Claude only had one question in his mind: With Shiks losing all semblance of threat on Nubissia for at least half a year and possibly the foreseeable future, what was the kingdom doing sending a hereditary count and a folk of royal guards to take over his post?
Was he about to be cast away? He shook his head. Impossible. He had done everything by the book, almost pedantically so, since taking over. Not to mention he had just made a massive contribution to the kingdom by eliminating three corps. If the ministry of the army really wanted to take him down, there was no need to go about this in such a roundabout fashion. They just had to summon him to the capital and relieve him.
Not to mention, sending a high-ranking general and a whole folk was overestimating him by a long shot. It was just Nubissia. To the powerful in the kingdom, being sent there was akin to being exiled. There was no way they would let a mere major-general and honorary baron serve as field marshal if that were not so. Sure, Miselk's recommendation definitely played a role, but the more likely cause for his appointment was the fact that most high-ranking officers simply didn't want the post.
If they weren't trying to deal with him, could the general, Hereditary Count Aljess Kai Osmolin have offended someone he shouldn't have? Was he really exiled to Nubissia? That didn't seem likely either, since there would be no need to send a folk of royal guards along in that case.
He began to look through more information Weyblon brought him from the capital, but the newspapers didn't have too much information on other nations. The reports on Aueras itself was fine. The country was doing rather well. Overblown news stories about the third colonial war also took up most of the headlines. Claude suddenly discovered he had some tens of mistresses and illegitimate children he had never heard about overnight.
Stories like 'My Past with the General' and 'The Kingdom's Fiercest General' were all over the tabloids. Quite a number of young and beautiful noblewomen recounted the pleasant times they spent with Claude. Among them, one particularly famous young lady told her recollection of her falling in love at first sight with General Claude during a ball, which led to their tryst and their eventual departure when Claude went to serve the kingdom in the colonies.
Angered, Claude asked, "Can I sue these publications for libel?"
Weyblon sipped at his tea slowly as he waited for Claude to sift through the gossip. Hearing that, he raised his brows and said, "You won't win..."
Weyblon put his cup down.
"The third edition, on which most gossip stories are printed, is also called the rumour edition. On the top of these editions is a disclaimer stating they aren't responsible for any coincidences and similarities. They already don't claim what is published is true, so suing them will only make a joke out of you.
"It's not that people haven't tried doing so, they've just all lost. Take for instance the noblewoman's story about you. While you don't know this woman, she can claim she knows another Claude bearing the same name. As for that famous girl who claimed to have given birth to an illegitimate son of yours, she can say the man's full name is General Claude, not Claude Ferd, and that you were too self-conscious and misunderstood her story."
Claude was speechless that such things actually happened. Though, reading the funny stories did lighten his mood somewhat. The newspapers didn't contain much information of value to him. It would be better to check out the rumour sections to try to sift some inkling of truth out.
He skimmed through the hand-copied tabloids Weyblon had brought. They contained rumours and hearsay that could be worth looking into more than the newspapers. They did mention the appointment of the count as the new field marshal and even had a detailed record of the subordinates and units of the royal guard that would be coming along. More importantly, there was some information about some commotion in the royal guard. Some ten high-ranking officers from old nobility were transferred to join that folk.
Apart from that, there wasn't anything else on the count and the royal guard.
"Does your association have more information on this Count Aljess Kai Osmolin?" Claude asked.
"I came personally because some things can't be written on paper, lest others get their hands on them and use them against us. We can only rely on word of mouth. That way, you'll only be able to hear of it and I can simply deny that I was the person to inform you about this.
"Actually, General Aljess Kai Osmolin has an aim for taking up a post here. He wants to conquer Port Vebator and the colony as a whole for good to end this war and pave a way for him to a promotion to Lord Militant."
Claude's eyes became saucers.
He had been wondering why the ministry had been taking so long, almost two extra months, to respond to the reports and reward them for their achievements. They had been paying attention to Shiks. From what he could read from the newspapers, even Claude could tell what was going on, to say no more of the ministry. After they concluded that Shiks wouldn't send further reinforcements for a while, they decided to put an end to the war.
Claude recalled what he'd heard from Bolonik about Aljess Kai Osmolin. He was the most proficient offensive general the kingdom had and could conquer any kind of fort granted he sacrificed enough men.
Aueras wanted to end the war for good, but with Shiks refusing to negotiate, the only option was to repay a tooth for a tooth. They would conquer all the Shiksan colonies. Without them, Shiks would no longer have any foothold in Nubissia and would no longer be able to send further reinforcements to fight them there. While they could still send Seaking to harass them from time to time, this pirate-like activity could easily be stopped by installing cannons at the ports. If their navy couldn't get on land, there was no way they could conquer new territories.
That was why Aljess was sent there with a folk. He was worried he would be unable to make the folks follow his orders. As a former corpsman of the royal guard, it wasn't difficult for him to request a folk.
"By the way, you mentioned he wants to become Lord Militant?"
"This is his only chance. The kingdom is only at war in this theatre, so he can only gain more merits here. During the five-year war, he commanded the royal guard corps and fought in Rimodra for three months. While he gained some progress, the casualties suffered by the royal guard and the two irregular corps were far too heavy.
"Prince Hansbach had no choice but to let the royal guard rest and recuperate and retire him. If he was allowed to continue fighting his way, a million lives would've been lost by the time he finished conquering Rimodra, and that was a loss nobody could afford to take. That was why the general was no longer able to continue fighting in the war in Eastern Freia and become a Lord Militant of the kingdom. This time around, he volunteered himself for the position of field marshal and wants to conquer Port Vebator for the promotion he needs."
Claude pondered it over. "In other words, this general isn't someone on the first prince's side then..."
Weyblon laughed and said, "He has never sided with the prince before. He is an old noble to the bone. They take a neutral stance in the struggle for the throne and support neither the first nor second prince. The association believes that the only reason he has come to take your place is for the merit and promotion. With there being only one corps remaining in Port Vebator, he's confident he can take the city, even with heavy casualties."
More moths were being drawn to the fire. Had Claude not eliminated the three enemy corps, this general would've remained in the royal capital with his luxuries instead of wanting to come over so badly to fight him for merit.
It was quite a good deal for the general, however. Shiks couldn't reinforce their colonies at present and there was only one standing corps remaining in Port Vebator. With the folk of royal guards and the five enhanced folks, he had around three corps' worth of troops, roughly three times the numbers of the defenders. It was enough to conquer the city for good.
Even if the enemy had Seaking with them, it wouldn't matter. They'd just lose more men and that was it. They only needed to take the city walls before everything else fell into place. With this achievement under his belt, Aljess could be promoted to Lord Militant and return to the royal capital, leaving behind the mess he will have created in the theatre.
Claude considered whether he should take the city before the general arrived, but he dropped the notion as quickly as it came up. It wasn't that he couldn't take Port Vebator; there simply was no good reason to antagonise the old nobility.
Additionally, he was worried he would make a fool of the general. If Aljess could take Port Vebator, he'd leave soon after to get his promotion.
If he came only to find the city already taken, however, he would have to stay until he could get some other achievement. He would also be soured regarding Claude. He'd make trouble for Claude for every day longer he had to stay on Nubissia.
It would be better to just do nothing. At the very least, he was relieved to discover the real purpose for Aljess' visit. Thundercrash was a light-cavalry force, after all. While they had emerged victorious in the war, they had suffered huge casualties and a third of them were still recovering in the field hospitals. There was no way to fill up the ranks left behind by the thousands of casualties just yet.
Even after the general arrived, Claude would still have to increase the unit's size to a full corps. He could just retreat to Wickhamsburg to reorganise his forces without being bossed around by others in the theatre.
"By the way, my friend, do you have any other rumours spread by word of mouth you can tell me?" he asked, leaning into his chair relaxedly.
This time around, Weyblon seemed more alert. He put down his cup and stood up from the couch and approached the desk and whispered.
"Word from the capital is that His Majesty will last another five months at most before returning to the war god's kingdom..."
"What? For real?"
How many years had Stellin X been bedridden? Claude had really forgotten about it. Since the war in Eastern Freia, he had heard about the king's bad health. Most of the kingdom's affairs had been relegated to the first prince, prime minister and other ministers. It had been some eight years at least. People were getting used to the king being unwell. He didn't think he'd finally hear about the king's impending death in a few months.
"It's true. I can't reveal my sources, but I can guarantee it's accurate. During the 10th month of last year, His Majesty got a stroke and couldn't speak well after that, lapsing between wakefulness and haziness often. It's said that the ministers' greatest wish is for His Majesty to appoint his successor before his passing to prevent a power struggle between the two princes..."
Claude shook his head. "On what grounds can the second prince lay claim to the throne? Isn't the first prince managing the kingdom in His Majesty's stead already? His Highness has been doing rather well, and the ministry of the army stands with His Highness too. I believe the second prince best drop out of the race. Otherwise, the first prince might just exile him for good after he ascends to the throne..."
Weyblon chuckled. "General, don't be so sure. There are quite a number of elites in the kingdom who are against the first prince's ascension. At least, the ministry of the navy is. Just five months ago when you were on the battlefield, there's been an assassination attempt on the first prince. His Highness is fine, but Lord Militant Miselk, who was by his side then, got heavily injured and is still recovering.
"The assassins were captured then and there, but they immediately consumed poison and killed themselves. Angered, the first prince ordered the guards to make the assassins minced meat before throwing them into a hole filled with faeces. His Highness then went to the second prince's manor and got into a big argument. The second prince swore publicly that he wasn't the one who sent the assassins, claiming that he would never ever dream of assassinating family. The first prince let him off with just that, but his rashness in dealing with the matter caused his reputation to take a dive. Many thought that the future king shouldn't be so hasty and brash."