Charade was truly enraged, but no one within the tent took his words seriously. The act of surrounding Nadegas City to threaten the Second Highness could be considered an act of treason and was not something that can be joked around with. Everyone understood that the Andinaq Kingdom's ruler was the true heir of the imperial family, so the Second Highness could be considered a superior noble of the Norton Family. Unless Charade was willing to forsake his status as a knight of the Norton Family and attack Nadegas City as a common aggressor or bandit, he wouldn't be able to deploy any soldiers for that purpose.
"Terman, write a letter to the Second Highness and request him to send our family soldiers back. Otherwise, if word of this gets out, I believe that the reputation of the Andinaq Royal Family will definitely suffer," Potterfang told Terman.
"Alright, I'll be on it now," Terman said as he got up and left the tent.
"Alright, it's settled. This is nothing too serious and there's no need to get that mad over it. I suspect that it's merely Edma and Wamp's fault for being over eager and the Second Highness doesn't know about this matter either, since this incident will damage the reputation of the Andinaq Royal Family more than it will ours," Potterfang told Charade.
Potterfang was correct. As a superior noble, the Second Highness can instruct the Norton Family to some degree and things like borrowing soldiers or resources were always within the realm of negotiation. Even if he did poach the ex-students of the Dawn Academy, it wouldn't be much of a problem either as they weren't sworn knights of the Norton Family. In the first place, they only agreed to head to the Northlands with the convoy and whether they wanted to pledge their allegiance to the Norton would come after their arrival. That's why the Second Highness had all the right to recruit those men and they can't be blamed either for joining him for the better incentive.
However, the troops they brought with them were the soldiers of the Norton Family and the Second Highness must have some screw loose if he chose not to return them. On the Grindia Continent, revolt is one of the biggest taboos among nobles. A junior noble who directly went against a senior noble without just cause would automatically be ostracized by other fellow nobles whether he was punished or not. And should that really come to pass, there was no way that the noble family would ever rise back into power.
For example, the Family of the Pegasus, the Felim Family, had joined an alliance of 7 families to go against Krissen IV for the sake of the Silvermoon-shaped stone, but they weren't considered to have revolted and the descendant of the Felim Family, Baron Felim Chalvode, was even praised and encouraged to restore his family. The reason for that was simple: what the Felim Family did was not considered revolt because the reason they were at war with Krissen IV was becauses they refused to offer up the Silvermoon-shaped magic stone to the Krissen Imperial Family and Krissen IV was the one who waged the war to try to forcefully obtain it in the first place. The alliance of the 7 noble families were just fighting in self defense. Even though they were defeated in the end, Krissen IV did not announce them as traitors because in the eyes of the other nobles, the Newmoon War was merely an act of bullying by Krissen IV against the few unlucky noble families.
When a senior noble was powerful enough, the junior nobles had no choice but to do the very minimum required of the senior noble's instructions. However, when the power of junior nobles exceed that of the senior nobles, they could outright ignore the instructions of the senior nobles because of a simple clause: if the junior noble felt that the senior noble's actions or instructions harmed the interests of his own family, he could refuse to carry out the instructions of his senior noble. That was the sacred right of every noble and senior nobles couldn't infringe upon it no matter what. However, Charade's near-declaration of war would be exempt from the clause and be considered an act of treason.
Similarly, it was a huge taboo for a senior noble to obtain the resources or men of a junior noble without the latter's agreement and that action itself would cause incite the scorn of the other junior nobles and cause them to leave the senior noble en masse. Now that the strength of the northbound convoy surpassed that of the Second Highness, the Norton Family could turn their backs on him and join the side of the First or Second Prince without any repercussion. If that were to happen, it would already be too late for the Second Highness to show any regret.
In conclusion, antagonizing the convoy was an act that only an imbecile would dare to dream of doing. Additionally, the Second Highness did not lack troops at the moment as he could simply recruit more vagabonds into his army, given that the kingdom's arsenal had quite a substantial amount of gear left. It truly was far from worth it to antagonize the convoy over two small companies of soldiers.
Terman raised the tent flap from outside and said, "The Second Highness is here."
Charade said in an annoyed voice, "Ask him to buzz off. I don't feel like seeing him."
Even if he didn't, Charade still had to meet the Second Highness. Even though Charade was the chief of the northbound convoy, he was still a family knight of the Nortons and the Second Highness was the senior noble of the Norton Family. Unless Lorist was here, nobody could stop the Second Highness from entering the tent, especially when he had Norton Glacia following beside him.
The Second Highness had come to apologize for the issue regarding the two companies of soldiers and even graciously returned them. However. the more Charade looked at the Second Highness, the more disgruntled he became as he thought that most of the troubles the convoy now faced was thanks to the him. Even though Charade was usually a calm and rational man, he was toyed around by the Second Highness's ploys and only noticed it after he was exploited.
Potterfang on the other hand made an open objection to the Second Highness's act of poaching the members of the convoy at perilous time like that. Even though the members who were recruited were not the family knights of the Norton Family, they held important positions within the convoy. Their departure would create a lot of trouble for the convoy. While Potterfang was not against the Second Highness recruiting talented people from the convoy, the least he could do was to tie up loose ends first and allow them to accompany the convoy back to the Norton Family dominion before asking them to serve him.
The Second Highness also expressed his apologies for that matter and said that he was too rash because talented men were truly hard to find and the Norton Family's convoy had an unexpected number of them. To restore the glory of the Krissen Imperial Family, he said, he had to recruit as many talented people as possible. That was why the people within the convoy was too tempting for him to resist. However, he promised that he won't allow the troops of the convoy to join his side and also agreed with Potterfang's suggestion to let the ones he recruit accompany the convoy back to the Northlands first before allowing them to start serving him.
In the end, there was not much Potterfang could do as only a few including him, Terman, Charade, the injured Els, and the patrolling Yuriy had been accepted by Lorist as the knights of the Norton Family. The likes of his old acquaintances from the Whitelion Legion like the Gold ranked Lode Wales, the Three Star Silver Mons Malek, who was in charge of the vagabond camp, and the Gold ranked mercenary, Chino Freiyar, the Gold Swordsman Engelich who filled in for Els temporarily, the captain of the carroballista unit, Dulles, the captain of the herbalist unit, Lundmorde as well as the rest of the former students of the Dawn Academy who formed the backbone of the convoy's forces were not yet Norton Family knights. So, there was nothing that could be done if they were recruited by the Second Highness.
To the ambitious former students of the Dawn Academy, the status of a knight of the royal family was far more alluring than that of a family knight. Even though the state of the Andinaq Kingdom despite all the work the convoy has done under Charade's leadership was still rather indeterminate given that apart from the sea to the west of the kingdom, it was surrounded by enemies on all sides and the embargo the Forde Trade Union placed on it was also quite problematic. However, with greater risk comes greater reward, and joining the Second Highness now represented a chance for them to gain achievements for themselves and hopefully be elevated to the status of nobility by way of those achievements. Should that ever happen, they would be able to stand on equal grounds as Lorist and have higher status than most normal people.
Fortunately, most of the men who were poached by the Second Highness were only average at best. For instance, Edma and Wamp were merely company captains and the more accomplished former students had already been promoted to become regiment captains, thanks to Charade's keen oversight on the staffing of the convoy. With more than 20000 soldiers, 5000 carriages and more than 60000 members in total, coupled with the 100000 plus vagabonds that were following behind, it was plain to see that the rather desperate circumstances of the convoy had forced many to adapt and improve themselves till they were fit to be appointed for a higher post in the convoy.
The Second Highness also came for another reason: he wanted to know when the convoy would start traveling north again.
Charade told the Second Highness without a shred of hesitance that the convoy had been forced to stop as the Madras Duchy forbade its entry by securing its border with the Ironguard Legion. It was possible that the convoy would have to weather through winter at the Andinaq Kingdom and find another way to pass when spring comes next year. That's why Charade hoped that the Second Highness could supply them with more food and clothing so that the vagabonds tagging behind the convoy would be able to survive the winter.
However, the Second Highness refused that request and frankly told the rest of them that the Andinaq Kingdom cannot afford to bear the burden of sustaining more than 100000 vagabonds. Even though he had collected half of the spoils the convoy got from wiping out all those noble families from the former two provinces, the recruitment drive for the Second Highness's forces had sapped much of his resources dry. As for the spoils the convoy obtained from the Welbassia Province, Charade didn't offer any of it to the Second Highness and most of it went to the sustenance of the vagabonds instead. Currently, the convoy had only one choice and that was to attack the Madras Duchy to get enough resources to sustain its livelihood.
According to the Second Highness, if there really wasn't a way, the convoy could engage in a path of slaughter and perhaps even fan the vagabonds' rage and use them to attack Lichtana Citadel. Even if 100000 vagabonds couldn't take over the citadel by themselves, they would be able to at least wear the soldiers of the Ironguard Legion down to their breaking point. By that time, the convoy only had to give the Madras Duchy a little shove with its own forces to be able to conquer the citadel and allow the convoy to continue their journey towards the Northlands unimpeded.
Upon hearing that, everyone within the tent felt their hairs rise. While the Second Highness said that with a casual tone, the moment any of them thought about sending the 100000 vagabonds to face off against the Ironguard Legion, they couldn't help but imagine a mountain of bloody corpses that would surface as a result. With the obviously phenomenal death count that the vagabonds would suffer, even an abyss wouldn't be able to fit all the corpses of the vagabonds that would die from the conflict. Even 'Charade the Demon' felt a chill run down his spine when he imagined the fearsome possibility.
"No, there's no way we can do that," Potterfang said as the first one who made his objection heard. Even the ruler of the Redlis Kingdom, the First Prince, who was known for his mercilessness and brutality, only conscripted vagabond youths to become enemy fodder. If the convoy were to force even the women and children into a siege, the name of the Norton Family would forever be tarnished across the whole of the Grindia Continent. Not only would they be stigmatized by the other nobles, they would also be scorned by the commoners. 200 years of proud family history would spiral to ruin just like that.
The Second Highness waved his hands in futility and said, "Well, I don't have any better solution that that. You can either try to besiege Lichtana Citadel or starve to death while waiting for winter to pass. If you really don't intend to utilize the vagabonds, the least I can do is to offer 10000 of my men to aid your convoy in taking the citadel. However, this battle won't be an easy one as the Ironguard Legion is famed for their defensive tactics. Back then VM, they managed to hold out against my lord father's 60000 soldiers for more than half a year with only 8000 troops. Now that their numbers have been expanded to 28000 people by Duke Madras and given the fortifications of Lichtana Citadel, occupying it with only 20000 from the convoy and my 10000 soldiers is practically an impossible task..."
It was true that if things continued like this, the convoy would be stranded there and be unable to head up north and the supplies they had could only last them and the vagabonds for three to four months at most. By then, the convoy would no doubt implode and disintegrate. On the other hand, if they picked another route, they would have to enter the Iblia Kingdom. With the vagabonds being a huge burden on the convoy, there is no doubt that they'd be sitting ducks on for the Second Prince's ambitions. Additionally, the Iblia Kingdom's state was even more chaotic and the Second Prince's plundering had deprived most territory within the kingdom of food and other resources, causing the convoy's future to be even more uncertain. The 3 months of additional travel during which they wouldn't be able to resupply as well as having to defend against the attacks of the Second Prince was nothing short of a one way road to death. So, changing routes was out of the question.
The best route to head to the Northlands was still the route through the Madras Duchy which had a distance of around 650 kilometers. If the convoy traveled 15 kilometers per day, then it would only take them 40 to 50 days to reach the Northlands. The only issue was the securing of the Madras Duchy's border which stopped the convoy and the vagabonds from crossing it entirely. If they did not use the method the Second HIghness suggested, even with the support of his 10000 troops, they weren't confident that they would be able to occupy Lichtana Citadel which was defended by the famed Ironguard Legion.
As the realization settled upon those present within the tent, the atmosphere within turned solemn and heavy.
At that moment, the flaps of the tent were pushed apart as Yuriy rushed inside with an excited expression as he said, "Guys, guess who's here?"
Following behind Yuriy were Reidy and Jim. The moment Charade saw Reidy, he was utterly delighted and asked, "Rei-reidy... You're here? Where's milord?"
"Our lord misses you all very much and has instructed me to bring you a couple of letters while also checking on your status. Oh, and this is Jim, a former Silver ranked mercenary who has been recruited into our ranks by our lord. Come, Jim, let me introduce you to the others..." Reidy brought Jim around and introduced him to everyone within the tent. However, when he saw the Second Highness Auguslo and Glacia, Reidy was confused as he didn't recognize the two of them.
Terman hurriedly informed Reidy of the identities of the two, one being the Second Highness of the Andinaq Kingdom and the other being Lorist's elder cousin sister, causing Reidy and Jim to hurriedly bow and salute them.
"Reidy, and, um, Jim, save the pleasantries for later. Wasn't the border of the Madras Duchy sealed up? How did the two of you make your way here?" Charade asked impatiently.
"Oh, it's all thanks to Jim. We heard that 'Charade the Demon' caused the border of the duchy to be sealed up. However, Jim knew some folk at the fishing village near Egret Lake who helped the seven of us cross the lake with their fishing boats," replied Reidy with a face full of smiles.
Charade blushed in response as he didn't expect that his reputation had already spread so far. "You came in a group of seven?"
"That's right. The other five are guards of the family who used to be mercenaries. That's why we traveled under the pretense of traveling mercenaries and made our way here without much incident. Right after crossing the lake, we bumped into the light cavalry scouts of Sir Yuriy who brought us back here," Reidy replied.
"Reidy, is milord doing well these days? What about the situation of the family dominion?" Potterfang asked.
"Milord is doing great. As for the situation of the dominion, well, it's a long story. Ever since we followed milord back to the family dominion, all sorts of developments unfolded... It all began like this..."