"Your Highness, can you tell me more about the military strength of the Madras Duchy?" Lorist asked.
The Second Highness nodded and cleared his throat before he said, "Alright, let me tell you all I know about the situation of the Madras Duchy."
Lorist stood up and pushed the table in front of him aside and helped Reidy hang a large beastskin map up for everyone within the tent to see. That was an enlarged map of the Madras Duchy which Charade had hurriedly tasked somebody to copy from a smaller map the night before.
"Your Highness, here you go," Lorist said as he passed a thin wooden pointer to the Second Highness.
While this method of presentation was new to him, the Second Highness quickly understood the use of the pointer which was thin on one end and thicker on the other. He walked up to the map and started his presentation in a similar fashion as a teacher giving a lesson.
"The Madras Duchy is formed by three provinces in total. First, we have the Yungechandler Province to the south of the duchy which is directly linked to the Andinaq Kingdom. To the east of that province is the Farkel Duchy and the Shabaj Duchy. I'm sure all of you can see from the map that this province is mostly covered by mountainous areas and swamps as well as the Egret Lake. So, it doesn't have much farmland and only houses 35 landed noble families there.
"The Delamock Province is the largest province of the Madras Duchy and it is separated from the Northlands by the Metropoulos River. It is connected to the Iblia Kingdom to its south and its southern area is mostly grasslands with the exception of the Sanderson Hill Range. This province is known for being the largest food producer of the duchy and its production alone can sustain even three of the most populated provinces back during the time of the empire of about 2 million people. As long as we are able to take control of this province, we will be able to easily sustain more than 400000 vagabonds, not to say much about 100000.
"Ever since the founding of the Madras Duchy, a group of landed nobles were moved to the Delamock Province and right now there are more or less 100 plus noble families over there. Only Kobo City remains the personal territory of Duke Madras within that province.
"Lastly, we have the Sidgler Province at the east of the duchy and that is the main base of Duke Madras. The Sidgler Province is only connected to the Yungechandler Province and it has been under the personal rule of the duke ever since the moving of the landed noble families to the Delamock Province.
"The Madras Duchy is estimated to have a population of about 1700000 people and they mainly use defense troops. Most of the dominions of the landed nobles and their towns use garrison soldiers as the main defense force and if a huge battle comes, the Madras Duchy will gather up the garrison forces of multiple territories to form a temporary army to be deployed on the frontlines.
"Other than that, the Madras Duchy has also formed two general purpose armies. The first one is the Seamountain Legion which is the local defense army that was formed back in the day of the earliest ancestor of Duke Madras. The Seamountain Legion boasts a number of 24000 soldiers who are fully-equipped and they are stationed at the Sidgler Province for the whole year round and are the most trusted troops of the duke.
"The other one is the Ironguard Legion which is responsible for securing the border by guarding the Lichtana Citadel. They number about 28000 soldiers in total and have a reputation of being one of the strongest armies in terms of defensive strength."
The Second Highness smiled as he continued to speak to the rest within the tent. "Actually, the battle that brought the Ironguard Legion to fame involved my lord father. During the 4th year of the civil war in the empire, the once hesitant Duke Madras received encouragement from many and finally decided to form his own duchy. Back then, I was leading troops in the Whitelion Legion and fighting back against the troops of the First Prince while the Fiercegale Legion of the Melein Duchy continued to push back the Second Prince's forces time and again. All looked well and we thought at that time that the rebellion of the First Prince and the Second Prince would be eventually quelled.
"However, none of us expected that Duke Madras would found his own duchy back then and even chose to maintain neutrality and aid no one in particular. They also sealed off their borders and that caused the imperial capital and the four duchies of the central empire to be cut off and we were no longer able to receive any support in terms of resources from them. The food supply from the Delamock Province was also stopped and the situation at the frontlines changed all of a sudden. We could not press our attacks and could only resist defensively.
"Back then, only by breaking the blockade of the Madras Duchy could we stand a chance to reunite the empire. Thus, my lord father led more than 63000 troops of the royal family's local defense guards and managed to take over the whole of the Yungechandler Province. However, when they arrived at the Delamock Province, all 60000 plus soldiers were stopped in their tracks at Kobo City.
"Back then, the only force defending the Kobo City were garrison soldiers that were gathered from different nearby areas and they only numbered a little more than 8000. However, those garrison soldiers actually managed to stop my lord father's assaults and caused him to be unable to enter the Delamock Province even after 6 months of battles to the point that he coughed out blood in rage.
"In the end, due to my lord father's refusal to retreat despite the fact that the Second Prince had sent his forces to engage in a pincer attack with the Madras Duchy's Seamountain Legion, only less than 20000 of the original 63000 troops managed to survive.
"The garrison force that defended Kobo City was also only left with less than 1000 people. However, Duke Madras who was enthralled by their performance termed them the Ironguard Legion and reorganized them into a formal army that excelled in terms of defensive power.
"Ever since that battle, the empire's situation suffered even more and due to the lack of food and other supplies to sustain the army, we had no choice but to retreat from the frontlines, only to be surprise attacked by a division of the First Prince's forces that went around the frontlines to attack the imperial capital. While we rushed there the moment we heard of the news and eliminated that division, the imperial capital had already been devastated. The former glory and grandeur of the imperial capital was lost completely and it had turned into a desolate, lifeless mess of burning buildings and homeless vagabonds.
"From that point of view, it could be said that the true perpetrator that caused the imperial capital to head down the path of ruin was Duke Madras. However, no matter how much I loathe him, I didn't have the ability to punish him for that grave misdeed. Now, I believe he had sealed the borders because he wants the vagabonds to once more ravage the Andinaq Kingdom. After all, the worse shape we are in, the less he has to worry about.
"That's why we have to use the vagabonds to attack Lichtana Citadel while we still have enough food. Even if we're unable to take it in the end, the deaths of the vagabonds will also save us a lot of trouble.
"It's not like I want to leave the vagabonds for dead. However, it is beyond my ability to do otherwise as I cannot sacrifice the rest of the 1500000 citizens who have just recently settled down in the Andinaq Kingdom to resume their former lives."
Lorist laughed as he stood up to interject the Second Highness's long speech. "Your Highness, there's no need for us to do this nor is there a need for us to attack Lichtana Citadel. In fact, time is on our side and there are many ways to save the 100000 vagabonds without having to resort to sending them to their deaths."
A buzz of chatter resounded throughout the tent. The vagabonds were the biggest burden of the convoy currently and the amount of food they consumed was truly too enormous. Even though the Second Highness's suggestion to use them to take over the Lichtana Citadel sounded cruel, many of them also believed that there was no other way to solve the issue.
"Could you enlighten us about that method of yours?" asked the Second Highness in surprise as he looked at Lorist and wondered why he believed that he had more than enough time.
Lorist took the wooden pointer from the Second Highness and walked up to the map and started pointing to it. "Look over here. You seem to have forgotten about Egret Lake. It is the largest lake within the borders of the empire and it is also the natural border between the Madras Duchy and the Andinaq Kingdom.
"Let's talk about the first problem: the lack of food. Given that the lake has many fish, couldn't we solve it by fishing? Other than that, there are many vegetables and herbs like seaweed which we can obtain from the lake. By relying on just that, we will be able to sustain the vagabonds with minimum expense on our own food supply.
"While it was forbidden to fish there as it is the border between two nations, we don't have to give a damn about it now. I believe that Duke Madras wouldn't care about this either as long as we don't approach his side of the lake bank.
"You all should also be aware that winter is coming within two months. By the time the freezing cold descends upon us, the Egret Lake will become frozen. That way, we will be able to cross it without having to go past Lichtana Citadel and continue our journey north. That's why I mentioned that time was on our side."
After Lorist finished what he said, the whole tent turned abuzz. At that moment, many thought, that's right, why didn't we think of crossing the lake after it has frozen up and fixated ourselves with the path through Lichtana Citadel? And if our food can only last us for three months, the Egret Lake has plenty of fish and seaweed to meet our needs. Since they've forbidden fishing over there for quite some time, there must be a healthy population of fish within the lake now! The catch will definitely be plentiful and we might be able to get enough food to last us half a year, not to say much about only a month or two!
The Second Highness patted on Lorist's shoulder warmly and said with a brilliant smile, "As expected of Count Norton. I heard that you were a talented student back at Dawn Academy and it seems you have not failed to live up to your reputation and managed to solve two huge issues in one go. That way, we no longer have to worry about the vagabonds, haha..."
"Your Highness, I think it's better if you just called me Locke. Calling me count all the time is a little too formal," replied Lorist with a laugh.
"Alright, I'll call you Locke if you call me Aulo," the Second Highness said.
"Sure, Aulo. I'll have to rely on your help for the fishing. I will need some fishing boats and nets and I myself will also get some men to make more nets. We have to proceed as soon as possible so that we can dry the fish in time for easier preservation," Lorist said.
The Second Highness nodded and said, "Alright, that will do. You truly have the whole thing thought out well. I'll get to it right away."
Lorist pulled on the Second Highness's arm to stop him and said, "Well, it's not like I need everything done right this instant. There will be a banquet here tonight and I hope that you can attend it. I will be knighting a few members of the convoy and I'd like you to be a witness for the ceremony."
Surprised, the Second Highness laughed out and said, "Alright, I will stay to witness the splendor of the knights of the Family of the Raging Bear."
The banquet during the night was very merry and plentiful. Apart from the people of the convoy who were all given a nice meal with meat and some alcohol; even the vagabonds could let themselves loose and eat as much as they liked.
There was a total of 48 people with contributions who were made into knights of the Norton Family. What made Charade pissed was that 26 of the original 74 candidates had refused the offer as they had already promised the Second Highness that they would join the knights of the Andinaq Royal Family and would leave after the northbound convoy completes its journey. 7 of the 26 were even the senior students of Dawn Academy.
Lorist however didn't mind that as everyone had their own goals and nothing good would come from forcing them to stay. All was fine as long as the ones he prioritized, namely, Mons Malek, Lode Wales, Chino Freiyar, Dulles and Lundmorde, didn't leave. To sum it all up, apart from one senior student, Zivos, who had perished in combat, 16 of the remaining 37 joined the Second Highness and only 21 of them became the knights of the Norton Family.
Charade, Terman, Yuriy and Els, who was still recovering from his injuries, stood beside the Second Highness and intentionally spoke in an audible volume about how the Second Highness had repaid the convoy's help by sabotaging it and poaching its members, causing the Second Highness to feel awkward beyond measure. In the end, Glacia could no longer stand it and had Lorist bring the four troublemakers away.
The first ones to make their oath of allegiance were the Gold ranked knights, Lode Wales and Chino Freiyar, followed by Mons Malek, Dulles, Lundmorde and the remaining 19 senior students of the Dawn Academy. The 27 Silver ranked knights who have made significant contributions were next and they were mostly knights who used to serve the noble families that were wiped out by Count Cobry. They joined the convoy after being rescued and managed to distinguish themselves from the rest by making significant contributions during the rest of the journey and were selected as family knight candidates as a result.
When the last knight pledged his loyalty to Lorist and the Norton Family, Lorist turned to Jim who was standing beside Reidy with an envious face and waved towards him. Thinking that Lorist had something he needed him to do, Jim ran in front of him and saluted before he said, "Milord, what do you need me for?"
Lorist stepped forward and tapped onto Jim's shoulder as he said, "Jim, you've followed me along for quite some time now. Even though you still behave like a mercenary now and then, your loyalty, hardworking attitude and bravery definitely stands out more than the others. Are you willing to become my knight and fight under the banner of the Roaring Raging Bear?"
"Naturally," Jim replied without hesitating as he looked at Lorist with a solemn expression. "Milord, you didn't even have to ask."
Els and Potterfang burst out in laughter uncontrollably.
Reidy then came over and gave Jim a kick before he said, "Idiot, milord is going to accept you into the ranks of the family knights. What are you still doing? Kneel down and make your pledge!"
"Oh," Jim said excitedly. "Milord, can I truly, really, become a knight of the Norton Family?"
Lorist nodded with a smile.
Jim hurriedly tidied up his attire and kneeled on one knee in front of Lorist. Just as he was about to make his pledge, he saw Reidy make a facepalm as he said, "Idiot, it's not that leg. It should be the other one that kneels..."
The pledging of a knight also had certain standards to abide by. The proper way to pledge was to kneel on the ground with both hands or with one hand placed on the left knee.
Jim blushed as he changed his posture once more and recited the pledge as many knights before him did. "I, Jim, am willing to pledge my loyalty to the Norton Family and follow milord Lorist from now on. I will carry out my duties to shield the honor of the Norton Family Knights. I am willing to become the sword of Lord Lorist and fight until my last breath under the banner of the Raging Bear."
Lorist drew his sword in a formal gesture and tapped onto both shoulders of Jim twice before he said, "Rise, my knight."
Potterfang then came over with a silver raging bear badge and put it on Jim's left chest before he gave him a tight hug and said, "I welcome your participation, my brother."
The knights who just joined the order were making merry during the banquet.
Lorist went to the Second Highness's side and toasted him with his wine cup before he noticed Glacia beside him who was silently crying.
"What's up with her?" Lorist asked.
"She's so happy for you that she started shedding tears of joy after seeing so many talented men take you as their lord. It seems that the day the Norton Family returns to its former glory is no doubt nearing," explained the Second Highness.
"Hehe, Your Highness, actually, you've deprived me of 29 fine knights from your poaching, you know," Lorist teased before he raised his cup to toast him and took a gulp of his wine. "Your Highness Aulo, you can just bring them away with you when you leave later."
"Why? Didn't you need them to escort the convoy back to the Northlands first?" asked the Second Highness.
Lorist shook his head and said, "There's no need for that. I don't wish to hinder their future careers. Your Highness, you should also be busy restoring the Andinaq Kingdom and I'm sure you could use the help of those extra hands. I'll let them join you early so that they can rack up some achievements for themselves. It will take too much of their time for them to follow the convoy. Also, I've already recruited quite a number of family knights and I'm going to reorganize the forces of the convoy soon, so there's little point in having them stay with us any longer."
The Second Highness didn't hesitate as he nodded and said, "Alright. I will bring them with me when I leave later."