Waiting was truly a torturous process. Those in the know had to keep the matter a secret and couldn't let even a single word of it out. The wait would have to last a long few months undoubtedly.
Claude blamed it all on the bad flow of information. Having come from a world where everyone and everywhere was connected through the internet, any bit of news could spread to the far corners of the world in a matter of hours, even minutes. However, everything happened really slowly in the world of Faslan.
On Nubissia's western continent alone, information took around a month or two to travel between the colonies there. As for matters happening in Freia, it usually took half a year for information to go through.
Time passed in a flash and it was now the end of the year, Borkal had rushed back to headquarters. He had travelled through three colonies at the western coast and confirmed that the lease of Cape Loducus to Shiks was in fact true. After some four months of negotiation, Shiks settled on paying five million gold keptons to Fochs for a five-year lease on their colony.
Two gold keptons could be traded for a gold crown, so five million of them equated to 2.5 million crowns. In other words, the colony would be leased for 500 thousand crowns each year.
Shiks was being rather haphazard with their spending. The descendants of the Krim pirates of Fochs were laughing so badly from the lopsided deal that their teeth were falling out. The way they saw it, the Shiksan king was a complete fool. Cape Loducus was only valued for its fishing industry and nothing else. Some rather rare fish breeds were produced there and they sold for high prices in Freia as delicacies to be served in noble banquets.
Even then, the revenue of the fish produced didn't exceed 100 thousand crowns per year. The colony also had a population lower than two million, so the taxes they brought to Fochs amounted to less than ten thousand crowns. That was why Fochs was already ready to sell the colony away to Shiks. However, Shiks couldn't afford the astronomical price they offered and they settled on a lease instead.
"This is the news brought by one of the flotillas of the Fochsian fleet when they arrived at the western coast at the end of the 10th month. There was a Shiksan trading fleet to purchase the food they would need over the next two years. They have already paid the downpayment of 100 thousand gold keptons. So far, a few other colonies have started considering planting food on a large scale as estimates show that food prices at the western coast will double in the coming years.
"I talked to someone from the Shiksan fleet called Solum and he kept grilling me about information about the theatre. I glossed over our military affairs and told him that I don't pay much attention to those and only care about business. However, he seemed quite interested in purchasing large amounts of wheat ale in our theatre and gave me an order for 30 thousand barrels and a thousand gold keptons as the initial payment.
"From that encounter, I realised that there should be a large number of Shiksan informants or spies in our colonies. Solum seemed somewhat aware of what's happening in headquarters, such as the formation of our eight garrison lines, recruiting 100 thousand soldiers, selling 300 thousand Shiksan muskets to the nikancha nation and so on. Normal folk shouldn't be aware of such dealings. There definitely is a spy somewhere.
"When I told him the wild-bull company owns breweries and has to purchase large amounts of wheat to brew our ale, he requested me to supply him with a thousand pushirs of wheat for three times the market price. I suspect he's merely trying to test whether I'm an actual smuggler or not. The theatre has a tight grasp on food, but the wild-bull company can purchase wheat without much suspicion due to its brewing activities. Selling wheat at three times the market price would be enough for any smuggler to bet their life on."
Pushirs were Shiksan units equivalent to a tonne, which was a thousand catties.
Borkal continued, "However, I can tell from his request that even after pre-purchasing food from the colonies of other nations, Shiks isn't making great progress with their current food stores. It's likely that the other colonies are trying to maintain local supply for food in their own territories to ensure the stability of food prices, hence their refusal to sell food in large bulks. That was why Solum has no choice but to buy food from me for three times the market price.
"There's also something else I haven't confirmed yet. I got to hear about it when the soldiers of the Fochsian fleet blurted it out while drinking. Thanks to the high rent Shiks paid, Fochs would have two of their fleets ferry troops or supplies from Freia as per the lease agreement. As the trips would be made for free, the soldiers complained about it. I can't be sure whether it's true or not. The soldiers seemed rather drunk.
"Lastly, I have news from the kingdom's mainland. The situation is still undecided. It's said that Prince Wedrick has now transferred Kafreizit, Lasdonkrun, Botarnia and Woodisia back to Nasri and obtained a million-crown payment as well as a four-million-crown high-interest loan. Griffon has given up on holding Audin Mountain Range and transferred to the three southwestern prefectures. They are now attacking Whitestag where Prince Hansbach is. We didn't get any word on how the battle is progressing, though."
That was all the information Borkal collected on the western coast. He proved that Shiks was definitely intent on continuing the colonial wars. The lease of Cape Loducus to gather their troops was confirmed. After new year's eve, the theatre would once more come under threat of war. The results of the war would decide its survival.
The atmosphere in the meeting room was rather grim. Now that war was all but certain, every high-ranking officer qualified enough to sit in the meeting felt a sense of pressure. 'Before the storm comes the wind'. That was a saying from Claude's past life he recalled. It seemed that it perfectly described their current situation.
Claude wanted to clear his throat and say a word or two to cheer them up, only to see Bolonik crack a forced smile and said, "Colonel Borkal, you did well. With your reports, we can start preparing for the war effort. I believe we'll be the final victors of this conflict. My reasoning is simple: the Shiksans have always been our inferiors in war, and this time will be no exception!"
"General Bolonik is right. The Shiksans have never been our match," Eiblont said as he thumped on the table lightly with both fists. "Even though they're trying to gather ten corps of 600 thousand men, they're merely a rowdy, untrained bunch. We are superior in terms of training, experience and weaponry. Perhaps this war will add another page to our legendary exploits. The ten standing corps of Shiks will be a stepping stone on our path to legend."
Birkin clapped his hands and attracted the attention of many other officers. "Actually, the upcoming war isn't that terrifying. I'm sure that you all have seen the analysis General Claude had written about the lease. Colonel Borkal's reports also proved General Claude's foresight to be correct. There is no way Shiks can send all ten corps to Cape Loducus as their food supply will be a huge problem.
"Even if Shiks sent a trading fleet to order food and they start production locally next year and amass a sizable stockpile, the moment they launch an attack, we can carry out scorched earth in the nikancha lands and lure the enemy deeper inland. We'll play hide-and-seek with them in the mountains and delay their progress while draining their food supply. Eventually, we can surround them from all four directions and cut off their supply line. After that, they'll have no choice but to surrender to us."
Skri also said, "This time around, we hope to keep all 600 thousand Shiksan troops outside the colonies to prevent the flames of war from spreading here and negatively affecting our economic development and civilian livelihood. That's why we have set the battlegrounds to be within the mountainous terrain in nikancha territory. We'll use the mountains and woods to lead the Shiksans around and hold them there. If we're unable to completely eradicate them, we'll have to target their limited supplies and trap the enemies in the mountains.
"All units in the two corps or the garrison lines, begin mountain-combat training next year. Headquarters has already drafted some training routines and all units are to follow the schedule closely and train, no delays or cutting the training short. There will be evaluators sent to inspect the status of the training sessions. Anyone that doesn't meet the target standards, officer or soldier alike, might face dishonourable discharge.
"Please don't forget that our survival depends on the upcoming war effort. Everyone must give their best effort. Remember General Claude's slogan: each drop of sweat shed during training is a drop of blood fewer shed in battle. Follow the guidelines strictly and meet the targets. Anyone that doesn't make the cut might be discharged regardless of prior accomplishments, because we cannot tolerate having any soldier in service drag their units down because of their own incompetence!"
Skri finally finished his long speech. Now, everyone turned to Claude, who was the only one of the big five who had yet to speak.
Claude's expression stiffened as he wondered what in the world he should say. The other four had used up all the talking points. There were those that calmed the soldiers and relieved them of their worries, those that raised their morale, those that described their tactics and those that warned them not to slack off on training. What else could he possibly say?
"Ahem..." He cleared his throat and leaned into his coach, giving off a relaxed impression. Then, he said with a calm pace, "The Shiksans are finally here. As a soldier, I'm really happy because we have a clear enemy once more. If I'm frank, I've been doubting if I'm even soldier in the past two years. Even though I'm the kingdom's lieutenant-general, why am I busied with nothing but boring management and paperwork?
"I was either dealing with settling the migrants, planning the development of towns and roads, or chasing the nikancha to get on the boats and sail towards their nation instead of staying in our colonies and causing us trouble. I often find myself wondering if I should even put this uniform on. I mean, I did rather well for a bureaucrat if I may say so myself. Had it not been for the training surveys I had to conduct with the new recruits of Thundercrash, I would've forgotten that I'm a soldier long ago.
"Now, I'm really thankful for the Shiksans, Majid III in particular. He has never disappointed us and insisted on sending his kingdom's youths to our colonies to be free labourers and help out with our development. We only have to pay for their food and necessities. In fact, they're truly far too generous. He even ships the food we need to feed their youths with all the way from Freia.
"All I can see now are 600 thousand Shiksan labourers coming our way. All we need to do is make them put their weapons down and obediently march into our labour camps. I believe that our colonies will develop staggeringly quickly with so much free manpower. There's only one thing we need to remember. Before we get them to put down their weapons, we must make sure they understand that making an enemy out of us will be the greatest tragedy to befall them!
"We're going to fight in nikancha mountainous terrain. We'll make the Shiksans remember that leasing Cape Loducus to gather their troops was a mistake. They chose the wrong place to fight the wrong war. I'm sure I don't need to talk about how this war ends. The results are already set. The misguided greed the Shiksans have towards our colonies will become their greatest pain and regret.
"I already have plans to cooperate with the nikancha nation. I believe they'll come to us begging for help in another two or three months. Actually, I won't mind even if they don't ask for our help. There's no way they'll be able to fight the Shiksans off. As they're losing their cities and towns one after another, we can even launch surprise attacks on the territories they lost. That will save us lots of trouble and the territories we take will belong to us from then on.
"The Shiksans are no different from a snowfield mammoth. They're absolutely massive. We might be in some trouble if they gather their troops on the wide plains, since our numbers obviously can't match up to theirs. But in mountainous terrain, mammoths can't defeat monkeys. The terrain will severely limit what they can do and they can only fight at a little more than half their usual capabilities at best. The training General Skri referred to is what we're going to use to turn into monkeys in the mountain. We'll make the terrain our helpers.
"After saying all that, my point is still that we're really lucky. We finally have another chance to earn some merit. As soldiers, not having wars to fight is a paradox of luck and misfortune. We're lucky because we don't have to risk ourselves on the battlefield, but misfortunate because we'll never be able to prove ourselves as real soldiers. Now that the Shiksans have brought war to us once more, there's only one thing to do: eliminate them!"
The moment he finished, thunderous applause broke out in the meeting room.