Looking at the 200 plus new recruits training within the camp, Lorist shook his head in disappointment. They were mostly recruited from the citizens who moved over from the Kenmays Family's immigrant town. Compared to the slave laborers of the Kenmays Family, their physical capabilities were far inferior as most of them were malnourished.
That was because the slave laborers were integral to the profits of the Kenmays Family, so it's understandable that they were well fed. These immigrants are different in that it's already considered for them to have infrequent meals that allowed them to barely survive. After being brought to the Northlands by the Kenmays Family, the immigrants were given some farmland and small amounts of supplies before they were left to fend for themselves and they would also be required to pay a tax after two years, so it wasn't weird that they couldn't even afford regular meals.
It'll take at least 6 months before they can be put to good use, Lorist thought as he stroked his chin. After that, he saw the Iron ranked butler of Telesti entering the new recruit camp and hurriedly rushing towards him.
The butler greeted him and said, "Milord, my mistress had requested that you go over to the construction site's base of operations. She has something she needs to discuss with you."
The reason Telesti asked Lorist to go over was to talk about the construction of the residential areas. Given that the main castle was constructed next to the mountain range, it was as high as six storeys and that allowed it to be defended easily and be exceedingly hard to attack. Three out of six storeys of the castle was already completed.
However, there were two large expanses at both the mountain ranges beside the castle and residential areas for the knights and the staff of the castle were planned to be built over there. Currently, the blueprints for the residential areas had been completed and it was awaiting Lorist's approval.
The slope of the mountain range to the north of the castle was larger and had relatively more level terrain and Telesti had come up with two plans with the aid of Grandmaster Ciroba. The first was to construct larger houses which the land could only fit 38 of. The second was to make the houses smaller so the area could fit 58 of them, 20 more than the former plan.
The slope of the mountain range to the south of the castle was steeper in comparison and it could only fit 11 such houses at most. Lorist had to decide which housing arrangement they were going to use.
Looking at the completed replica for some time, Lorist felt that he wasn't too satisfied with it. After giving it some thought, he told Telesti, "How about this? The slope to the northern side of the castle can be split into four levels, so construct larger houses atop the first two levels and build smaller ones at the lower levels. As for the southern slope, I recommend constructing multi-storied buildings, maybe about three floors each. I hope that the base area of these buildings can be larger and each room shouldn't be as small as the ones within academy dorms, maybe around 4 to 5 rooms the size of the small houses in each building would do."
Just as he left the base of operations, he saw Paulobins approach him. Paulobins said, "Milord, two beggars showed up and they claim to be the messengers of the convoy and requested to meet you..."
Messengers of the convoy? Delighted, Lorist asked, "Where are they?"
"They are waiting outside your room," said Paulobins as he handed over the reins of the horse to Lorist.
Even though it hasn't even been ten days since Reidy and Jim left, news of the convoy is already here. It seems that they'll be here soon, thought Lorist happily as he rode quickly to the southern walls of the castle.
Upon getting into the building, he saw two haggardly-dressed men whose faces were completely smudged in grime and one of them was even wrapped in a dirty bandage. No wonder Paulobins thought they were beggars.
Seeing Lorist come over, the two beggars burst out in tears as they kneeled down and cried, "Milord, we're finally able to meet you again..."
Lorist said, "You are..?"
"Milord, I am Ruhr and he is Mort and we are part of the guards for the convoy. Have you forgotten us?" said the uninjured guard as he sobbed.
Ruhr and Mort, hmm, they are Els's subordinates. Then again, their current form looks horrible...
Lorist squatted down beside a busybody guard who was doing nothing but snickering and said, "You blind fool, what are you doing sitting there and laughing like that? Go get your brothers some water for them to wash themselves. Get Shadekampf to come here as well."
After washing their faces and changing their clothes, the two messengers looked more familiar in Lorist's eyes. Shadekampf who just rushed into the room recognized them right away as he was the one who used to bring the guards around to make an inventory of the things the convoy obtained. "Ruhr, Mort, why have you come here?"
"Sir Shadekampf, we're here to pass a message.." Upon the mention of their mission, the two started to cry again.
The letter was given to Lorist and there were five pages in total. Charade mentioned in the letter that the battle on the Green Plains was a huge success and that Els had injured himself. The letter also described the meeting of the convoy with the Second Highness and Glacia and their agreement in much detail as well as Charade's intention to gain the equipment of the Whitelion Legion.
After reading the letter, Lorist felt both happy and perplexed. He was glad because his elder cousin sister who was quite fat back in the day and bullied him frequently had become a Gold ranked knight. However, he was troubled that the convoy was still caught up within the Andinaq Kingdom and it didn't seem that they would be arriving anytime soon. It was possible that snow would start to fall after Charade and gang cleaned up the rebellious dominion lords of the kingdom. Given that it was already the 9th day of the 9th month, winter was coming and the snowfall would definitely make it much harder for the convoy to travel.
Looking at the date of the letter, Lorist was shocked to see that it had been signed on the 28th day of the 6th month.
"You guys took two whole months to travel here?" Lorist felt weird at that time frame as he had only taken one month to travel from Geldos City to the Northlands. Why did it take so long for the messengers to arrive?
The two messengers continued their sobbing as one said, "Milord, when we left, there were 12 of us. But now, only the two of us remain..."
Lorist asked concernedly, "What happened?"
"Milord, the 12 of us were fully-armed and had two mounts each. When we passed through the Andinaq Kingdom, we came under frequent bandit attacks and by the time we reached the Madras Duchy, there were only 7 of us left. Within the duchy, things mostly went on fine until we arrived at Whitestone Town which was near the Hendliff Suspension Bridge. Just as we were about to cross the river, we heard some merchants who came from the other side mention that Duke Loggins intended to send his troops to punish the Norton Family who have disrespected him, so we didn't dare to use that route and headed for the ferry port downstream.
"After we crossed the river there, just as we were about to get some food and rest within a town, the garrison force of the town labeled us bandits and wanted to arrest us. As a result, only five of us emerged alive and we lost all our luggage and mounts. Those garrison soldiers were also frightened by our tenacity and no longer dared to chase us. Having no choice but to travel on foot, we traveled for another 5 days to the dominion of Baron Farad. Initially thinking that we could get some help from him, we didn't expect him to treat us as vagabonds and capture us while also taking all our armor, weapons and money.
"After working a month of forced labor under the baron, we were enlisted by him into his forces because he had gone into conflict with some other viscount. We were shoved to the battlefield with nothing more than a pike. After two days of fighting, Waylin and Azk perished and I, Mort and Gilson managed to escape in the midst of chaos. However, Gilson had gotten hit by three arrows and didn't make it. Ever since, Mort and I didn't dare to enter anymore towns and wandered in the wilderness for six days before we finally arrived here..." said Ruhr as he delivered his experiences while sobbing all the way.
Lorist thumped on the table in anger and said, "Unbelievable... What did you say that baron was called? And what's the name of that town?"
Needless to say, the baron was one of the new nobles that had just been entitled by the Second Prince. Northlanders were usually very amicable to guests, and travelers to towns would usually get aid from the townsfolk. For messengers like them, Northlander nobles would treat them to dinner like honored guests apart from providing the basic necessities like accommodation and supplies. Naturally, they stood to benefit from getting news from outside the Northlands from visitors and some more generous nobles might even give some money to reward them for the information.
Ever since the entitlement of the new nobles at the Northlands, the atmosphere and culture there had degraded. When they lacked resources, the new nobles would impersonate bandits to pillage others and if they didn't have enough citizens, they would kidnap people from nearby villages. Many old landed nobles of the Northlands were currently in conflict with the new nobles because of those issues. During the knighthood competition, one noble who participated was recognized by some to be one of the bandit leaders who robbed another noble family's merchant convoy.
So, Baron Farad, huh, Lorist thought as he looked at the map and found the dominion of the new dominion lord which was only two days of travel away from the Firmrock Castle and next to Count Spenseid's dominion. As for the town that Ruhr mentioned, it was under the jurisdiction of Viscount Darwof and that town may be an immigrant town that was constructed only recently given that the members of their garrison were merely ruffians that dared to prey on messengers. That town was slightly further away and it would take 5 days to travel there by horse, so Lorist made a mental note to settle them at a later date.
"Ask the guards outside to get Knight Josk and Knight Waxima to come here," Lorist instructed Shadekampf.
"What's the status of the convoy right now? Is Els recovering from his injuries well?" Lorist asked Ruhr and Mort.
Ruhr replied, "During the battle of the Green Plains, our forces' losses were low and less than 1000 of the soldiers were killed or injured. Had Sir Els been fine, he would have led us back on our mission to deliver the letter. Back then when we were at Benz Citadel and preparing to send some information here the first time, Sir Els had volunteered to be part of the messenger team but he later changed his mind when Sir Potterfang returned..."
"Wait a second, you said that a message was sent back when the convoy was still at Benz Citadel?"
"That's right..." Ruhr replied, before he recalled something and asked, "Don't tell me... That you didn't receive the first message and didn't see any of our messengers?"
Lorist merely shook his head.
Ruhr and Mort looked at each other with expressions of surprise.
Ruhr continued, "Milord, they left one month before our departure and Sir Charade's message contained a report on the status of the convoy as well as the news Sir Potterfang received at the imperial capital. The leader of the 12 messengers was Krimor and he's one of the guards that milord may remember. However, if they haven't arrived yet, then based on our experience, they might have got into some trouble..."
"If they're alive, we'll find them. Even if they're dead, we'll locate their corpses. Nobody will be able to get away scot-free for harming the messengers of the Norton Family. I will definitely make sure you lot have a satisfactory answer to this," Lorist said as he ground his teeth. No wonder he felt that Charade's letter seemed to not be extensive enough given that the rest of the information had been in the previous letter he sent which had disappeared along with the first group of messengers.
"Brief me on how the convoy is doing. It isn't mentioned in these letters," Lorist said.
Ruhr and Mort began to explain what happened with the convoy after Lorist had left.
"What? The convoy now has more than 4000 carriages and 50000 people? And the escort force has grown to 15000-strong?" Lorist was so surprised that he almost jumped in shock. No wonder the convoy was able to take out more than 30000 soldiers of the noble alliance and even received a request from the Second Highness to help him root out the rebellious nobles of the kingdom.
Lorist now understood why Charade was so confident in accepting the request of the Second Highness. The convoy's strength had actually grown so much that they could play a pivotal role in deciding the future of a whole kingdom. It seemed that Lorist did not have to worry about the safety of the convoy. Given that it had already been more than 2 months since the letter was written, the convoy had probably completed the assignment given to them by the Second Highness.
At that moment, Josk and Waxima reported their arrival before they entered the room.
Lorist pointed to the dominion of Baron Farad on the beastskin map and had Ruhr and Mort tell the knights about their experiences, causing both of them to fume with rage.
"This noble is truly shameless..." Waxima said.
"Milord, we must give Baron Farad the retribution he deserves. Nobody should ever be allowed to treat our messengers like that," Josk proclaimed.
"Heed my orders. Bring the mounted archers squad and a cavalrymen company to that dominion and hang this Baron Farad at the entrance of his bastide. Burn his castle down and make a huge wooden plaque to explain why we did all that. Perhaps the new nobles would stand to learn something about the traditions and customs of the Northlands as well as the regulations between nobles from the baron's mistake," Lorist instructed.
"Your will is our command, milord. We will exercise it with utmost precision," said Josk and Waxima in unison as they saluted.
"Don't leave just yet. This time, you will have to make your passage through the dominion of Count Spenseid. I will write him a letter so he doesn't misunderstand the reason our forces are approaching his dominion. Also, Ruhr and Mort said that there was a group of messengers before them that never managed to arrive here. Make sure to ask around to see if you can also get some information about them..."
"Understood, milord," Josk and Waxima replied.
Ruhr and Mort then stood up.
Mort said, "Milord, please allow us to accompany them. We want to bring the bodies of our comrades home."
"You've just arrived after a long journey. Are you sure you can handle it?" Lorist couldn't force them to stay either as their reason was extremely compelling.
"We can handle it, milord," Ruhr said.
"How about this... Rest for a day and depart tomorrow. I will also check Mort's health for a bit and if you're fine, I'll allow the two of you to go together and even let you be the ones to personally hang Baron Farad. I'm sure you'd be happy to do that. Shadekampf. bring 20 guards with you and tag along to help them find the bodies of their heroic comrades. We will have a funeral for them and bury them at the Martyrs' Graveyard at Firmrock Castle when their bodies are sent back," Lorist said.
"Yes, milord," replied Shadekampf.
The Martyrs' Graveyard was built on a hill opposite the Firmrock Castle's main building. All family soldiers and guards would be buried there when they pass on so that future generations can easily honor them and pay their respects there.
"Thank you, milord..." mumbled Ruhr and Mort emotionally.