"Lord Militant, this is an eagle message we just received from General Berklin," a captain from the department of communications said as he handed Claude a grey strip of paper.
Claude took a look and saw only two words: unhindered advance. It appeared that it was going rather well with Thundercrash. Berklin wouldn't be so boastful otherwise.
Currently, Claude was leading Thundercrash and Bleyotte's three mountain corps towards Skovia. Having been used to travelling with fast light-cavalry units, having to slow down to match the pace of an infantry corps made him feel like he was travelling like a snail.
The four main combat folks of Thundercrash had begun their attacks on the enemy defences. However, the three mountain corps were still slowly lagging behind. It was already pretty impressive for all 180 thousand men to be able to travel 15 kilometres within a day. The past two days, they only managed ten kilometres. It seemed that they would take at least half a month to reach Sidbos.
It wasn't something unexpected, however. Avitelli I embarrassingly explained to Claude that his troops would usually only be able to travel some 25 kilometres in the mountains each day, yet all the unexpected complications they ran into on flat land slowed them down. Initially, most of the troops travelled by flat carts. So, they were able to make it to the royal territory within a little more than ten days. However, those carts were now being used for logistics and supplies. Their speed slowed the moment they started to march on their own two feet.
"They fail when it comes to organisation and discipline!" That was Borkal's comment on the three mountain corps, highlighting their fatal flaws without wasting words.
Monolith was also an infantry corps, but they would be able to march up to 30 kilometres each day, 40 if they were travelling at an urgent pace. However, the troops of Monolith were professional soldiers that received far better training than most other armies in Freia. Bleyotte's troops were more aligned with the standard expected of Freian soldiers.
They probably got up slowly in the morning at seven and prepared breakfast at an easygoing pace, probably having black bread with soup or some kind of gruel. Only after all that would they pack up their camp. By the time they were ready to move, it was already nine or ten, and they only moved when their officers beckoned them loudly. They didn't maintain any strict rank and file, merely swarming together wherever the crowd was. When their mood was good, they might sing a few local folk songs, and when it wasn't, they would complain and find a place to sit or loiter about. Those sights were the norm rather than the exception.
And whenever that happened, the officers didn't really care to discipline them either as long as they were able to join up with the rest of the unit come nighttime. Borkal had told Claude that among the three Bleyottean corps, it wasn't uncommon to see fathers and sons being in the same units. In fact, family members and friends were usually grouped together to maintain combat ability. However, their discipline suffered as a result as they were usually tight-knit groups. Punishing one of them might earn the ire of the whole group.
Even so, it wasn't that they weren't capable at combat at all. Soldiers like those shone when they were fighting in a frenzy or when they held the momentum in battle. However, they would completely crumble when faced with professional armies like Thundercrash and Monolith. That was the reason Bleyotte was helpless to resist Shiks. Even if Shiks' military might wasn't nearly that of the region's, they were more than capable of keeping Bleyotte in check.
Avitelli I and his adjutant, Prince Iksdor, were really envious of Thundercrash's absolute discipline. They hoped to be able to make reforms in their own armies to achieve the same standard as well. So, Claude decided to help them out with it and reorganised the three Bleyottean corps when they were stopped at the Skovian border.
Though, it wasn't like he could continue to advance anyway. Apart from helping reorganise the Bleyottean corps, he also had to accommodate Blancarte, who had finally arrived to discuss the matter of letting Aueras take part in the battles. The 20-odd-day journey was so taxing on him that he immediately went to sleep after greeting Claude, much to the latter's flabbergastment.
Blancarte slept a whole 14 hours. By the time he woke up the next day, it was already the evening. He immediately requested to meet Claude the moment he woke up and feasted away in Claude's tent before telling him the reason he came. Blancarte wanted the kingdom's troops to at least show up at the Shiksan border during those battles.
Reddragon, stationed in the Nasrian region, had made preparations to depart. They would only need half a month to enter Shiksan borders. Naturally, they would obey Claude's orders, but Blancarte hoped he would have Reddragon defend Saint Cyprean instead. That way, they would actually play a role in the war instead of cheering from the sidelines.
Claude couldn't be happier to let the kingdom stick its hands into the war. Currently, apart from Monolith and Typhoon, he only had one and a half corps of the allied nobles' troops and the three Bleyottean mountain corps. Putting aside whether the nobles' troops were capable in combat, he was even suspect of the Bleyottean corps' reliability when push came to shove.
As for the eight homecoming Shiksan folks, they were at least usable for maintaining local order. However, their main task this time around was to pick their families up to move back to the autonomous region. Claude doubted that the Shiksan captives would actually be able to maintain their ability to fight if they were used in the vanguard in their own home.
The region was the invader, after all, and the Shiksan folks were collaborationist units. Claude didn't have to be a genius to figure out how capable they were in a real fight. Even after the region offered them a chance to move to Nubissia with their families with no caveats, Claude still suspected some of the Shiksans wouldn't carry out any combat assignment they were given in earnest and ruin their plans.
Shiks was incredibly large and had 53 prefectures and a royal territory. Being a superpower in Northern Freia, they only suffered so badly during this war because the king and ministers fell for a carefully crafted plan by the region. Their capital was quickly surrounded and conquered without them noticing, leaving no avenue for any of them to escape.
As the fall of Saint Cyprean was too swift, Shiks was now a leaderless force. The many prefectures across the kingdom still weren't able to react in time. The only reason Claude got Eiblont to bring Typhoon and four of the Shiksan folks to conduct a thorough search through Saint Cyprean while he led Thundercrash to the southern coasts to attack the Shiksan troops that gathered there was to take advantage of the window when the enemy still hadn't been able to react to thin down their forces and reduce the threat they posed.
The insurgent groups in Saint Cyprean had to be wiped out as soon as possible to prevent them from inciting the other civilians across the kingdom to revolt. Exterminating the rest of the Shiksan forces in the south would also make a resounding example of them to discourage any resistance from the other prefectures.
The four prefectures between Bleyotte and the royal capital were controlled by the homecoming Shiksan folks. Beyond that were the royal territory and the capital itself. Only after its fall did the four other homecoming Shiksan folks come in to purge the insurgents.
Apart from that, there was Dademoss, which was completely swept clean by Thundercrash, and Skovia, which they were currently attacking. Of the 53 prefectures and the royal territory, Claude could only confidently claim to control those six prefectures and the royal territory. However, he gave up on Dademoss after it was scraped clean. As for Skovia, who knew how it would turn out after all the fighting?
As such, he couldn't be happier to let Blancarte and the kingdom get involved, especially now that Reddragon was armed with the new Sonia 591s and boasted far greater combat power, not to mention they were willing to follow his orders. Lacking in troops as he was now, Reddragon would be a great help to him, especially with defence.
However, Claude immediately refused Blancarte's request to let Reddragon defend Saint Cyprean. It wasn't even a laughing matter. Claude smirked and thought that they were the ones who did all the work purging the insurgents. They hadn't even gone through the wealth of the city yet, so there was no way they would be sharing that juicy a piece of meat.
After Typhoon occupied Saint Cyprean, the wealth they got from the royal treasury alone amounted to 17 million crowns in worth, and that wasn't inclusive of the goods they confiscated from the national treasury. It was no wonder Majid III still had the financial means to continue fighting despite losing the colonial wars time and again. Claude really picked the right target to rob this time.
Blancarte wasn't flustered about the rejection either. He then asked where Claude planned to station them. Claude opened a map of Shiks and briefed the prime minister on the current state of affairs. The allied army formed by Duke Reddragon and Marquis Griffon had three folks and around 100 thousand men. They took over the ten western prefectures defended by nobody else but local garrisons. As for the eleven northern prefectures, nine eastern prefectures, eight southern prefectures and fifteen central prefectures, they still needed a large number of troops to clear those out. Reddragon was free to pick its own target.
Claude's Thundercrash and the three Bleyottean mountain corps, on the other hand, would be heading to the eight southern prefectures at the coastal area to deal with the remaining Shiksan standing corps and take a few port cities while they were at it. The eight homecoming Shiksan folks would need to have access to ports to be able to send their families back to the region, after all.
Since the allied noble army had picked the ten western prefectures, Blancarte decided to have Reddragon take the eleven northern prefectures after much deliberation. Of the nine eastern prefectures and fifteen central prefectures, the two homecoming Shiksan folks under Claude's control already occupied them. Not to mention, Claude was going to target the eight southern prefectures next. So, Blancarte decided to go for the north for Reddragon to have the whole place to itself.
After some hesitation, Claude shook his head to advise Blancarte to rethink his choice. There were too many variables in that area. If possible, the region might even give up on the eleven northern prefectures entirely as Duke Pillag Xi Feriot was there. Two Shiksan standing corps were on their way to rally there.
"I heard Duke Feriot has another corps of 50 thousand men from the border guard. They are House Feriot's private troops and are stationed at the four northern border prefectures, so they're constantly fighting against the highland barbarians. There's no doubt that they're incredibly powerful," Claude said, pointing at the map.
"Currently, the two corps heading there, Jesca and Clyde, and the various local garrison forces, easily number close to 500 thousand. Eight of the eleven northern prefectures are also highlands that are hard for us to traverse. As such, I hope the Duke of the Northlands here stays put and doesn't dip his toes into the chaotic Shiksan front now."
Blancarte only came to realise the duke's threat, since he was someone that even Claude had to be careful of. Claude didn't bother to hide anything either and directly told the prime minister that Duke Feriot was the commander-in-chief of the Union's army during the Second Great Eastern Freian War.
He was the one who took 100 thousand injured Shiksan troops and left when he noticed the situation in Polyvisia to be off and managed to evade Thundercrash's pursuit as a result, depriving Claude of a complete victory. While Claude wasn't afraid of facing the duke once more in battle, he just couldn't be bothered to spare that effort. His current priority was to wrap up his swift victory and figure out how to deal with the duke in the northern prefectures after everything settled down.
"I would suggest letting Reddragon sweep through the ten remaining prefectures in the central area. Typhoon needs to weed out the insurgents in Saint Cyprean and the royal territory and the situation there wouldn't be stabilised until at least three months later. Reddragon can sweep through the prefectures we can't divert any forces to deal with. If there are any emergencies, you can even request Typhoon to help out," Claude said.
After some consideration, Blancarte nodded to the suggestion. However, he followed it up with another question. "Does the region have any plans for Shiks' future, now that Majid III is dead?"
Claude shook his head. What he was currently worried about was stabilising the current status quo and getting the homecoming Shiksans to move to the region with their families before transporting all the wealth they got from Shiks to Northbay. He didn't really care who cleaned up the mess he created. Either way, Shiks wouldn't be able to recover from that blow without at least two to three decades. It would no longer be able to threaten the region and Aueras any longer.
Blancarte, however, laughed. While he wasn't Claude's match in military matters, he had far more experience in administrative ones. The way he saw it, Claude's plan was a little too naive, much like a spoiled brat that didn't clean up the mess he caused only to learn his lesson after a harsh scolding from his parents.
"Why don't you think about fragmenting Shiks?" Blancarte said with a hint of laughter, "For instance, the Duke of the Northlands you brought up. Maybe we can get him to found his own duchy in the north. Additionally, the vassal nations that neighbour Shiks can all come in to reclaim their former territories. Since you can let Bleyotte reclaim their four prefectures, there's no harm in letting the other nations take back their lands from the Shiksan borders too.
"That way, Shiks' sphere of influence will be greatly reduced. The central and southern prefectures, on the other hand, can be used to elevate the few Shiksan nobles that collaborate with you. Let them get a foothold in these areas and perhaps have them found their own independent nation or something. That way, even if all the troops from the region retreat from Shiks, the chaos here won't ever stop.
"As long as the local powers continue to squabble with each other, they won't pose a threat to us or the region. In fact, they might have to rely on your forces to rein in the other factions. It's a far better solution than just taking what you want and leaving. That will only make many enemies among the Shiksan for the region. Going about it my way, on the other hand, will cause the Shiksan public to shift their hate on the Shiksan separatists."
Claude scratched his forehead shyly. He had been in the military for so long that he had forgotten the wisdom of his ancestors from his past life, such as the Thirty-Six Stratagems, Art of War and so on. There were too many recorded examples to deal with the current state of affairs, yet all he could think of was to take everything and leave. Without Blancarte's reminder, he might not even have thought about it.