"Did I mishear? You're relieving me?"
Claude wondered if it was due to his overblown argument with General Fansnik. He had been constantly fanning the flames to worsen the general's reputation. Perhaps Miselk could no longer just sit by and watch.
After becoming Lord Militant, most soldiers had to change their address of him accordingly, save for a few of his closest confidants who still called him 'General'.
Miselk mulled in silence for a moment, then sighed.
"No, Claude, you're being relieved because I want to make you field marshal."
Claude shook his head.
"G-g-g-general... W-w-why? That's your..."
Miselk didn't answer. He tapped the blue document on his desk. He removed his glasses and took out a small black velvet cloth and began cleaning the lenses.
"The top have made a decision to fight the war in the colonies defensively. When it's necessary, we can abandon Cromwell, Balingana, and Robisto. At the very least, we have to keep Anfiston."
That was old news. They had planned to do the same before the victory at Balingana, but who would've known Miselk would actually come to defeat all five enemy corps despite the ten-to-one odds? Claude didn't interrupt him, however. He sat down and listened quietly.
As expected, he seemed filled with regret.
"However, this time, Ranger will most likely not participate in the fighting..."
"If Ranger doesn't take part, we can't hold Anfiston! Or do you mean they're sending another corps?"
Miselk shook his head and tried to smile.
"The kingdom isn't sending more forces over. It's very likely Ranger will be sent back home, actually. What? Do you think we can't continue this war without Ranger?"
"As you surely know, we only won because we had superior mobility and tactics, and Ranger is the only force trained in this doctrine. Without, we don't stand a snowball's chance in hell."
"Things are never absolute. The defenders in Port Patres fought bravely against Seaking and didn't give up even though they lost eighty percent of their men. They fought as well as, if not better than the four corps," Miselk argued, "By the way, did you hear about the royal family sending high-ranking officers related by blood to take up posts in Ranger?"
"I did... But this news is three months old. They still haven't come, so I thought it was just a rumour. I only know of Fansnik. He doesn't do anything but make trouble though. If the officers to come are all like him, I weep for Ranger..."
Miselk laughed derisively.
"It's true. They're all related to the royal family one way or another. The royals are afraid they'll lose control of Ranger if they don't have their people in the command structure. The only reason they haven't been flooding in is because the people they're sending also know how important this is for the royals, and are insisting on much better terms.
"Amongst other things, they all want Ranger sent back home. They don't want to actually fight. Whilst they're willing to serve in Ranger, they don't want to be so far from the capital. They're capital nobles more than anything else, after all. Lastly, they want to wield real power in the corps instead of holding a vapid position as strategists. They want proper positions like those of linesmen."
Claude was flabbergasted. He thought he was listening to a fairy tale.
"How can that happen? Doesn't the first prince care?"
It was obvious what kind of buffoon would make such demands. Compared to them, Fansnik even seemed a little endearing. At least he was brave enough to come to Nubissia. Initially, the thought of Miselk wanting him to leave the corps made him suspect his position was going to be given away to one of those buffoons. However, making him field marshal didn't seem to align with that outcome.
Miselk laughed bitterly and shook his head.
"His Highness can't be bothered to deal with this. The ones in charge of Ranger now are the royals who all bear the name Stellin and have higher seniority than him; until he ascends, of course. As His Majesty is still bedridden and sick, their whims will decide the next heir. Under such circumstances, His Highness has no choice but to cooperate and gain their support."
"B-but hasn't Prince Hansbach always been the heir apparent?"
"His Majesty still hasn't named his heir."
The general put his glasses on the desk. In the private letter the first prince had sent him, he said he wasn't against transferring Ranger back. However, he needed his good friend and comrade to plan out their next move to deal with this complicated situation.
"Currently, the army is the only faction that supports the first prince," Miselk explained, "The navy and the new nobility stand behind Prince Wedrick. The old nobility have yet to pick a side.
"Among the old nobility only the royals are more active. They throw their weight around and demand multiple concessions from Prince Hansbach, who has no choice but to oblige so they won't side with the second prince and cause the kingdom to fall into further chaos. You must understand, Claude, some people just can't succeed at anything. However, they're experts when it comes to ruining things for everyone else..."
No truer words had ever been spoken. Fansnik was one such person. Claude nodded his agreement fervently.
"General, even if Ranger is the private force of the royal family, it's still a standing corps of the kingdom, a rapid response force at that. Would the ministry of the army really let the royal relatives mess around with Ranger without interfering? They should be more than aware that Ranger's might will only deteriorate if this is allowed to go on..."
"Haha, the ministry, you say?" Miselk said mockingly, "They'd rather have Ranger become a ceremonial unit for the royal family than allow such a strong corps that takes orders only from the royal family to remain outside of their jurisdiction. In fact, the ministry of the navy is the true pro-royal faction. The ministry of the army, on the other hand, is a gathering for all the other factions of the kingdom."
Claude felt a little light headed from hearing all that. "Wait, General, didn't you say the first prince has always clashed with the navy and don't get along? Why is the navy pro-royal then? Isn't that a contradiction?"
Miselk laughed out loud. "What's contradictory about that? The navy is indeed constantly at odds with the first prince. Prince Hansbach has always had a problem with Fearless being so fearful of our enemies and how they go to such lengths to avoid confrontation. He and the Lord of the Admiralty, Count Andreak Feng Carlos hold personal grudges with one another. However, the navy is a staunch supporter of the royal family. To them, it doesn't matter which Stellin takes the throne. That's why they have chosen to support the second prince as a candidate for king.
"In contrast, the ministry of the army is where the old nobility congregate. While the royal family has a few of their own in it, their influence has always been curbed by the united old nobles. Furthermore, there are also a few factions within the old nobility. Some of them are noble families from the founding days of the kingdom, and there are others who have been made hereditary nobles after following Stellin IX through the Reformation War. There are also noble families who happen to be major arms dealers for the kingdom.
"If you want to be thorough, there are at least a dozen factions in the ministry of the army. Even the new nobility have some of their own in it, though their faction is still rather weak and don't have much of a say. However, they are shrewd and make use of conflict between the other factions. They aren't easy to deal with either.
"Let's just put it this way. The ministry of the army is far more complicated than you imagined it to be. The four main standing corps, the three new standing corps formed over the recent years, and the various irregular corps and local garrison and keeper forces all have differing allegiances to the factions within it. The reason the royal family spent so much money to form Ranger in the first place was to form a force that doesn't have influence from any other faction. However, they have started to actively sabotage the corps themselves..."
Miselk turned to look at him. "Let's get back to the main topic, Claude. What I want to tell you is that Ranger is definitely returning to the mainland after the 3rd month. I also have to follow the corps back to serve in the ministry of the army. After all, I'm one of the three Lord Militants and I'm still in my prime. It won't stand for the brass to not give me a good position..."
He joked around self-mockingly and tapped on the blue document on the desk. "Lately, I've been busy negotiating with the brass. They made some concessions to get me to agree to the transfer of Ranger. In other words, they'll let me draft up the strategies and plans to deal with the colonial war and appoint you as field marshal of this war theatre."
Claude stood up immediately to say something, but he was stopped before he could speak. "Claude, this position is not an honour. It's a burden. The final result of the war here in the colonies depends on it. If you obtain victory, you'll be hailed as a legendary hero respected by thousands. If you lose, you'll forever be known as the sinner who lost all the kingdom's colonies..."
Miselk motioned for Claude to sit back down. "This document is the plan I proposed to the brass for the war effort here. You may take it back for your own reference. You know our baselines well and no matter how this war develops, as long as you can hold Anfiston and the three colonies behind it, namely, Mormaly, Aduras and Tyrrsim, you'll have completed your assignment and made a monumental contribution to the kingdom.
"I'll give you a short brief so that you won't have to worry about not having the men for the task to hold the defence line. The Ranger being transferred back to Freia is but its husk. Most of its soldiers and officers will join the local defence units and be formed into the three new enhanced folks. The enhanced folks will be as powerful as what Ranger folk started off as. The other two colonial corps here will be shrunk into folks and used as reserve troops. All five of these folks are under the jurisdiction of this war theatre and no other faction or department in the kingdom can interfere with the command here.
"Additionally, Ranger will leave behind all gear, war horses and weapons. You may use them to form the five new folks and reorganise them as fast as possible. According to the ministry of the army, Shiks has already formed two standing corps. They also hired Nasrian and Canasian officers to train their new forces to adapt to modern tactics. It looks like they've learned where to obtain more combat experience from.
"There's also word that Shiks obtained new precision-firing muskets from Nasri and are greatly revamping their forces to replace the old muskets. According to our predictions, it will take them two to three more years to restart the war here. So, Claude, after taking over as field marshal, your most important task is to get these five folks in order and prepare to defend.
"It might be a little too young for you to take up post as field marshal at the age of 30. Regrettably, not a single high-ranking officer of the kingdom wishes to take my place, so I had no choice but to suggest you. I didn't think the brass would actually agree to it. Perhaps in their eyes, this place is a goner and nobody wants to jump into it. Alright, ask away if you have any questions."
Claude was full of questions and he was finally allowed to speak. "General, why me? There are more qualified men in the corps to take up this position. Also, wouldn't the brass fault you for essentially returning to the kingdom with merely Ranger's husk without all the gear and men?
"I also want to know where we can recruit enough men to form five folks. The rangers transferred to the colonial keeper forces don't number that much and the two colonial corps aren't even fully manned. Their troops are not up to standard and have poor discipline. We're barely capable of forming two folks. Not to mention, all the youths in the seven colonies are either serving in their local force or drafted into the two colonial corps. Where can we source more men?
"I'd also like to know where we can get funding for these five folks and the war effort. Will the ministry of the army be paying it? Will the officers that transferred here enjoy the same benefits they got in Ranger? Also, do we get replacements for weapons and gear from the ministry of the army as well? What about supplies and logistics support? Are they provided by the three colonies at the rear?"