Claude was exceedingly busy in the following days. He took Sonia and Liboyd to the factory he had started with Weyblon. After the tour of their mortar production line, he was surprised to notice Liboyd had become very interested in the mortars and hot-air engines. He immediately accepted Claude's invitation and was prepared to continue researching the two magnificent discoveries.
Naturally, he didn't resign from his position as chief machinist. It wasn't like he actually needed to be there. The auditor would oversee everything on site. Claude was fine with it; it was a public position, after all, and would afford him many conveniences.
Liboyd could focus his attention on research in the farmstead. He only needed to go to the factory from time to time and show his face to the auditor while not getting into trouble.
Since Liboyd and Sonia had agreed to work for him, he had to begin working on the farmstead to expand the lab. He needed to add a mini workshop for the two. He also had to prepare a decent residence. He was not about to let his son, bastard or not, live in anything less than proper lodgings.
Having drawn everything up, he tossed poor Myjack several pages of blueprints and let him deal with the project. The man would only be allowed to return to his post after it was finished. As for the costs, he funded it with the Shiksan funds he had embezzled. He invested 100 thousand crowns in the mansion and workshop. His only condition was that the two gunsmiths keep everything hush-hush.
Busy days flew by by the dozen and soon a month had passed. Claude got a message from General Skri. Count Aljess Kai Osmolin would arrive in Lanu in the late morning hours of the next day. Claude was to personally welcome him and relinquish his position.
The former royal guard corpsman was incredibly impatient. He had continued on the moment he set foot on land. He didn't even bother to say hello to the viceroy. Claude wondered if he thought they might take Port Verbator before he arrived if he was a day late. He hadn't taken over as field marshal yet. The five enhanced corps wouldn't hold back on his say-so until he did, so Claude supposed his worries weren't without reason, if still unwarranted.
At least Claude didn't have to organise the welcome ceremony. He left everything to Sir Bernard and General Skri. He just showed his face in the right places and made the right grunts at the appropriate times.
His replacement was an hour late. The man's escort were spotless, but their eyes were bloodshot and their steps far less steady than he'd expected. He supposed it wasn't unreasonable to look like that after the march they'd had to do.
Claude and his compatriots noted the conspicuous absence of those same signs of fatigue from the general who'd driven the men that hard. He sat comfortably on a handsome white steed, his thighs gently hugging a gold-embroidered saddle. He wore a spotless, if standard, general's uniform. The parade variety; and spotless, of course.
The former corpsman appeared to be in his fifties. He had an angular, expressionless face and sported a blonde head of hair. A single strip had gone astray and sat uncomfortably on his upper lip in which Claude concluded was a sorry excuse for a moustache, despite all the grooming it clearly received several times a day. He sat regally upon his steed and watched the welcome party approach through judgemental eyes.
"Music!" a major yelled and the brass band in parade assembly started playing 'Great Kingdom'.
The party closed the rest of the distance and came to a practised halt in front of the general's mount. They each introduced themselves formally and saluted the general.
Aljess returned the salutes, still atop his horse. He only dismounted once they'd all finished their introduction, Claude included, and clapped a shake of the hand at each. He even had a jovial exchange with Claude, carefully complimenting him in all the right ways.
All the initial formalities exchanged, the crowd proceeded to the HQ, Claude and Bolonik trailing at the back, whispering to one another.
"He cuts quite the unfriendly figure," Bolonik whispered, "He could at least have done the courtesy of getting off his high horse and greeting us properly from the start. Instead he stared down at us as if he's a king and we're peasants. I suppose I should have expected that, however. He is a kingdom officer, after all."
"Then why did he dismount after we introduced ourselves?"
Claude didn't think Aljess would be a simple person at all, but he didn't understand the reason behind his dismounting and shaking their hands.
"You don't know even this?--" Bolonik glared at him like an uneducated bumpkin. "--He remained on horseback to emphasise his seniority. That's strictly officially. Didn't you notice he returned our salutes? After that, he dismounted and immediately held hands with us, not as a fellow soldier, but as a noble. He's fine with us being buddies as long as we play the good little servants when he starts giving orders."
"A little too much fuss over details, isn't it?"
"It's an old-nobility thing. No matter what they think or plan, don't you feel that we'll get along well with him? He would, of course, not be so nice if we weren't of use to him. You'd get only his high horse if you weren't. Also, you might not be in command anymore, but you're still the former field marshal. You should walk faster. It wouldn't do to rush in after them."
Claude quickened his pace and circled around the crowd to enter the building first. The documents he was prepared to hand over were all on his desk, awaiting the general's arrival.
Not long after, Aljess, Skri, and Bernard stepped into Claude's soon-to-be-former office at the same time. Claude quickly stood up to welcome his replacement again and showed him the documents. Aljess was quite surprised with how eager he seemed to be to hand over his authority. Skri explained smilingly.
"General Claude has long been waiting for someone to relieve him. He can't wait to have more free time to spend with his wife and kids."
While Aljess was a little taken aback that Claude had his whole family with him, he didn't ask any questions, merely smiling instead.
"Since General Claude's being so thoughtful, let us get this over quickly."
The documents were mostly reports waiting to be audited. Claude's accounts were simple and clean, so things went smoothly. All spending had been checked by Skri and his department. He didn't embezzle funds either. He preferred using his own money for most transactions, and as far as his personal finances were concerned, nobody could look into them.
After the handover was the banquet. They all made merry and Bolonik stuffed Claude with alcohol. Near the end of the banquet, they were notified that Aljess would be holding a meeting with all the high-ranking officers at nine the next day, so Claude and the rest had to attend.
Claude rushed to the headquarters early the next morning to a full room. Every officer within travel distance had come. Thundercrash's high-ranking officers couldn't make it in time, however, but that was to be expected given how far away they were. Myjack was there, however. He had been busy with all the work in the farmstead lately and had not gone to Wickhamsburg with Tribe 131.
Aljess entered at nine, sharp. Despite his tardiness the day before, he seemed to be a punctual fellow. He announced the rewards the kingdom had decided to confer upon the men for all but ensuring they would win the war. Claude had been informed beforehand, of course. He would be promoted to lieutenant-general and be made an honorary viscount. He would also be given the new post as corpsman of Thundercrash, which would be expanded to a full corps.
After announcing the rewards and promotions, Aljess gave his first speech as the new field marshal. He straightforwardly stated their next mission would be the conquest of Port Vebator to bring a final, permanent end to the war.
He also announced he would inspect all the forces in the theatre personally to gain a first-hand understanding of their capabilities. Once he was done, he would turn his attention to Port Vebator.
The meeting was finished, but everyone was invited to dine with the general for lunch, after which they were to attend the war council. The new field marshal apparently didn't trust his new forces to be worth what the reports said they were. Especially not the enhanced corps, who were classified as irregulars, the same irregulars who'd done horribly during the last war.
Miselk had initially planned to have the five enhanced folks be defensive formations. Apart from the offensive Thundercrash, it was apparent from the names of the Monolith folks. They would stand firm and tough like a monolith and never give way. Thundercrash was an oddity.
No one had expected Claude to practically win the war with Thundercrash alone. The folk had done practically all the fighting, and all the dying. They'd lost a third of their number so far. It would be some months before they were back up to strength, which was not good for Aljess since he was planning to assault Vebator soon.
He'd expected the folk's officers to protest when he announced his timetable, but they were fully confident they could take the city. The report on the city Colonel Kefist had submitted was also an eye opener. The details on the defences and troop dispositions were all there.
Lines 1301 through 1304 were holding outside the city. The corps defending the port had been confined for half a year now. Even if they wanted to leave, there was nowhere to go. The nikancha rebellion was in full swing on the northern coasts. They had formed an army and were taking the fight to the inland colonies. They had taken a fifth of the colonial territory in just two months.
Aljess was quite shocked to see that the situation in Vebator was so heavily in their favour.
"Why haven't you sent the men into the city yet?" he couldn't help but ask.
"Thundercrash's casualties have been too severe. We had to give them time to recover," Claude answered.
"Our orders were to defend Dorinibla," Bolonik added.
"Just like 1st Monolith, we had to defend the Claude Defence Line," Sevict said in his turn.
Birkin shrugged nonchalantly.
"4th Monolith has just been formed. We're not even done training yet."
Aljess' eyes flickered quietly. He knew most of it was just convenient excuses. The city just needed a single thorough knock to fall over. They could easily have done it with Thundercrash alone, even in its undermanned state. They'd really just been leaving the honour of the final conquest to him.
"I understand your goodwill, gentlemen. House Osmolin shall remember this favour. Let us set out for Port Vebator in half a month, then."
"Why don't we just send troops out in a few days?" Claude asked, "General, you don't even have to use the royal guard. Just send in the monoliths."
The general shook his head after a moment's thought.
"No, this merit is mine alone. The royal guard has to be part of it. They need the merit."
Everyone nodded obediently.