What Claude didn't think would happen was how after he spent five days sailing from Port Vebator to a fishing town in Anfiston and rushed to headquarters in Lanu, the negotiations still hadn't concluded. Both sides were in a deadlock.
"What's going on? Didn't we state the requirements of the theatre clearly? What in the world are the nikancha thinking?" Claude thought this matter to be rather weird. The plan had been set and the theatre already had a general outline of their strategic and tactical goals. They only had to wait for the nikancha to come to them and follow the plan before making preparations for the war effort.
Bolonik grimaced and said, "The nikancha want us to provide more advanced firearms. They want to be armed with Aubass Mark 3s, not the inferior Shiksan muskets we obtained as spoils. They also wanted to order cannons and ammunition and be trained on how to use cannons so they can have their own cannoneer units.
"Those were all in our predictions. As long as they were willing to pay, we would agree to their request and even help them form a standardised army so they can resist to a degree. However, they used the excuse of a financial shortage and said they weren't able to pay. They suggested an instalment payment scheme with a ten-year term instead.
"Additionally, they refused our war plans, saying that our plans don't take into account their independence and dignity at all. They said that as war would take place within their territory, the livelihoods of their tribes would be severely affected, so they insisted on keeping the enemy outside of their borders."
"Keeping them outside?" Claude said, taken aback, "Are you sure they're right in the head? How can they even make that kind of demand? They can't be wanting us to send our troops to Cape Loducus to fight the ten Shiksan corps there in a grand battle, right?"
Bolonik shook his head, humoured by the implications Claude voiced. "No, not to that extent. Their heads aren't that far broken. If they had really said that, they couldn't be saved even if we wanted to. We would've given up on all negotiation in that case and watch as their nation gets wiped out.
"Just look at the map and you'll know. The nikancha ambassadors said that they're willing to let us set up a defence line in the area within 15 kilometres of the border between their nation and Cape Loducus, that is to say, a small portion of the eastern and northern mountainous areas. They want our forces to hold the Shiksans off in direct conflict while they provide support from the rear."
"Well aren't they optimistic to even hope that we'll take the bullets for them at the front?" Claude was so taken aback that he even laughed. "Why would they even have the gall to suggest that? Do they think we'll just do what they say? They want to sit back at the rear as we fight the Shiksans in the mountains without paying any cost of their own?"
Bolonik sighed deeply. "You might not know this, but the news the nikancha got from the western coast was the reason Shiks leased Cape Loducus from Fochs to gather their troops was to continue the war with the theatre and finally get back at us for their three prior losses.
"So, the nikancha think that they've been roped into the conflict thanks to us. If their nation wasn't located between our theatre and Cape Loducus, they wouldn't even have to worry about being attacked by the Shiksans. They think their misfortune stems from being sandwiched between the Shiksans and us.
"The ambassadors say that they only chose to work with us because they have a good relationship with us. They are the ones willing to help us against the Shiksans. If we don't agree to their demands, they'll give up on the northern mountainous coasts and make a path for the Shiksans in Cape Loducus to come straight to Vebator."
"Did the ambassadors really say that? Can I take that as a threat against our theatre?" Claude asked with a cold smile. "Where did they get that kind of bravery to spout something so arrogant to us? I had heard that the nikancha are slimy folk, but I haven't really experienced it myself until now. Do they really think we can't fight this war without their cooperation?
"Even though they're the ones facing the crisis of being wiped out, they want to push all the danger to us. They want to watch us fight the Shiksans while they sit and wait for the spoils. I can be certain that if we agree to their demands, we'll have to pay high transport and labour fees for them to help secure our supply line. Otherwise, our arms would all disappear without a trace."
"Actually, Bick and Skri think we're really pressed for time and believe we should negotiate with the ambassadors to reach a compromise. At least, we must make the nikancha send some of their own troops to defend against the Shiksans as well. They should be willing to put up a fight given that their lives are at stake.
"After all, the first batch of Shiksan corps would arrive in Cape Loducus around the 4th month. Our theatre needs to use the time we have left to form a defence line between the eastern and northern mountainous areas in the nikancha nation. It would take at least 20 days to travel there and time is running short."
Bolonik said that with some hesitation. As the general most proficient in defensive manoeuvres, he knew how important a properly fortified defence line was against an enemy attack, and to do it properly required sufficient time.
"Cease negotiations with the nikancha ambassadors. Leave them hanging for three days. We can't let them push us around like that. All they have to do is to follow our original plans and do what we expect of them! Otherwise, let us watch as their nation gets wiped out. When the Shiksans slaughter a river of blood in their nation and enslave their kin, it'll be too late for them to regret.
"Tell them that I will take over negotiations from this day onward. Any agreement they reach with anyone else won't be recognised. If they want our cannons and advanced firearms, as well as our help to modernise their army, all that will have to be paid in gold and silver. No debts are allowed. We are not rich. We already spared much expense to prepare for this upcoming war and we can spare no more to help them for free.
"Let them cool down for the next three days so they don't make any more unreasonable requests when I go to negotiate with them. Only by following our plan can victory against the Shiksans be ensured and their nation remains intact. Our theatre can also promise to respect the sovereignty of their nation. After we defeat the Shiksans and obtain victory, we will not leave our armies in their nation and have every soldier retreat."
"Bick and Skri won't be happy about this," Bolonik helplessly said, though he gave his tacit approval. "I will send my aide to tell them to stop negotiating with the nikancha and refuse all their demands. We'll tell them the negotiations will begin anew in three more days and you'll be calling all the shots."
This was the biggest gesture of support Bolonik could show Claude, of which Claude was all too aware. Having been in the same position of field marshal, Claude understood how tough it must be for Bolonik to serve as acting field marshal. There were many times when his job wasn't to figure out a solution to problems, but rather, to mediate between conflicts of different aspects in the theatre.
Claude was quite happy that he no longer held that position. From the look at how Bolonik's hair had been whitening and balding, it was obvious how tough being a field marshal in these times were. He had to settle the family members of the soldiers, refuse Prince Hansbach's demands, recruit new troops, deal with military spending, handle the rebellious viceroys and high-commissioners, endure being cut off from the mainland, move the nikancha away, and when all of that was done, the Shiksans returned.
"It's fine. It's better for them to be displeased now than to regret this later," Claude explained, "General Birkin is still influenced by his plan to set up a defensive front at the northern mountainous coasts. Of course, he'd be glad now that the nikancha are willing to let our theatre defend the northern and eastern mountainous areas. After all, our troops are far more reliable and we don't need to worry about the Shiksans breaching our defences and spreading everywhere.
"General Skri, on the other hand, has always been the chief logistics officer of the theatre. He has to constantly deal with our rising spending and deficits. The reason he wants to negotiate with the nikancha is because of their gold and silver reserves. He hopes they will pay us in gold and silver to relieve our tight finances. Yet, now the nikancha wants to bind us to their bandwagon by offering to pay in instalments instead. This is something he hasn't considered before.
"Obviously, if we agree to let them pay by a ten-year instalment, we'll have to take the initiative to defend them against the Shiksans. After all, if their nation is wiped out, who would we collect the debt from? It's a matter of a few million crowns, not a small sum. Tell me, did the nikancha ambassadors agree to our initial expensive price for the weapons without even trying to haggle?"
Bolonik's expression soured with realisation. The nikancha ambassadors had agreed to the price the theatre quoted for the Aubass Mark 3s and the cannons without even attempting to negotiate for a lower price at all. It's apparent that they're hoping to go for as high a price as possible. They only have to pay a small portion of the total to get the theatre to commit entirely to fighting the Shiksans and keeping them safe. Otherwise, if the nikancha nation gets wiped out, there would be nobody to collect the debt from.
"We don't need to set up any defence line in the northern and eastern mountainous areas. What we need is for the nikancha to commit to scorched earth. We'll set our defences in the central area of the mountains. That will shorten our supply route and give the Shiksans much trouble. The enemy will have to spend lots of time to travel through the mountains before reaching our defence line and attacking it. That will place a huge burden on them when it comes to supplies and reinforcements.
"Additionally, we can send a small subunit in the mountains to ambush the enemy's rear. If the Shiksans want to keep their supply line safe, they will have to set up their own complete defence line to seal off any avenue our unit can use to cross. They'll also have to man it with enough people. That will slow down their war plans, which will be even more debilitating, given their existing supply problem. I doubt no Shiksan commander would want to see that happen."
Claude picked up his army hat as he prepared to leave. "Tell General Birkin what I said and he'll quickly understand my intentions. I'll be resting at home for the next three days and not seeing anyone. Tell the nikancha that negotiations will resume at nine in the morning three days later. I will only be giving them a day. If they don't accept the plans we have laid out, send them home. Our theatre will then cease cooperation with their nation entirely and watch as they're wiped out by Shiks."
Three days later, Claude stepped into the meeting room of headquarters after the very last grain of sand before nine o'clock fell through the hourglass.
The room was filled with negotiators from both sides. Compared to the near fifty nikancha elders and chiefs that came as ambassadors, the theatre was only represented by Bolonik, Eiblont and a few other high-ranking officers and scribes. Birkin and Skri were not present. They probably didn't want the nikancha to misunderstand that the negotiation would continue under the terms they left off and intentionally refused to join the meetings.
Claude came to the meeting table and just as he announced he would be taking charge of negotiations, he was interrupted. A bulky looking nikancha chief stood up angrily and yelled, "General, aren't you afraid we'll give up on the northern mountainous coasts and let the Shiksans straight through to Vebator?"
Claude burst out laughing. "Nope. I'm not worried at all. In fact, I can't wait for you to do so. It's simple. No matter how the Shiksans come, we plan to drive them away. Our two corps have long been ready for battle. We can't wait for them to come. To our soldiers, the Shiksans are free merits waiting to be earned.
"As for the northern mountainous coasts, if your nation chooses to willingly give up on them, we'll have all the right in the world to occupy them after driving the Shiksans away. Perhaps our theatre can add another coastal colony to our collection. We can even take over Cape Loducus too. It's great news for the theatre."
"B-but the Shiksans have ten standing corps of 600 thousand men! H-h-how many men does your theatre have? H-how could you drive them away so easily? Y-you're only bluffing..."
The nikancha chief had never dreamt Claude would respond so. His threat had failed and had even become an offer for the theatre to take the northern mountainous coasts. In a panic, he brought up the disparity of their troop numbers.
"Very good. Looks like you know they have ten standing corps," Claude said as if he didn't pay the Shiksans any heed at all. "But are you certain the Shiksans will only come for our theatre and leave your nation be?"
The nikancha elder immediately stammered, not being able to say anything in response. An older elder beside him stood up and said, "Honourable General, I would like to remind you too that the newspapers at the western coast reported that the reason Shiks leased Cape Loducus was to continue the colonial war with you. That's why you'll be their first target."
Claude shook his head with a smile. "Looks like you still don't understand. We are the enemies of Shiks, so they will have full justification in coming to fight us. But you nikancha are nothing but slaves in Shiksan eyes, rebellious ones that took over their colony to form your own nation, at that. You're a huge mark of humiliation for the Shiksans. They don't treat you like an enemy because they're mocking you. They didn't bring up war with you, because in their eyes, eliminating you is only an act of quelling a rebellion."
The nikancha elder was speechless. It seemed that he was well aware how the Shiksans saw the nikancha.