"General, Cape Loducus City's mayor and the tribesman of the garrison came to visit early in the morning. They've been waiting for close to an hour," Anders reported after entering Claude's room, only to find Claude yawning as he got out of bed.
"Huh? What are they here for?"
Claude only managed to get some shuteye around four at night. He simply found an empty tent in camp and a rather clean single bed before going to sleep. He checked out the skies and found that it was around nine in the morning. After asking Anders, the accurate time was twenty-three past nine. In other words, those two had come around eight in the morning. What could be so urgent for them to do so?
He gave his face a casual wipe and finished the warm milk Anders had an orderman serve. Then, he asked where that milk came from, to which Anders replied that the Shiksan base had three hebik milk cows. The captives said it was reserved for high-ranking officers only. They usually drank lots of alcohol during the night and woke up with an uncomfortable stomach, which some milk would help greatly relieve.
Claude was speechless as he wondered whether the Shiksan officers were there to fight a war or go on vacation, for their base to even go so far to keep milk-producing cows. Even the first lieutenant-general of the kingdom's theatre like Claude had nothing but dry rations... the same rations the bare recruit grunt had. The only preferential treatment he got was to be free to have as much red tea as he pleased. He would have some prepared for him during every rest stop.
Perhaps that difference between him and the Shiksan officers was the reason he was in their supply base while they could only hide within the city. Claude didn't overthink it and finished the jerky sandwich he was served in quick bites. He gargled, adjusted his uniform and got Anders to take him to see the mayor and the smart tribesman that didn't give him any reason to attack the city.
"By the way, have Colonel Moriad's Line 2 and Colonel Dyavid's Line 3 departed?" Claude asked.
"Yes, around six in the morning. Nobody in the city was alerted."
Line 1302 and Line 1303 didn't stay behind in the supply base to rest and left immediately, mainly to lie in ambush waiting for possible enemy reinforcements. Only after the base was occupied did they realise that all the carrier eagles in the base had been sent away by the enemy signallers.
While they didn't know whether the dead signallers sent out any call for reinforcement, Claude didn't dare to become careless and had the two lines go to their designated positions. It would only take half a day for a carrier eagle to fly from the northern to the eastern mountain area. The enemy troops, if they are sent, might arrive the following night.
Cape Loducus was covered in scenic flatlands, so ambushing required special preparation and disguises. If they were picked out by the enemy, all would be for naught. So, Claude had no choice but to have Moriad and Dyavid go through a little more trouble to head to their stations earlier for the preparation that needed to be done to eliminate another Shiksan reinforcement unit.
The Fochsian visitors in the main tent didn't seem impatient after waiting near an hour. Instead, they enjoyed the red tea they were served as they observed Thundercrash's soldiers from afar and silently evaluated the difference between the theatre's troops and the Shiksans'.
"They are really orderly. Look there. The two soldiers walk shoulder-to-shoulder with their arm and leg movements more or less synchronised. Those five over there are walking in single file and they're separated by a similar distance. Gentlemen, they're in their own camp. If it were the Shiksans, it wouldn't be uncommon to see brawls and soldiers making merry. It's even a common sight across the army camps of the continent.
"However, that is completely absent here. Even though they managed to conquer the enemy base, they seem really relaxed. There's not a shred of tension on their faces. It's obvious that the base has come under their full control. That's why they can still maintain order under such circumstances. It must be that long-term training has drilled the discipline into their bones. I have to admit this is the most orderly and disciplined unit I've ever seen. It's no wonder even the veteran Shiksans aren't their match."
The mayor, on the other hand, didn't seem too happy about the praises Lemando offered Thundercrash. "They're only soldiers of the army. They don't hold a candle at all against our navy when it comes to discipline and character."
In the United Kingdom of Fochs, the navy always held a much higher status than the army. Though, the so-called army they were referring to was actually their local garrison units. Lemando shook his head and argued, "That's not the same. Our kingdom's navy is indeed the strongest among other Freian nations. Part of it is due to our bloodline. We are children of the sea, after all. The other part is thanks to our ancestors' legacy.
"Our ancestors have been sailing the seas since a thousand years ago in their small boats and passed on all the information they know about seafaring to us. That's why they managed to form such a formidable navy. Our kingdom's fleet holds discipline and obedience as the most paramount virtue. Everything, from clothing to food, is tightly regulated on the ships.
"But it was borne more out of necessity than anything else. The risks at sea are ever changing and never predictable. No matter if we are the captain or a normal shiphand, we have to always stand united to face the dangers of the sea. The lessons and experience of our ancestors teach us how to deal with those dangers easily.
"The sea is endlessly vast and one ship is only so big, and there's only so many people on board. We have no choice but to get used to living under a strict code. We all understand that it's because of the code that we are able to safely return to our families That's also why our navy's warriors have the best character and discipline."
They all knew the reason Lemando transferred from the navy to the garrison force, so nobody argued with his facts.
Lemando shook his head and continued, "Compared to our navy, our army is a mess. Nobody supervises or cares about discipline or training. The position of commanders in our army is merely one to retire into. It's not held with nearly as high esteem as that of a captain.
"Our army more resembles the garrison of other nations of Freia and they only deal with petty drunks or criminals. When we saw the Shiksan veterans, we thought that perhaps they were the most elite force on the continent, only to be quickly corrected when we witnessed the battle last night.
"I've never imagined the Shiksans whom we thought of as elite wouldn't even last an hour against this kind of force and have their base taken just like that. This is something I've witnessed personally. Everything that happened before me was the real deal and it made me understand what a truly elite army should look like.
"Now that I'm here, I finally know the reason. Our esteemed Lord of the Admiralty, Duke Jabordaff, once said that a disciplined force is inevitably tough. I believe this applies to both armies and navies. The Shiksans, in comparison to the Aueran theatre's troops, look no more than a bunch of hooligans."
"But Lieutenant-Colonel, didn't you notice that the number of war-theatre troops in this base is rather low?" one local official reminded.
Lemando grimaced and said, "I've long noticed it. I estimate their size to be around two lines. We know that the Shiksans have a folk stationed in the supply base. If the theatre only needs two lines to exterminate a whole folk of Shiksans, then I can only raise my evaluation of them even further..."
Claude quickly entered the tent, and the Fochsian officials and tribesman stopped chattering. They warmly welcomed Claude's arrival and loudly congratulated him for a dashing victory worthy of being included in the Freian history books.
Claude waved them away. "Gentlemen, I understand your kingdom's neutral stance, so I promise that our troops won't infringe on your nation's sovereignty. Please be direct with me about the purpose of your visit. I'm far too busy, so I hope you understand. We only just occupied the Shiksan base and there's much I have to attend to."
The officials were there for three matters. The first was they hoped traffic in and out of the city could remain open as much of the civilian livelihood depended on being able to leave the city. While they went home into the city at night, they still had to go out to tend to the orchards and farmsteads and fish at the cape. Thundercrash's checkpoint a few hundred metres away from the city effectively kept the civilians inside from leaving.
The second matter had to do with the city folk who were hired by the Shiksans as chefs or servants. Usually, they worked within the base, so the officials wanted to know whether they came to any harm and requested Claude whether he could release them.
The final matter was the matter of setting up stalls. When the Shiksans ran the base, some city folk would set up their stalls at the plot of empty land outside the base's entrance for the convenience of the Shiksan soldiers who couldn't enter the city to buy things. Some even set up brothels there and business was good. The city folk didn't care who occupied the base, so long as they were allowed to continue doing business there.
The first matter was easy to settle for Claude. He assented to their request to relax the restrictions on travel to allow the citizens to go about their lives without interruption. As for the second matter, he explained that the soldiers of Thundercrash were highly disciplined and would never kill innocents. Even while fighting in the night, they only shot at people wearing Shiksan uniforms instead of firing at any moving target.
For the last matter, Claude smiled and said the troops of Thundercrash weren't Shiksan soldiers. He advised them to not set up stalls outside of the base as there was simply no business to be done. Naturally, they were free to try if so pleased, but the disciplined troops wouldn't leave the base just to buy things.
While the Fochsian officials didn't really believe that claim, they still had great praises for the discipline of Thundercrash, even calling them the paragons that all troops should aspire to emulate. So, they came with gifts and kind greetings along with a round of meat and wine. Apart from cows, goats, fruits, fine flour and wine, there was also 20 thousand gold crowns' and gold keptons. While it was called an award out of admiration, everyone knew the true nature of the gift.
Claude had two reasons he wanted to take Cape Loducus City. The first was that the Shiksan high-ranking officers were still there. Second, the Shiksans had an amount of two million gold keptons stored in the city's united bank. During the inventory making after the conquest of the base, it was discovered that only around 400 thousand gold keptons remained within.
Berklin interrogated a Shiksan officer and found out about the two million gold keptons stored within the bank of the city that was used to pay the salaries of the troops and the bonuses of the officials. It was much safer than storing such a sum in their base warehouse. At the very least, it won't disappear like certain goods usually did.
So, Berklin came up with the idea of intentionally letting a few hundred captive Shiksans escape in hopes that the city would let them in. That way, Thundercrash would be able to rightfully attack and conquer the city. Apart from getting the Shiksan officers, they could also get the Shiksan funds for themselves.
It was unfortunate the quick wit of Lemando to refuse to open the gate spared the city of that fate. The 20 thousand crowns they sent was a clear message for Claude to not have the city in his sights and let things pass.
Claude laughed and changed the 20-thousand figure on the list of gifts to 100 thousand. "Our corps needs to make sure each soldier gets at least a crown as a bonus, right? The bonus also increases based on rank, so I think this figure is much more realistic. Naturally, I won't force your city to pay up. I know the Shiksan officers are still held up in there and they have a savings account with their military funds deposited.
"Perhaps you can go negotiate with them about it. If they aren't willing to pay up, you can tell them that due to your kingdom's stance on neutrality, Cape Loducus City cannot host troops from either side. So, you can chase them out if they don't pay. I will welcome them outside the city. As for how much they will pay to remain inside, I don't care. I only want this figure!"
Every official stared at him with their jaws dropped, thinking that Claude conquered the Shiksan base, wiped out the Shiksan troops, and now wanted the Shiksans to pay his soldiers their bonuses!
But soon, a few officials understood Claude's implications. It was indeed a good chance to make some earnings. The high-ranking Shiksan officers in the city were nothing but fat livestock waiting to be culled for everyone to have a good meal. After some hushed whispers, they unanimously agreed they would pay that amount to award the troops of Thundercrash so their trip wouldn't be for nought.
Since the secret agreement was struck, Anders came in to report that Berklin would help release the captive Fochsian workers. The name list matched the one the officials produced, save for two unlucky ones that got hit by stray bullets. After first aid, their lives were stable. They would only have to spend three gruelling months recovering and lots of money for medical costs.
And so, the officials of the city left. However, Claude stopped Lemando and asked him a question before everyone else. He wondered if the Fochsian army was interested in purchasing the arms found in the Shiksan base to replace their own.
Claude had seen through his telescope yesterday that the Fochsians didn't pay their army much heed and armed them with outdated muskets. They seemed to be akin to the Aubass Mark 1 developed near three decades ago.
While the Shiksan arms weren't a match for the Aubass Mark 3, it was still an updated weapon with precision-aiming capabilities. It was easily a generation or two better than what the Fochsian garrison used. Since the Shiksan weapons weren't of any use to the theatre and Claude couldn't take them all away, the only thing he could do with them was to burn them to destroy them.
So, he might as well give it a shot. Since he couldn't take their wealth by conquering the city, he could always strike a deal with them.