After receiving the report on the successful occupation of Kobo City, Charade spent 29 days to lead the convoy and the 100000 plus vagabonds from Vanades City over to Kobo City. That level of efficiency truly surprised Lorist as they had managed to traverse a distance of over 340 kilometers within a month with more than 100000 people.
Charade's method was simple: apart from the resources they transported as well as the elderly and children who rode carriages straight to the destination, he had 7 temporary campsites set up along the 340 kilometer route from Vanades City to Kobo City with each camp having 1000 transport carriages. Each camp would then focus on shipping the people from one camp to the next camp and the carriages would return to the camp to fetch the next batch, allowing everyone to travel using carriages by taking turns, shortening the length of transport as a whole by magnitudes.
The Second Highness's near 10000 Royal Defense Guard soldiers occupied Vanades City after that and headed for Kobo City with the aim of procuring some food.
Lorist on the other hand didn't mind that request at all since the city had more than what they needed. After making an inventory of the warehouses within the city, they found roughly 150 million kilograms worth of food, much to the awe of the rest. The Delamock Province did indeed live up to its name as the largest warehouse for food of the former empire. With that amount of food, there was no longer any worry for the harsh season that was to come and the people of the convoy and the vagabonds would spend it within Kobo City.
However, the Second Highness's plan to borrow some food was stopped by Charade, who said, "While lending you some food is fine and dandy, you should at least have some kind of mortgage, right? Even if you're of the royal family of the Andinaq Kingdom and have the status to rule the country, you must still act according to the nobles' traditions and customs. Surely you aren't going to think that we'll just hand out whatever amount you specify, right?"
In actuality, the Second Highness was currently even poorer than the convoy and Charade's actions were made on purpose to cause him some trouble. Even so, the Second Highness did not get mad over it and merely returned to Vanades City with a smile. Ten days later, he came back to Kobo City and shipped a large bunch of resources to them. Upon seeing those resources, Charade wanted to cry, but he didn't have any tears to shed.
Those resources were in fact the stuff of the merchants at Vanades City that Charade himself had wanted to acquire for a third of the market price. However, the Second Highness was even worse as he had taken the resources in the name of 'confiscating enemy goods' and used them as a mortgage for the food he was about to borrow. In the end, the Second Highness left Kobo City with 50 million kilograms of food and continued to have people transport the food out of the province despite the harsh winter weather.
Curious about why the Second Highness was in such a rush to ship the food, Charade went to ask Lorist privately about the matter.
Lorist's explanation was simple: the Second Highness wanted to recruit more soldiers to prepare for war.
Taking a beastskin map of the Andinaq Kingdom out, Lorist explained that when spring comes next year, the Second Highness would face two huge battles. Naturally, one of them would be the retaliation of the Madras Duchy. Lorist then pointed at the border between the Redlis Kingdom and the Andinaq Kingdom and mentioned that he had heard about the First Prince's signing of a peace treaty with the Four Allied Duchies and that the First Prince still had quite a huge military force at his disposal. With his insatiable personality, he would definitely turn to the Andinaq Kingdom as his next unlucky prey.
"Thanks to you," Lorist said as he looked at Charade and laughed, "the Second Highness managed to resolve the issue of the problematic nobles within his kingdom and stabilized the kingdom's situation and began production and development. If they can be left at peace for two to three more years, the Andinaq Kingdom will definitely rise to be a local hegemon. If we give them another 10 years to develop, the Second Highness's dream of reuniting the empire might even be possible.
"What the Second Highness lacks most now is time. So far, he's employing the strategy to conquer more land step by step in the north and defend his territory in the south. As for the First Prince's Redlis Kingdom, the Second Highness will leave the borders of the two kingdoms under the care of the Fiercegale Legion. However, given that the Fiercegale Legion has been mobilized for many battles over the years and given that they've had to weather the Second Prince's attacks, they've incurred quite a huge loss themselves. The Second Highness must replenish the soldiers of the Fiercegale Legion so that they can continue to defend the border in the long term, hence the need for more food supplies as well as equipment.
"As for the Madras Duchy, the Second Highness would definitely love it if he could conquer it. However, even though he has the will to do it, he's far from having enough military strength to take it. His plan right now is to first take the Yungechandler Province so that he can contact the Four Allied Duchies to hopefully gain some support while he suppresses the forces of Duke Madras over here. That way, he can take over the whole duchy after two years of preparation."
Charade looked at the map in deep thought before he suggested, "Milord, why don't we stay here and don't leave and have the Second Highness give Delamock Province to our family? In exchange, we can help the Second Highness take over the Madras Duchy. It's a win-win solution that I believe the Second Highness would be happy to agree to."
Flabbergasted, Lorist stared at Charade for a while before he asked, "Are you the only one who has this notion or does the rest think so as well?"
Charade gave it some thought before he said, "Two days back when I was on the walls to check out the condition of the defensive fortifications of the walls, I saw a bunch of vagabonds gathered up near the moat of the castle, so I went down to see what was going on. They were actually telling stories and folklore about the Delamock Province and Kobo City. The moment I heard that the province has tons of farmland and that was the reason it was the greatest producer of food in the former empire, I was moved. If we can take over this province, it would definitely be a great help to the family!"
Lorist laughed bitterly as he shook his head before he said, "Don't daydream so much in the future. Good things like this don't really happen."
"Why? Even if the Second Highness refuses to give the province to us, we can at least ask for the area around Kobo City since it was taken by our forces. That way, we can have the 100000 vagabonds begin farming and make a firm footing for our family within the Delamock Province," Charade said, still not satisfied without an explanation.
"Sigh..." Lorist said after he took a deep breath, "Brother Charade, your vision of things to come is too optimistic. The Second Highness will definitely not give us Delamock Province nor Kobo City, even if we help him take over the entire province. Even if we forcefully occupy a place, it would not be recognized by the Second Highness.
"Had the Second Highness been a king that was content with what he had and didn't yearn for anything else, then what you think might have a possibility of coming true. However, it can be seen that he's a person who's full of ambition given that he wants to reunite the former empire one day. That's why, even though he's willing to give the whole of the Northlands to our family, he definitely won't let us touch Delamock Province.
"If you study the map properly, you'll start to understand the strategy of the Second Highness. Why did he leave so many nobles alive within the two provinces of the Andinaq Kingdom? The reason is simple: the two provinces are to be buffers to resist the First Prince's attacks and he wouldn't bat an eye even if they are ravaged from the battles that go on there. However, when you sweeped the Welbassia Province, the Second Highness didn't say a single word and let you hang all the nobles over there. That's because he wants to take the whole of the Welbassia Province into the direct control of the Andinaq Royal Family and use that as the basis for the restoration of his family's power. He will definitely not enfeoff any part of that land to any landed noble.
"Now, take a look at the map of the Madras Duchy. Essentially, the Yungechandler Province is already under the Second Highness's control. Even though the province is desolate and barren right now, the Second Highness has already eliminated the 20 plus noble families here using treason as an excuse for their punishment and left only 7 dominion lords who were earnest and willing to follow the orders of the Second Highness and serve him.
"Why would the Second Highness kill off so many nobles in the Yungechandler Province all of a sudden then? That doesn't fit his usual way of doing things. That's mainly because he wishes to also take the whole province into the territory of the royal family. Next, he will have to face Duke Madras and the Seamountain Legion which is currently at Sidgler Province. Given that the Sidgler Province is under total control of the duke without any other landed noble based there, as long as the Second Highness can take this province, he will start to deal with the other landed nobles at Delamock Province.
"Food is the most important resource for war to a kingdom after all. Without food, a kingdom wouldn't be stable at all. The Second Highness had once got the short end of the stick in the past because he lacked exactly that resource. As the province that produces the most amount of food in the former empire, there's no way that the Second Highness will let it fall into the hands of any other noble and he'll also wipe out the noble families within this province while he's at it. Either that, or he'll move the nobles that join his side to the Sidgler Province. Now, take a look at this again. If these provinces all fall into the hands of the royal family, what do you think will happen?"
Lorist took out a map of the former Krissen Empire which was divided into three kingdoms and seven duchies and drew a line across the Welbassia Province within the Andinaq Kingdom, the Madras Duchy's Yungechandler Province and the Delamock Province before he drew a circle on the Northlands.
Charade was confused as he pointed to the Northlands and asked, "What's with that circle?"
"Did you forget what the Second Highness said? When he eliminates the Madras Duchy and takes over the land up to the border of the Northlands, if us, the Norton Family, manages to take over the whole of the Northlands, he will grant me the title of the Duke of the Northlands in the name of the Andinaq Royal Family. That circle represents our family," Lorist replied.
"Under such circumstances, where do you think the Second Highness will turn his soldiers to next?" Lorist asked Charade.
Charade pointed to the Iblia Kingdom and said, "The Second Prince."
Lorist nodded and continued, "Right. This is also the other reason why the Second Highness definitely won't give the Delamock Province to us or any other noble. Only when the province is under the direct control of the royal family would he be able to move manpower and resources to the frontlines effectively. The Delamock Province and the Iblia Kingdom is split by the Sanderson Hill Range. As long as the Second Highness mobilizes his troops, he'll be able to easily breach into the territory of the Iblia Kingdom and there's no way the Second Prince will be able to hold out for long.
"We all know that the Second Prince mainly relied on his father-in-law, Duke Fisablen who commands the Frontier Legion of the former empire to establish the kingdom. If the Second Highness launches an expedition against the Iblia Kingdom, there's no doubt that Duke Fisablen will mobilize the Frontier Legion in response. That is when the Second Highness can rely on us, the Norton Family. If we deploy our soldiers from the Northlands, and coupled with the assistance of Duke Melein, Duke Fisablen will be assaulted from three fronts and be forced to order his men to retreat and sit still as he watches the Second Highness sweep past the Iblia Kingdom without being able to do a thing."
Understanding what Lorist was going to say next, Charade recited the inevitable moves the Second Highness would take. "If the Second Highness really manages to defeat the Iblia Kingdom, then the plan to reform the empire will take form and he will definitely order us to face off against Duke Fisablen while he would force the Four Allied Duchies to return to the empire. After that, he'll rally up forces to eliminate the Redlis Kingdom of the First Prince and nobody would be able to stop him. The Second Highness will thus be able to complete his ambition to reunite the empire and take the throne as the next emperor and be remembered as a heroic legend in the history books...
"The Second Highness is really playing a big game here. He has already made up his mind to use us to face off against the Frontier Legion of Duke Fisablen so that we wouldn't be able to play a bigger part in the reunification of the empire so that he doesn't have to reimburse or reward us for our troubles... He's really calculated that far ahead in his plans..." finished Charade before he sighed.
Lorist smiled and said, "This is his master plan. With everything being done so openly, he's made it so that others can have nothing to say about it."
"Then, don't we have any way to glean more benefits for ourselves in this situation?" Charade asked, dissatisfied.
Lorist shook his head and explained, "From the Second Highness's request to borrow food from us, you should be able to understand this. The Second Highness could have taken all the wealth within the radius of Kobo City to trade them with us for food. However, he chose to use the stuff he took from the merchants as mortgage instead. Even if we are able to conquer the Delamock Province, by the time the Second Highness defeats Duke Madras, what would we do if he orders us to leave the Delamock Province and hand it back to him?
"Should we disobey? Or rebel? Does that sound realistic? Don't forget that the 100000 plus vagabonds we have were originally citizens of the Andinaq Kingdom. If you have them start working away here, the Second Highness can take them back into his kingdom with but one order and no one will give so much as a damn to us because we are not the rightful rulers of this place. Only if we bring them back to our dominion can they truly become the subjects of the Norton Family.
"The Norton Family doesn't lack land at all. Don't forget that the principality the Second Highness gave us is currently unmanaged and unutilized as well. The highest priority for us now is to bring the vagabonds back to our dominion. Don't think that our convoy's escort is that mighty; in actuality, it's still far from the truly elite armies out there. The main reason they were willing to join the convoy and follow us in the first place was because they wanted a chance to allow their families to live peaceful lives in the Northlands. If we lead them into battle for the sake of land that doesn't rightfully belong to us, would they be satisfied? And how would we reimburse these brave warriors for the casualties they sustain? No one is truly an idiot, you know.
"In fact, I think that the Second Highness would be more than eager to have us stay behind at Delamock Province. That way, he can clean up the nobles in this area without staining his reputation like you did back in Welbassia Province. He'll also be able to force us away after that using all sorts of reasons and excuses. What's worse is that he can legitimately order us to support him in battle against Duke Madras.
"I don't wish for the forces of the Norton Family to become fodder for the enemy for the sake of the Second Highness's ambitions. In actuality, many others will be able to figure out his moves just like we did based on the placement of his soldiers and manpower. If he wants to succeed, he'll have to see if the other powers will give him a chance. I bet that during summer next year, the Madras Duchy will definitely turn into a chaotic battlefield. If our convoy doesn't leave by spring, we'll definitely be dragged into the conflict as well."
Lorist then stretched out his finger and pointed at the location of the Iblia Kingdom on the map.
"You're saying that the Second Prince will mobilize his forces to attack the Delamock Province?" Charade asked.
"It's not just an assault. He'll definitely want to occupy the whole place," Lorist replied. "I just said that no one's really an idiot, and neither is the Second Prince. Anyone can see what the Second Highness is planning with his obvious movements. Even if the Second Prince can't, Delamock Province is still akin to a juicy piece of meat. Do you think that with his greedy personality, the Second Prince wouldn't want to give that meat a huge bite? Even if it isn't him, I'm sure someone else will be thinking the same thing.
"Before this, the Madras Duchy had managed to keep the Andinaq Kingdom out of the province. However, now that the duchy had suffered quite a loss, someone will definitely persuade the Second Prince to join in the fray. Think about it, before this, the Second Prince was planning to borrow some food from the duke. Now that he can get the food as well as the land that produces it, do you think he wouldn't jump for the opportunity?"
"Locke, who is the someone you keep referring to?"
"Those who don't wish for the Krissen Empire to be restored as well as those who don't want the Second Highness to come into power."
"Didn't the Second Prince just incur a loss not long ago? Where would he find enough soldiers to attack the Delamock Province with?"
"He can just borrow them. Don't forget that his father-in-law, Duke Fisablen, owns the Frontier Legion which has not seen battle and has had quite a lot of time to recuperate and prepare themselves. The Second Prince just has to borrow 30000 of the 78000 soldiers to be able to conquer the Delamock Province."
"How are you so sure that the battle here will break out next summer instead of spring?"
"The Second Prince still won't be able to get enough food for his army during spring. After harvesting the wheat during summer, he'll definitely mobilize his forces right away."
"It truly is a shame to give this place up... Such a big food-producing province..." Charade said before he sighed.
"This place is kind of overrated if you ask me. Aside from being able to produce food, what else is it good for? There's no horse-breeding going on here nor are there any ore mines. The biggest disadvantage of this province is that it's completely sealed off from the rest of the world," Lorist said as he shook his head in disagreement.
"Sealed off? How so? This place is directly connected to the Northlands and the Iblia Kingdom. And past Vanades City, it is connected to the Sidgler Province and the Andinaq Kingdom. Other than that, the Four Allied Duchies can be reached through the route through Yungechandler Province. It seems pretty connected to me," Charade said curiously.
"What I meant by that was that the Delamock Province is only accessible from the territories within the former empire. Look at our family dominion over here," Lorist said as he brought out a map of the Northlands, "If we can find a bay where we can build a harbor somewhere at the Bladedge Mountains and develop our marine corps, we will have access to the sea routes and be able to reach our other dominion, the island principality that used to belong to the Second Highness. From that island, we'll be able to travel to the port at Tim's dominion as well as Morante City. From Morante City, we can travel to the Relic Islands and the Romon Empire. The degree of connectivity is quite high and we can go many places from there. Now, you understand why I'm so fixated on bringing the convoy and the vagabonds back to the family dominion, right? Over there awaits our lands which we will develop into a haven for ourselves and our people!"
"Locke, you're far more far-sighted than any of us can aspire to be..."
"Naturally. Haha, now you know why I'm the dominion lord and you all are my knights."
"Locke, don't get too full of yourself. I was just trying to butter you up with some flattery. To think that you'd actually take it all seriously..."