You performed amazingly well, far beyond our expectations," General Miselk, the folksman of Ranger, said.
He and a few other high-ranked officers welcomed Claude's arrival at folk headquarters.
"On account of your contributions to the kingdom, I hereby promote you to colonel as the highest-ranking officer in the folk. Congratulations, Colonel Claude. You are the youngest soldier to be made colonel in the kingdom's history."
Everyone broke into thunderous applause. Nobody objected. The results Tribe 131 achieved in Balingana and Robisto were breathtaking. Other things aside, the 15 thousand Shiksan captives working as labourers on the Claude Defence Line was incredible. Tribe 131 consisted of just 1800 men and they captured almost ten times their number.
Miselk personally switched Claude's shoulder mark for one with three silver moons and told him more good news. First, all of his men would be promoted one rank. Second, the tribe would be expanded to a full line, specifically, a special independent line. Their new name was Line 131.
The final piece of good news was personal. Due to the tribe's amazing achievements, General Miselk had personally guaranteed Claude's character in a request for his promotion to full noble. If things went well, Claude would be made a baron. Naturally, it wouldn't be a hereditary Title. Only Claude could bear it.
The kingdom gave out three kinds of Titles, the first was hereditary, the hardest to obtain. The royal family would give a manor to the recipient. It and all revenue it generated was exempt from taxes.
The second was a trigenerational Title. It could be passed down for three generations as is. There after it weakened one rank every generation until it dissolved. A third and final generation count's heir would be a viscount, their heir would be a baron, and thereafter the title would dissolve. The next heir would be a mere dignitarian, and their offspring mere peasants again.
Usually, recipients of trigenerational Titles would also be given manors which were tax exempt for the three guaranteed generations of the Title. Thereafter it and all revenue from it would be taxed. One could always sell the title back to the royal family, of course, a path many took.
The last was a mere honorary Title. A solitary title granted to the holder only. It could not be passed to anyone and died with the recipient. Miselk's viscountcy was such a title. His children were dignitarians from birth and would be for the rest of their lives barring any serious crimes on their part, but that was the extent of their benefits.
Honorary Titles did not come with manors, though the recipient did get an annual stipend. If Claude was made an honorary baron, he would receive an annual stipend of 100 crowns until his death. His wife would be 'baroness' by association, and any businesses under Claude's household would enjoy tax cuts and exemptions.
Hereditary and trigenerational Titles had only been granted during the kingdom's founding and its restoration during Stellin IX's reign. It had happened only most rarely otherwise. During the kingdom's founding, all nobles were also given fiefs, and that proved quite problematic several centuries later.
The nobles' power was stripped almost completely during the Restoration War. It was all given to the king. The changes included a complete reformation of the Title system. Stellin IX handed out hereditary and trigenerational Titles to his subjects with high achievements to set the new standard. Nobles would no longer be given domains over which they were sovereign. They were instead granted small plots of land no greater than manor, hence their name, and they would be exceedingly rare.
Claude's late father and his associates wanted to discover a new trade route to be given one of those rare titles. Morssen wanted to elevate the Ferd family to nobility, to put them in the small noble circles in the three sister prefectures. It was a shame he had taken the wrong step so near the finish line. Claude had now fulfilled his dream in his stead, however. Given his knighthood, which made him a quasi-noble, it was almost certain he would be given a baron Title.
Miselk started the war council immediately after finishing Claude's promotion. Ranger had safely landed in Anfiston and the first batch of reinforcements had done a great job achieving their objectives. Claude's tribe's performance aside, Sevict's Line 034 had completed most of the construction work for the Claude Defence Line and also reorganised the garrisons in the colony.
As for Bolonik's Line 033, they had formed nine garrison lines in the colonies of Tyrrsim, Mormaly, and Aduras and gathered them in Anfiston. Coupled with the two garrison lines already there, there were now enough men to form a full-fledged garrison corps with some leftovers.
Miselk decided to forge them into the kingdom's first battle corps on the new continent. Officers from Ranger were to be transferred in bulk and the corps would be subordinate to Ranger. They would be put mainly to use in mounting a counteroffensive against Shiks' colonial forces.
The first two targets were Pancry in Robisto and Krado in Balingana. The strategists in folk command had a heated debate regarding corps to attack first. In the end, Miselk made the decision to take on Pancry.
Claude didn't understand why. Pancry was easily a step mightier than Krado. Pancry had benefited the most from the naval resupply in the rainy season and they still had a line of light cavalry. Krado only had been reinforced by only 2 lines of infantry. They had not a single mounted man with which to scout.
Claude believed they should go for the easier target before launching an attack on the stronger. Miselk disagreed. He explained that obliterating Pancry first would buy them time to reinforce Patres' fortifications. Ranger had come to Anfiston with 12 heavy-field cannons with which they intended to strengthen the city's walls.
With the 12 heavy cannons, Patres would seal off Dorinibla River's ocean exit so Shiksan ships could no longer resupply Krado using the river. Even if Krado got word of Pancry's extermination, they wouldn't be able to use Dorinibla River to escape.
Alternatively, if they wiped Krado out first, Pancry would be prepared for Ranger's arrival and might get the supply ships to help them retreat. That way, Pancry couldn't be eliminated and it would affect General Miselk's strategy to cross Dorinibla to retake the fallen colonies.
Before attacking Pancry, Tribe 131 had to enter Robisto and keep them distracted while the rest went about their work in the city. They had to take out every single Pancrian scout that left the enemy base.
It was an easy mission. Pancry had gotten a new light-cavalry line, but Tribe 131's light-cavalry clan had a field day against them. The scouts the enemy sent out in smaller groups never returned, and the larger clans were whittled to the bare single digits in a couple days.
They could operate within just 15 kilometres of their base with a reasonable chance of getting back alive. Any further and their lives were forfeit. If Claude could reduce that to just 5 kilometres, his mission would be accomplished.
However, there were three days before Ranger's departure. Claude still had to return to his tribe's camp to inform the men of their promotions. The camp was at Lanu. Claude found his siblings waiting for him when he arrived.
"Why are you here? Did something happen back home?" Claude asked with surprise and doubt. He hugged his grown-up brother and stroked his little sister's hair.
Angelina pouted. "Claude, did you forget Blowk's age again? He's 20 now and has to serve in the force. Mom and Kefnie said that since he's going to serve, he might as well serve with you. That way, you can look after him."
Claude slapped his forehead; he had really forgotten. He was eight years older than Bloweyk. He had turned 28 with the new year and his brother had matured into a 20-year-old adult. His brother had graduated from middle school at the age of 18 and had met the requirements to serve. As the five-year war had ended, the kingdom wasn't in dire need of new recruits, however, so service could be delayed a year or two. Now he had hit 20, he was about to be conscripted. The two siblings had come looking for their older brother in that regard.
"Myjack, take Blowk and settle the paperwork," Claude said.
It just so happened he had several hundred positions to fill, so Bloweyk had the honour of being his first new recruit. Claude made him his orderman.
Making one's relative serve as personal orderman was one of the unspoken privileges afforded high-ranking officers. Claude didn't have to ask anyone for permission. He didn't mind doing it, either; he had spent too much time away and wanted to keep him close to observe how he had developed.
He instructed Myjack to prepare Angelina's accommodation in Lanu. Women weren't allowed to stay in army lodgings. He later announced the general promotion to cheery bursts. Apart from Bloweyk, who had just enlisted and wasn't aware of anything, all the soldiers cheered excitedly.
Even though expansion and promotions were good, Tribe 131 wouldn't expand before exterminating Pancry and Krado. They still had two huge battles ahead. The soldiers promoted kept their original posts temporarily and would only be given higher positions when the time came to rest and reorganise.
That night, Claude had a good talk with Bloweyk. His brother was quite a worrisome fellow. Like Claude, he graduated first of his class, but didn't tie like Claude had with Welikro. Bloweyk was the undisputed champion.
He had little else of which to be proud, however. His grades were a mess. Instructor Weckham had tried, to no avail, to teach him. He had brought Claude's achievements up time and again, but the little rascal stayed stubbornly in last or second last in every subject.
He had been very arrogant in school as well. Unlike Claude, who had his friends to keep him relatively grounded, Bloweyk had no one. He'd become the school bully, and no one liked him. Even his minions followed him only to stay out of his sights.
Not only that, Claude had often went on excursions with his friends, whereas Bloweyk went into the mountains and ancient forests alone to hunt. His guts and misadventures often made their mother worry day in and out. Angelina, however, was aware that Bloweyk had begun learning magic at the age of 16 like Claude and became a one-ring rune magus at 18.
For his first three tier-zero basic spells, Bloweyk chose Magus' Hands, Fine Control and Eye of Appraisal. He didn't learn Decomposition and Reconstruction as he didn't like doing alchemical experiments. He engraved Magic Missile, Mental Shock, Sheila's Vine Wrap, and Thorn Wreath, which Angelina managed to reconstruct from the magic accessory Claude had brought back.
Bloweyk had picked mostly combat spells as his basic spells, which was why he dared challenge the forests and mountains alone. He said that he was quite famous in Whitestag and was known as the hunter king, as he had once entered Swamp Kemda alone and killed three niros crocodiles, one of which was even larger than the one Claude got back then. He had heard about their skin being materials for magic scrolls and tomes from Angelina, so he wanted to have a tome of his own and went crocodile hunting.