Huge construction efforts were currently being undertaken in Wickhamsburg. The 50 thousand plus captives of Tofeid were toiling hard away with their blood and sweat to make the city anew.
There was only one reason they were being worked that hard. The current field marshal of the colonial war theatre, Major-General and Honorary Baron Claude Han Ferd, believed that Wickhamsburg in its current state made it unfit to use the scorched-earth tactic as Lord Militant Miselk had formerly laid out.
When the nikancha people started their rebellion in the Shiksan colonies, they came to conquer more and more territory. Thundercrash had to have a firm base near Port Vebator to be able to undermine the Shiksan war effort and rally the nikancha. So, he chose to make Wickhamsburg Thundercrash's new headquarters.
He had planned to have the 50 thousand labourers fortify the four other castles in Cromwell and Balingana to ensure a well-defended supply route from Dorinibla River to Wickhamsburg. He wanted to secure his grasp over Balingana and Cromwell and build a firm economic foundation for the two colonies once the war ends.
As he was busy with the renovation efforts, he didn't neglect to raid Vebator. The area stretching from Wickhamsburg to Port Vebator was now Thundercrash's turf. The Shiksans weren't doing too well on Nubissia and could only defend Port Vebator proper. Now, most of the northern highlands near the coast of Vebator became nikancha-occupied territory and the route from the inland Shiksan colonies to Port Vebator had been cut off by Thundercrash.
During the eight months between the 7th month of Year 589 to the 3rd month of Year 590, Claude didn't return to Lanu even once. He was stationed at the frontlines and dealt with matters from the command centre in the rear through carrier-eagle messages.
Three months since the battles that saw Thundercrash exterminating three enemy corps ended, there were quite a number of issues that required Claude to travel back to Lanu with a light guard to personally deal with.
The folksman of 1st Monolith who was in charge of the defence line at Dorinibla River, Major-General Bolonik, crossed the river to welcome Claude. The two hugged and mounted before crossing the floating bridge to their camp. Claude took a bath to wash off the dust and grime from his travels and put on a new uniform before receiving his colleague's hospitality.
Bolonik had a grand meal served, but neither of them was in a mood to eat. They ate some food cursorily before they began sharing new information. It took three months for them to receive a reply after sending word of the third colonial war spread to the ministry of the army. Assuming the time it took for the messages to be sent was a month, the ministry spent two whole months sitting on the message before sending a reply. The efficiency, or lack thereof, was astonishing.
Regardless, Bolonik knew that communication was actually done through the mining association. They had branches in the royal capital and commanded a rather good information network. Once they received information in the royal capital, they forwarded it to Whitestag before having a messenger take a ferry to Tyrrsim to deliver it. It was then forwarded through carrier eagle to the headquarters of the association in Anfiston. Taking out the two weeks of the voyage, it should've taken less than 20 days for the message to be sent.
"The ministry of the army has agreed to have Eiblont's 3rd Monolith fall under Thundercrash's jurisdiction, but it won't be considered the second Thundercrash folk. Instead, Thundercrash is to be elevated to a corps. You'll be promoted to lieutenant-general to commend your achievement of wiping out three Shiksan standing corps. Your honorary noble title has also been upgraded to viscount as a reward for exterminating the voluntary Nasrian and Canasian corps."
Bolonik continued in a tone of complaint, "You really did quite well to exterminate the main corps of the two nemeses of our kingdom. However, the kingdom really is too stingy with the rewards. They only gave you one promotion and one elevated honorary noble rank and all Eilon got was a good record for his contributions. I heard you'll soon become the corpsman of Thundercrash and Eilon will be made chief of staff.
"Well, that's the good news, anyway. The bad news is that you're now relieved of your position as field marshal and is nothing more than a vice marshal like us. You'll only be serving as acting field marshal until the kingdom sends a replacement to take over. According to what the association picked up, the replacement is the former corpsman of the royal guard corps, General and Hereditary Count Aljess Kai Osmolin. He'll be coming over with a royal guard folk..."
Claude furrowed his brow. Was this the ministry's idea of a carrot and a stick? They promoted him to lieutenant-general and made him honorary viscount. Becoming corpsman of Thundercrash should be his reward. However, Bolonik wasn't mistaken in saying that the reward didn't match up to his achievements. After all, he did exterminate the main forces of the kingdom's nemeses.
While Nasri and Canas proclaimed that the two corps were formed from discharged soldiers who volunteered to serve Shiks as hired troops and didn't have anything to do with them, everyone knew that was but an excuse. Those so-called voluntary corps were actually the main standing corps of those two nations. Their combat prowess far exceeded those of normal mercenary units.
During the second colonial war before Miselk was made Lord Militant, he led Ranger folk and exterminated five Shiksan standing corps. By the time he finally received the greenlight from the ministry of the army to attack Port Vebator, he found the two voluntary corps stationed at the border between the two colonies. He immediately called a halt to the attack. He wasn't confident he could defeat those two corps with Ranger folk alone. Regardless, he was promoted to Lord Militant based on his two unquestioned victories throughout both colonial wars.
The five-year war itself had awakened the Auerans to the strength and tenacity of their neighbours' forces, so it was quite troublesome when they found out they were on the colonies fighting for Shiks. Yet, Claude had been able to destroy those two hired corps with a mere folk of troops, suffering only near half the casualties. The magnitude of his achievement shouldn't be that much different from Miselk's own of eliminating five standing corps, relatively speaking, yet that was all he was rewarded with. It was no wonder Bolonik felt unfair on his behalf.
More surprisingly, they took Claude off his post as field marshal even though he didn't do anything wrong. It was nothing short of humiliating, especially for a general that just raked in a great achievement. And the one who would take his place would be a hereditary count of old nobility and the former corpsman of the royal guard, Aljess Kai Osmolin. It made Claude wonder why they would send one of the highest-ranked generals of the kingdom to the colonies at a time like that. Was he being exiled?
"Do you know the background of General Aljess Kai Osmolin?" he asked.
Bolonik shook his head. "I'm a peasant officer myself and was nothing more than a mere major during the five-year war. I didn't have any ties with someone that high up in the brass like the royal guards' corpsman. However, I've heard that he was the one who led the attack in Rimodra on a stronghold that suffered the highest recorded number of casualties. It's said he's the most proficient of all generals when it comes to offensive manoeuvres. Whether it be citadels or castles, there would be no failures when he takes charge. The only weakness is that every one of his victories come with horrendous casualties. It's very common to hear about decommissioned tribes or lines of troops at a time.
"The one thing I was sure of after receiving the news is you weren't taken off your post as field marshal because of a mistake. Instead, it's only because they want a new and rising general like you to make way. After all, it wouldn't do for a hereditary count to have to answer to you, a lieutenant-general and honorary viscount. It would be nothing short of a slight to the old nobility as a whole. So, the ministry of the army easily accepted two of your proposals and made the extra concession to allow you to upgrade Thundercrash to corps status and let you assimilate Eilon's 3rd Monolith under your command. It's to make up for your loss."
It sounded like a rather reasonable explanation. Though he didn't know why a general, a hereditary count at that, would come to the colonies to take up the post of field marshal. It really wouldn't be appropriate for him to have to answer to Claude. If anything was to blame, it was the fact that he didn't have a rank or noble Title to rival the hereditary count's. So, he could only obediently make way and leave the comfy chair of his post.
"I'm a little worried... The extermination of the two voluntary corps happened during the end of last year, some three months ago from now. Our situation here in Vebator is still the same. The remnants of the enemy are defending the port and not leaving it at all. They're relying on maritime shipments for resources and the area stretching from Wickhamsburg to here is all controlled by our light-cavalry patrol tents. Nobody can expect to enter and leave it alive.
"After the passing of such a long time, I thought Shiks would realise they have failed in the colonial wars and come up with a new strategy. However, being in Nubissia, we aren't able to figure out what their next move would be. We only have what the association detects. General Osmolin will be assuming the post of field marshal and coming with a folk of royal guard troops. Does that mean the ministry of the army received new information and decided we have to increase our numbers here in the war theatre to deal with the next big Shiksan offensive?"
Bolonik looked rather grim too. "That's a good possibility. Shiks lost three standing corps this time around. They're only able to defend Port Vebator and lost contact with their inland colonies. This is nothing short of a face-slap fest for the proud and arrogant Shiks. We've exterminated a total of ten of their standing corps throughout the three colonial wars.
"Even though the two voluntary corps aren't comprised of Shiksans, they've no doubt spent quite a huge sum to hire them. As for the other eight standing corps we took out, no matter how strong Shiks is as a nation, even they wouldn't be able to take this kind of loss without feeling the sting. Given the bold claims they make each time that they fail to live up to as they sustain loss after loss against us, they've no doubt become a huge joke among the other nations on Freia.
"If Shiks can't recoup their losses and come back victorious to save some face in the next colonial war, they might forever lose their status as a superpower in Northern Freia. At the very least, they'd no longer be able to hold the ambitions of the nearby smaller nations back. Another huge war might break out in Northern Freia and there's a chance Shiks might be split and devoured by the other nations.
"I also suspect that they'll be making a huge move in Nubissia next. That's probably why the ministry of the army sent a general here to become field marshal as well as an extra royal guard folk to bolster our forces. Perhaps we'd only stand a chance in a grand battle against Shiks with them here."
According to the news the association sent them, Aljess Kai Osmolin already got on a ferry in Whitestag. It would take another half a month for him to arrive in Tyrrsim assuming ideal sailing conditions, and another half a month for him to make his way to the command centre in Lanu. Claude would have to meet him to officially hand the position over. So, he only had half a month left to wrap up the tasks that were piling up in the war theatre before the new field marshal took the post so that he wouldn't leave a mess for him to clean up.
The feast soon ended. He couldn't sleep well with all the doubts in mind and only got some five hours of rest. He meditated a little to liven his spirits, had breakfast, before joining Bolonik on a three-day express journey back to Lanu.
He felt thankful that Skri was there in the command centre. As Claude's former superior, he knew him rather well and dealt with much that needed to be done in the war theatre without Claude even telling him to. He only left a few checklists for him to look over. Claude thought he would have lots of paperwork to deal with, so he was relieved to see most of them handled.
However, he was still occupied with the matters of Thundercrash. One of them was the request for merit for Borkal that Colonel Kefist handed him. Claude's old friend was sent to take over the bull-selling business and instructed to head to Port Vebator to gather information on the enemy. Borkal was now an intelligence officer of Thundercrash's command and reported directly to the war theatre's command centre.
It seemed that the fatty was doing rather well. Claude read the merit request report. According to it, Borkal had firmed his footing in Port Vebator and set up a branch for the company. He also managed to identify the reason their nikancha informants had ceased all correspondence. Claude already knew the reason; all the nikancha had been captured and enslaved by the Shiksan troops and the informants were no exception. Had Borkal not found out about it, command centre might continue to send even more nikancha informants there only for them to end up enslaved.