Lorist put the ink-dipped pen down and looked at the crystal sandglass on his table. It was already around five at dawn, but the sky outside the windows still seemed rather dark. Past the green glass windows, he could see dense amounts of snow, each probably the size of a goose's feather, falling gently down to the ground. It has already been snowing for three continuous days and a huge pile of snow had gathered outside.
On Lorist's table were stacks of wordy beastskin documents which were mostly written by him throughout the night. When he was talking to Charade recently, it suddenly occurred to him that he still didn't have a comprehensive plan to develop the family dominion. His dominion was located at a rather desolate piece of land; while that allowed the advantage of having to defend only the Firmrock Castle to prevent the rest of the dominion from being embroiled within the flames of war, it cost them isolation and impermanence in the minds of others, both of which stemmed from not having a proper method to communicate with the outside world.
The Northern Highlands was wide with a very sparse population and spanned an area of roughly three to four times that of the Delamock Province with only less than a million inhabitants. Even the southern area of the Northlands which was the most prosperous and under the control of Duke Loggins only had around 40000 citizens at most. The main factors that had held back the development of the Northlands were the inconvenience of travel and transport as well as the lack of manpower.
From the map, it could be seen that the Northern Highlands is not situated to the north most point of the Grindia Continent. Instead, it was located at the mid-upper part of the continent. The center of the continent was considered by its inhabitants to be the Magical Dragon Mountains, which incidentally, happened to be the intersection point for three mountain ranges.
The reasoning behind the place being called the Northlands was because it represented the furthest north humans have ever developed and settled themselves in. If they wanted to go even further northward, they would have to cross the Magical Dragon Mountains and according to the maps, beyond that was the long-stretching wilderness which humans have yet to set foot on.
However, the word 'highlands' in the 'Northern Highlands' was used in a slightly different sense from the conventional meaning. Even though the Northlands is also considered a highland area, the elevation of that place relative to the rest of the flatlands of Grindia was only around 100 meters with little difference in terms of climate and weather. In actuality, in the Grindian Basic Language, 'highlands' didn't refer to the elevated terrain of the Northlands but rather its ruralness and wildness relative to the other civilizations on the Grindia Continent and it was used in a derogatory sense.
According to Lorist's plan, as long as he was able to bring the 70000 plus members of the convoy as well as the 100000 plus vagabonds back to his homeland, he would be able to alleviate the manpower crisis of his dominion and bring in huge waves of development and progress. If he was able to accomplish that, as long as he guarded Firmrock Castle tightly, he would be able to develop his dominion amidst a time of chaos without having to worry about the conflict and battle going on outside.
Personally, Lorist approved of the Second Highness's ambition of reuniting the empire. However, he wasn't inclined in the slightest to join in the effort and he didn't really care for the title of the Duke of the Northlands the Second Highness had promised him either. To him, there wasn't a point even if he managed to conquer more land as he would still be locked within the Northlands as long as the upstream and downstream passes at Metropoulos River were blockaded.
In the end, Lorist was forced to place his hopes with the western coast of his family dominion where the Bladedge Mountains was located. He refused to believe that he wouldn't be able to find a single place where a seaport could be built. If he does find one, the family would be able to establish diplomatic and trade relations with the other powers from the sea routes which were far more convenient to traverse than the land routes. He could even have his armada ship more vagabonds to his dominion for more manpower and citizens instead of using the convoy method which still hadn't completed its first run after one whole year of traveling.
Lorist noted down the stuff he intended to implement on those beastskin documents, among which included research into making proper glass, improving metallurgy, foraging for more mines, constructing cities, preparing farmland, establishing transportation routes, training elite troops and so on. Right now, the forces of the convoy and the dominion combined had around 70000 men. Lorist was prepared to lay off many youths from his forces so that they can become the main source of manpower for the development of the dominion's many infrastructures.
For the sake of ensuring the safety of the convoy and the vagabonds on their journey to the dominion, many youths were enlisted into the escort force. Lorist believed that he only had to retain a fraction of that force and reform them into an elite fighting force. With every soldier having at least Iron ranked Battle Force capabilities, even if he had only 20000 soldiers, it would be more than enough to ensure that the Norton Family dominion can be kept untouched from the conflict in the outside world.
Lorist made a mental note to himself that In another few years, when the family dominion has established a proper foundation, he would then think of expanding his influence to cover the whole of the Northlands. He recalled that he read some book in his past life that had a saying that went like this: 'without a stable foundation, no matter how magnificent the building constructed on gravel, it wouldn't to be able to weather a gust of strong wind and would collapse without question', much like the Yongle Emperor who strengthened the defense of his nation and expanded the growth of crops.
He then raised his pen and started writing down a few other things that he'd like to try to make when he returns to the dominion, namely, gunpowder and catapults. With castles being all over Grindia, using only ballistas for sieges was not the ideal solution. With armaments like gunpowder-powered weapons and catapults, however, he would have a much easier time attacking traditional castle fortification structures around the continent.
For example, Charade was only capable of conquering over 100 castles within the Welbassia Province because he had the support of the carroballista unit and the longbowmen troops. He also had the captives he caught along the way serve as troops to take most of the brunt of the enemy's retaliation. Lastly, the landed nobles within the province were not that strong in the first place, resulting in only a little more than 10000 of the captive troops ending up as casualties along the way.
Lorist himself also had a few experiences in siege warfare, but mainly, he relied on surprise attack tactics and night attacks to succeed. The only time when those tactics failed him was during the battle against Wildnorth Town. If he succeeds in developing those weapons, when the dominion is built up to a point for him to start stretching his claws out from the Northlands, tightly-fortified structures like the Lichtana Citadel would no longer prove to be an obstacle.
Ever since he returned to the dominion during the 3rd month and inherited the title of the dominion lord, Lorist had been going to and fro settling various matters without having the opportunity to sit down and quietly ponder on the future developments of the dominion. Only when he was cooped up within his residence waiting for winter to pass did he have any time to properly draft out his plans.
After looking through some of the beastskin documents within his hands, Lorist gave it some thought before he appended a few more rows of words on one document: cultural education, basic Battle Force training and papermaking.
Cultural education was rather straightforward as it only involved teaching the general populace to read and count. Even though many people knew how to speak the Grindian Basic Language, most of them couldn't read as they did not recognize the characters. As most of the inhabitants of Grindia were of the peasant class who only had to work physical labor to ensure that they were able to sustain their families, they didn't have the ability nor awareness to let their children receive good education, and that situation continued within families for generations to come.
As for basic Battle Force training, while the dominion of the Norton Family was rather huge, it was constantly under threat from magical beasts and the mountain barbarians from the Magical Dragon Mountains. Only when the citizens of the dominion awaken their Battle Force at the basic level would they have a means to defend themselves. Other than that, people with awakened Battle Force tend to have better health and vigor with higher life expectancy. To the Norton Family, it was a rather fast method to develop the dominion.
On Grindia, the common paper that Lorist was so accustomed to seeing in his past life was nonexistent and the only thing they had to serve the same purpose were beastskins, which were used ever since the days of the magical civilization. According to the legends, the magi used beastskins to make magic scrolls to record their arcane texts and grimoires. That was because only beastskins could contain the magical power that were embedded within the words of the magi. That's why the magi did not consider developing a cheaper and easier to produce material to write on for the common people.
Making beastskins was a simple and widespread process. However, large numbers could not be made as it was also incredibly tedious. Firstly, the skin of an animal had to be cut into a rectangular shape before being dipped into water for a whole day before it could be cleaned and dipped into a kind of limestone solution for more than ten days, with it needing to be beaten and stirred in the solution three times a day. That process had to be repeated three times and after 30 days, the skin would be brought out to be dried and the blood vessels and other unnecessary parts on the skin had to be scraped off manually with a small knife, leaving behind only a thin membrane which had to be immersed into a liquid grass mixture for another two days. After that, it had to be dried but not under direct sunlight before it would be smoothened and fastened to a wooden rack for three more days to be firmed. Lastly, it had to be cut into a document form factor.
This was also the reason why books on Grindia were so expensive. If Lorist intended to improve the cultural education of the citizens within his dominion, he had to first find a way to make writing material that was easier and cheaper to produce. The family would never have enough funds to let everyone use beastskin for their studies after all. In Morante City, the daily newspaper they had would be returned to the publishers so that the beastskin may be washed and cleaned for new content to be printed upon it. They would be reused until the beastskin itself spoiled from wear.
If he could make the kind of paper that was widely available in his past life, not only would he be able to further the education level of the citizens within his dominion, he could also sell the paper to the rest of the continent as the staple product of his dominion.
It was Lorist's long held belief that there was no empire nor family that would last thousands of years undefeated. The common folk of Grindia normally distinguished themselves by the place they came from instead of their nations. For instance, Lorist was from the Northlands while Charade was from the Teribo Kingdom. Lorist felt that if he could let the people of the convoy feel a pride in being the subjects of the Norton Family, he believes that the glory of the Norton Family will be able to be passed down for generations to come.
Lorist's plan for that was to use long term propaganda and indoctrination to make the hearts of the convoy members and the vagabonds stay loyal to the Norton Family. The Han Dynasty of ancient China was able to achieve such a feat, resulting in the Chinese people also being known as the Han. Lorist wanted to try to emulate them so that the folk within his dominion would be proud of their rulers and call themselves Nortons instead of Northlanders.
However, that would only take form after a very long time. Lorist thought that maybe he could even dramatize and immortalize the journey of the convoy in the history books so that the generations to come would be able to empathize with the hardships their ancestors had to weather to arrive at the Norton Family dominion. Even though Lorist had many plans to go about that, he still required easily-produced paper to be able to jump start this operation. That's why, researching how to produce paper was a rather high priority for Lorist.
As he was the owner of a small workshop back in his past life, Lorist was well-trained in many crafts such as glass working, designing and even making collecter ship replicas. However, Lorist had no proper idea on how to make paper and only knew the basic principle and materials required to do it without understanding the exact process. Thinking of the difficulty of the task he was about to undertake, Lorist sighed and thought, I guess I'll have some craftsmen work on it by trial and error when we arrive at the dominion... I'm sure they'll succeed one day...
The door of his room was knocked on lightly, prompting Lorist to say, "Come in."
Reidy pushed open the door and came in with a basin of warm water and said, "Milord, you got up quite early today. Even though it's already six in the morning, the sky outside is still as dark as it was during midnight."
Lorist washed his face and said, "Reidy, even though the weather is like this outside, you must not slack off on your training and continue working hard indoors. Training one's fighting skill requires constant practice and intense dedication. You're already at the Two Star Iron rank this year. I hope that you'll be able to break through to the Silver rank in another two years."
"Yes, milord. I understand," Reidy said.
"Alright. Do I have anything else scheduled for today?" Lorist asked.
After giving it some thought, Reidy replied, "Yesterday, Knight Charade said that you wanted to join him to patrol the residential area of the vagabonds."
"Oh, then bring me my breakfast at seven thirty. After finishing my meal, I'll go meet up with Charade," Loirst said.
"Yes, milord," Reidy said before he left.
Usually, from six to seven thirty, it was Lorist's morning training session. After training in the Aquametal Technique for one Major Cycle and moving his body for a bit, his time was up.
To Lorist, the most difficult part for his training right now was the fact that he wasn't able to grasp the progress of his own cultivation. In his past life, he didn't even reach the Dark Stage of the Aquametal Technique. Given that he didn't understand what laid beyond and didn't hear much about it from others either, he could only rely on himself to slowly find the proper way to progress in his training. Right now, even though he understood that he was in the Dark Stage, he had no clue at which point of the stage he was at. For example, back when he was at Maplewoods Bastide after he laid with Irina, he suddenly felt a rush of power that made his body feel light and refreshed. While he did not completely understand what had happened back then, he reasoned that he must've progressed a little further in the Dark Stage.
Sometimes, Lorist also felt that using Battle Force to train in his ancestral technique was a little ludicrous. However, he hasn't noticed any glaring disadvantages with that; in fact, the rate at which he progressed in the Aquametal Technique felt a little too fast. Lorist was quite confident in his current abilities and most Gold ranked fighters could no longer match up to him. However, he still didn't have the opportunity to spar against a Blademaster properly. Lorist was eagerly anticipating the chance to find out how he would hold up against a Blademaster in a proper fight.
Given that the Kobo City wasn't big, it was filled to the brim by the people of the convoy and the vagabonds. Fortunately, the Second Highness had transported a third of the food away, emptying near a hundred warehouses in the process. Coupled with the broad drying fields for the food within the city, it was just barely enough to accommodate the whole group of people.
It was still snowing and Lorist and Charade both wore a black leather mantle as they walked along the road that the patrolling soldiers had cleared up to the camp of the vagabonds.
"Locke, how did you get the idea of setting up the tents within the snow houses? Not only is it quite warm inside, that method of yours solved the problem of the vagabonds' housing almost right away. The snow houses are also cheap and easy to build, it's far too convenient," Charade said as he walked. "Did you know that if we used logs to build temporary houses, the gathered snow on the roofs would eventually collapse the whole structure? That would also require us to have people periodically clean the snow off. I didn't expect that the snow houses didn't have that sort of problem and if we pat the snow tight, it will further reinforce the structure as well."
Lorist replied, "Don't you remember that I bought lots of books during my time at the Dawn Academy? When you were busy looking for people to fine, I was reading. I learned this method from the journal of an adventurer who had lost his way in the wilderness and he used this way to survive the harsh winters. I didn't know whether that account was real or not nor did I know how effective it would actually turn out, but I drew a design anyway and you really managed to implement it..."
"You..." Charade was struck speechless. "How could you simply draft out something like that?! Good thing you were lucky this time. If the designs didn't work, it might've cost us some lives..."
Lorist laughed and said, "I was just messing with you. It's your fault for looking down on books like these and saying that the authors made the stories up to make a quick buck and refuse to even give the authors a chance. Let me tell you, that book was a proper biography and it was the work of the most prestigious adventurer around one hundred years ago, Carmen Pride. The designs I gave you were copied from that book. Some time after that book was published, some experts even tried experimenting with snow houses according to the design he provided and found that they indeed did have an insulating effect."
After a while, Charade asked, "Locke, in another few days, it will be the 36th day of the 12th month, which is the day of celebration for the new year. Do you have anything planned for that?"
Lorist thought for a few moments in silence before he said, "Sigh, on that day last year, we spent the whole night at the Red Grace Inn with the rest of our buddies, but right now we're so far away from them at Kobo City. Fate truly is unpredictable. Do you have any good ideas for the celebration?"
"You're right, none of us last year would have even imagined that we would be here today, leading so many others towards the north... I'm thinking that since we have an abundance of food now, it's better if we give them something extra to eat for the festive celebration. Also, let's throw in 500 grams of meat per person with another cup of ale while the kids can have some sweets and cookies instead. What do you think?" Charade asked.
Lorist nodded and said, "It's really thorough of you. Let's do it your way. If the snow stops falling, we can even organize some physical activities for them and let them spend the new year in happiness."
Raising his head and looking at the dark, gloomy skies, Lorist muttered, "After another month of waiting, we can finally resume our journey home."