with them first.
The adjutant of High-Commissioner Strassen, Captain Sinks, didn't behave the slightest bit like a soldier. Instead, he seemed more like a sharp-witted merchant. He said that the baron had been bedridden from sickness for two plus months. He would've led his troops to the frontlines had his health been better. It was too bad his old sickness resurfaced just as word of the Shiksan invasion came, so he wasn't able to serve the kingdom and repel its enemies.
The captain then asked the two linesmen whether they had additional supplies for sale as the high-commissioner's personal guard was armed with outdated weapons. He even said he wouldn't mind buying the weapons for a higher price.
The linesman of Port Cobius' garrison line, Lieutenant-Colonel Avilad, was a huge, fat man who had no opinions of his own. Bolonik asked him about the situation of Tyrrsim's garrison forces but all he got was vague and unhelpful answers. He wasn't even aware of the number of forces remaining in the other four towns in the colony and said that it wasn't his responsibility since all he was tasked with was the security of Port Cobius.
Port Cobius was separated into the inner and outer city. The docks and the inner city were sectioned off by a wall. Upon entering the gates, the prosperous sights of the inner city were plain to see. From time to time, the kingdom's citizens would pay their respects to the Ranger troops. The men would remove their hats in a greeting while the women waved. Cheers could be heard from time to time.
But the moment they left the inner city, Claude realised that all the short buildings were built from red clay and wood. Even the roads were muddy and made of the same red clay. The residents on both sides of the roads that looked at the forces were mostly dark-skinned mix-blood residents with dull expressions. Few people on the streets looked like the white folk of the kingdom.
The difference between the inner and outer cities was night and day.
"How many mix-blood natives are there here? Has there been a census?" Claude asked Captain Sinks. He couldn't be bothered to ask the fatty lieutenant-colonel since he doubted that he'd be able to answer anyway.
"I'm sorry, Sir, but I'm not aware of that either," Sinks explained, "We serve the Lord High-Commissioner and aren't aware of matters of administration, which fall under the Lord Viceroy's domain. However, I've heard that they number around 200 thousand five to six years ago."
"What do they do to make a living?" Claude asked.
Sinks shook his head. "Who knows? Either they work simple jobs or go to the docks for rough work. The young women would sell their bodies on the streets or in the taverns and some luckier males can get long-term jobs at the farms and orchards in the outskirts. I heard some big shots in the inner city started a factory in the outer city and hired many workers."
"By the way, since your high-commissioner is bedridden, have you carried out the order from the kingdom to form new garrison units?" Bolonik asked out of the blue.
"This... I'm not too sure. It should be Lieutenant-Colonel Avilad's duty. He's the linesman of the garrison line after all." Sinks didn't hesitate to push responsibility.
The fat linesman panicked a little. "The Lord High-Commissioner didn't give me any formal order. How would I be able to recruit more troops without funding and equipment?"
Claude's two seniors could only shake their heads. They hadn't expected to run into this kind of predicament. The troops of the colony were so corrupt that they were beyond saving.
By the time they arrived at the camp in the outer city, even the two patient seniors seemed a little angry. "This is the camp you prepared for us?"
It truly was too run-down. The gates didn't have many planks remaining and the walls surrounding it was half-collapsed. They could simply cross it on foot, not to mention mounted.
"Apologies, Sir," Sinks sincerely apologised, "This camp has always been like that. The moment the garrison line leaves the city, these mix-blood bastards will come to steal bricks and take whatever they see. There's no other empty space in Port Cobius apart from here for you to set up camp..."