Even though the trees wanted silence, the wind didn't stop blowing.
All Claude wanted to do was to spend new year's eve in his home with his mother, wife and children peacefully. That was now ruined. Three days before the year's end, a letter from Wickhamsburg came by carrier eagle. General Bolonik rushed to Claude for a discussion.
"What did you say?!" Claude almost jumped. "Prince Hansbach sent someone to give us secret orders? You said the ambassador has arrived in Wickhamsburg and the carrier eagle message said we must be there before the secret orders can be unveiled?"
"That's right. General Eiblont and General Skri are already there. The ambassador appointed us both by name. They said we have to all be there for him to hand us the orders. Currently, General Birkin is also making his way for Wickhamsburg. Do you think we should go immediately as well?" Bolonik himself seemed rather troubled by it. His family had just moved to Lanu during the past half a year. He wanted to spend new year's eve with them too.
However, they had no choice. Currently, both Prince Hansbach and Prince Wedrick, now known as Stellin XI after his coronation, weren't people Claude and the rest could afford to offend. Since an ambassador was sent, they couldn't afford to not start rushing to the city immediately. They couldn't even dally for new year's eve.
Claude and Bolonik had talked about what this could be about on their journey there. Neither of them knew what an ambassador for the first prince could be there for. They were far away on Nubissia and the fleets of Storm and Fearless were controlled by the royal capital. There was no way they would be able to contribute to the civil war on either side. Was Prince Hansbach trying to get Thundercrash and Monolith to rebel on Nubissia?
It would be a fool's errand. During the 9th month, the first prince led his troops to fight Griffon at Audin Mountain Range. After both sides suffered heavy casualties, he retreated with his troops to Eimis and stopped fighting altogether. Was he trying to use the two colonial corps to distract the royal capital?
There was nothing that would achieve. All the royal capital had to do was to stop shipments to Nubissia to be able to completely isolate the colonies. They would simply return to Nubissia to quell the rebellion after the civil war was settled. It would serve to do nothing but brand Claude and the rest as traitors.
On the 7th of the 1st month of Year 592, the two generals arrived at Wickhamsburg with their guards and attendants. They didn't bother to wash up and went to meet the ambassador from the first prince immediately. He was a soldier in his forties and introduced himself as Lieutenant-Colonel Henry. With a stern face, he looked through Claude and Bolonik's identification papers and opened a small case he took with him to take out a document.
Claude received the document and handed it to Bolonik. As the acting field marshal, he held most seniority, so he would be the first to look it through. Bolonik undid the wax seal without holding back.
His expression turned dark almost immediately as he shuddered. The veins on his hands holding the order popped. Claude was stunned and whispered whether he was okay. Bolonik handed the order to him and said, "Look at it yourself!"
He took the order and understood why Bolonik reacted the way he did. It was infuriating, to say the least. The order was simple: Claude and Bolonik were to mobilise Thundercrash and Monolith and go to Port Vebator to await the Shiksan fleet, Seaking, and the navy of the Alliance!
Prince Hansbach had basically ordered the generals to hand over the colony of Vebator back to Shiks. Not only that, he wanted them to cede Cromwell and Balingana to them too in exchange for Seaking and the Alliance's navy to ship the two corps back to the mainland to fight for him and his throne.
Claude handed the order to Skri with a grim look. Now, he knew why the ambassador insisted that all of them were there to reveal the order. Had they known what was in it, Claude would never go to Wickhamsburg. He would have plenty of excuses not to.
Now that they've seen it, there was only one choice. He could choose to accept the order to serve the first prince and take Thundercrash to serve him, all the while being labelled a traitor to the kingdom in handing over Vebator, Cromwell and Balingana to Shiks.
The other option would be to break off with Prince Hansbach entirely and ignore his orders, but that carried a lot of risk as well. If the first prince succeeded in wrestling the throne away, putting aside the fact that Claude and the others who disobeyed his orders would be punished, betraying the first prince, their benefactor, probably wouldn't look good to them. Prince Hansbach was the one who had a hand in Claude's quick promotions and the reception of his knighthood, which eventually helped him gain Miselk's attention. It was only after becoming his disciple that Claude managed to achieve what he did today.
All five generals were equally as gloomy by the time they finished reading the order. Nobody would expect the first prince to make this move. Skri, being the prince's former aide and confidant, was so angry that his body shook. He had put in the most effort on Balingana and Cromwell to push them on the path of development.
Yet, the first prince's order was for the two colonies to be handed over to Shiks. How could Skri be willing to do that? He made sure to check the signature and seal once more, only to be disappointed. It was indeed from Prince Hansbach instead of a forgery.
Skri paled and slumped weakly into his chair, muttering, "I don't believe His Highness would give such an order..."
The self-proclaimed lieutenant-colonel, Henry, looked at the five generals, unmoved.
"Generals, since you've seen the order, please act immediately. Gather Thundercrash and Monolith at Port Vebator. I will send someone back to notify Seaking and the Alliance's navy to take you from the port to His Highness. You have two months to prepare.
"Additionally, I will remain here as His Highness's ambassador and handle the agreement His Highness struck with Shiks. I shall ensure the colonies of Vebator, Balingana and Cromwell be transferred over without issue. His Highness has also asked me to pass on some words to you. Losing them now doesn't mean we lose them forever. When His Highness takes the throne, the kingdom shall be renewed. We will be able to retake what we've lost."
Claude snorted. Anybody could say something like that. Prince Hansbach was obviously trying to trade the colonies for a more powerful army on the mainland. With Thundercrash and Monolith gone from Nubissia, Shiks would only need two to three standing corps to take all the remaining Aueran colonies. Even if Prince Hansbach took the throne, he would never admit that he was the one that caused the colonies to fall to Shiks and he would blame them on Claude and the rest.
"No! I refuse to acknowledge this as a personal order from His Highness! His Highness definitely has been misled by crooks around him. He would never cede the kingdom's territory to the enemy!" Skri said, jumping out of his chair and preparing to tear the order.
Claude acted quickly. He held Skri down and said, "Give me the order and let me deal with this."
Skri easily handed it to him and sat back down, clutching his face with both hands. He seemed completely torn up.
"Apologies, Mister Henry--" Claude intentionally ignored the ambassador's military uniform and lieutenant-colonel shoulder mark. "--We've shown you a side we didn't mean to. However, Thundercrash won't accept this order. As soldiers, we protect our nation. Even if His Highness takes the throne and becomes king, I'm sure His Highness would understand the plight of the soldiers here far away on Nubissia and forgive us. The colonies are also national territory and they should never be handed to the enemy, especially one that had lost to us."
"I agree with our corpsman," Eiblont said, "The kingdom's colonies are sacred and the enemy shall not be allowed to desecrate them! Thundercrash's mission is to protect the colonies, not to hand them to the enemy!"
"You! Do you understand the consequences of disobeying His Highness?!"
The ambassador reacted with anger, not anticipating the response. Weren't the soldiers on the continent of Nubissia loyal to the first prince? He had thought that the mission wouldn't be that difficult, apart from the long distance he had to travel. Little did he know he would actually be given a negative response.
"Of course we do. If we follow this order, all of the kingdom's colonies will be lost. Prince Hansbach would never bear such responsibility for us. Even if His Highness takes the throne, we, and our families, will all be considered traitors. Even our descendants will forever be shamed for our deeds! Go tell His Highness that there are more than two million immigrants from the mainland in Balignana and Cromwell. We will never abandon them to Shiks!"
"You... you can simply send them back to the mainland..." Henry muttered.
During the time he spent in Wickhamsburg awaiting Claude and Bolonik's arrival, he had been treated rather well by Skri and had seen the development going on in Cromwell. He knew what Claude said was true. The colonies did have large numbers of mainland immigrants, all of them Aueran citizens.
Moving them back was easier said than done. Bolonik waved just as Claude was about to respond and gave his firm answer.
"Go back and tell His Highness that Monolith shall not obey such an order either. Monolith was formed by Lord Militant Miselk to defend the colonies of our kingdom. Our mission is to remain here, not to sell our kingdom out and fight the civil war between the two princes back on the mainland! Should His Highness become king, we shall take any blame and punishment to come our way!"
The ambassador walked towards the exit with a stern look.
Bolonik turned to Birkin and said, "Bick, escort him back to Port Vebator and make sure the defences there are strengthened. Shiks wanted to go through the first prince to take their port back and even get us to hand over Cromwell and Balingana. Now we've refused to obey, Shiks' plans are ruined. I suspect they'll react with anger and hostility and mount a naval attack against us."
"Understood." Birkin prepared to leave the room.
"Wait, Bick," Claude called out, "Ask the ambassador whether he knows of Lord Militant Miselk's whereabouts."
Skri looked up and said, "There's no need. He doesn't know. During the time you were absent, I took him around the colony to see how we're developing and asked much about the first prince. He was really tight lipped and only revealed that the first prince would be staging a huge campaign after the new year, hence the need for more troops. That's why he came to summon our two corps.
"However, there wasn't a need for him to hide anything about the Lord Militant. He's not currently under the wing of the first prince. The ambassador had once heard a drunk aide to the prince talk about him. He cursed the Lord Militant for not acting befitting of his station. It was said that he had met the first prince after the latter left the royal capital and the two parted on bad terms because the Lord Militant refused to help His Highness fight for the throne."
Claude, Bolonik, Eiblont and Birkin breathed a sigh of relief. Since even Miselk didn't agree to serve under the first prince, they no longer felt that pressured about refusing to comply to the orders. While the generals did owe the first prince for a good start to their careers, they had relied on their own efforts and Miselk's recommendations to progress even further.
While Claude and Skri were only made junior officers thanks to the first prince noticing their talents, the first prince didn't play much of a role for the rest of their careers all the way to becoming generals. Miselk, on the other hand, gave them huge pushes from behind. He recognised their talents and efforts and used his own name to vouch for them, allowing them to finally cross the great divide between a field officer and a general officer and be promoted major-generals.
"What do we do next?" Bolonik asked with a look of resignation.
"Let's relay all this to the capital," Claude said after some thought, "There's a saying the old and wise always bring up. Only a child that makes noise gets candy. If we keep this under wraps, if word of this gets out some other way, the bigwigs in the royal capital will suspect we have some sort of arrangement with the first prince. Now that we've refused His Highness, let's make sure to stay in the good graces of the royal capital.
"We'll tell them everything and make sure they understand we're loyal to the kingdom. Let us also bring up how we're severely stripped for funding. Perhaps the bigwigs will approve a large sum for development to appease us so as to not waste our refusal to follow Prince Hansbach's orders to keep the colonies in the kingdom's hands."
"Oh, so we should spread word of our refusal far and wide then. That way, we can craft a narrative to prevent others from casting us as ungrateful bastards. It's not that we aren't thankful to the first prince for noticing us and giving us an opportunity in our careers. We simply refuse to be traitors to the kingdom," Eiblont said, still bothered by the first prince's secret orders.
Bolonik turned to Claude, shaking his head in resignation. "Keep the secret order well. It will be proof of our innocence. We'll handle the rest according to your suggestions. Hopefully, the royal capital understands our plight and will provide us with some aid."