"No, Uncle Locke... I took a wrong step just now... Let me redo it..." The one who said that was Pog's beloved daughter, Alisa. She was currently playing a game of magical beast chess with Lorist.
Magical beast chess was a game on Grindia that was similar to monopoly. The chessboard depicted a confusing maze where several hundred magical beast-shaped pieces were placed. The boss of the dungeon was represented by a red dragon piece in the middle of the maze. The players on the other hand were knights whose movements were restricted to the number of the dice roll during each player's turn.
It differed from monopoly in that players required good arithmetic ability to play the game because each piece had a 'score'. For instance, if a knight with a score of 10 encountered a magical goat piece which had the number 5 carved underneath it, then the knight would kill the goat without taking any damage and the knight's score would become 15 as a result. Consequently, if a knight with a score of 10 encountered a magical wolf that had a score of 9, the knight would be able to defeat the wolf but its score won't be the sum of those of the two pieces. Only when the score of the knight is double that of the beast would the knight be able to absorb the complete score of the piece it defeated. Instead, when the battle scores of both pieces were close, the knight would only get to add the difference of the knight's score and the enemy piece's score. In the case of the knight with score 10 and the wolf with score 9, the knight would end up with score 11 after defeating the wolf.
There were many junctions in the maze, each of which were guarded by various magical beasts. Hence, every choice had to be made based on evaluating the battle potential of one's piece so that it would survive and arrive at the middle of the maze to defeat the red dragon. That was why magical beast chess was also known as the dragon-slaying game.
Just now, Alisa had picked the wrong direction and encountered a magical tiger. Given that her knight's score was 37 while the tiger's score was at 42, that meant that the young girl's knight had become the prey of the ferocious tiger, resulting in Alisa having to start all over from the beginning of the maze and return all the monster pieces her knight had defeated back to their original positions. However, she wasn't satisfied with the result and wanted to roll her move back.
Lorist pinched on Alisa's face lovingly and allowed her to take back her move.
Sitting on a chair near the window was the girl's elder brother, Howard. At that moment, he was intently reading a book he had took from the bookshelf nearby. In the middle of that room sat the Gold ranked mercenary Freiyar's two twin sons who were stacking up blocks in an attempt to build a castle while chewing on some snacks.
Right now, Lorist was being hogged by Alisa as the both of them hadn't met for more than six months ever since Lorist left the convoy to travel to the dominion. During all that time, Alisa had missed her kind uncle that would spoil her from time to time. Other than that, given that it was snowing rather heavily and she wasn't able to go out to play within Kobo City, the girl brought her two playmates, Freiyar's twin boys, to play within Lorist's wide room which was located at the top floor of the castle every single day.
Initially, Potterfang and Freiyar were worried that their children would bother Lorist and wanted to stop them. However, Lorist halted their attempt as there wasn't much to do during winter and having a few children play around in his room helped liven the atmosphere. Given that he had others working on most of the tasks of managing the convoy and the vagabonds, Lorist didn't have much to do other than showing his face to the people from time to time.
He also took the opportunity to test if Howard had neglected his studies during the northbound journey. To prevent the other children from feeling bored, Lorist even had some craftsmen make a few toys based on those he saw in his past life so that the children would be kept humored and busy, indirectly converting his room into a children's playground.
A few knocks could be heard on the door to Lorist's room. The one who came in was Patt.
"Milord, Knight Yuriy has just returned and Sir Charade requests for your presence for a meeting at the great hall," Patt said.
"Uncle Locke, since you're busy, let's stop playing for now," said Alisa before she stood up and tossed her chess pieces and scorecards back onto the chessboard before Lorist even said a word.
"You feisty girl, I would've won in another two moves. You're sneaking your way out again..." Lorist complained.
However, Alisa paid him no heed and cheerfully went to the corner where the twin brothers were and shook her head as she commented on how crude-looking the castle they were building looked.
"Let's build a garden instead," said Alisa before she started taking the castle apart.
The two brothers were pissed at her actions and started quarreling with Alisa.
After exiting the noisy room and walking downstairs with Patt, Lorist asked, "What did Yuriy say about it?"
"Yuriy said that the road is still in bad condition for traveling as it is still very wet and muddy. The mud would reach all the way up to one's shin. Well, that much is a given since the snow's just starting to melt and the spring rain isn't helping the mud dry either. There's no way that we will be able to cross with our carriages. Without ten or more days of blazing sunlight, the road will not dry up quickly enough for travel," Patt replied. "Also, Yuriy said that he went to the river nearby and asked an old boatman there who said that there is no way to cross the river before the 25th day of the 2nd month because a lot of ice pieces will be flowing down from upstream and blocking that part of the river. It won't be able to clear up until the end of the 2nd month."
"Sigh, I guess there's still another month of waiting... If I have to stay here any longer than that, moss and rust will start to form on my body. Since we're not able to continue our journey yet, why did Knight Charade ask for me?" Lorist said.
"I'm not too clear about it myself. He said that he had something he needed to discuss with you..."
In stark contrast to Lorist's lax schedule, Charade was incredibly busy most of the time. The management of the 70000 plus convoy members and the 100000 vagabonds were all rested on his shoulders and he would be troubled by even the smallest squabbles and conflicts day after day. Even though he had more than 50 officers he picked during the course of the journey helping him out with the matters, he was still bothered by many other things that required his personal attention, causing him much frustration.
"He's not willing to hand it over? On what grounds? Send the patrol guard over there. I don't care if he used to be the town mayor. Give him ten harsh canes! I don't care if he's older than 80! If he goes against our regulations, he has to be punished! And it's his fault if he dies from it! Whoever sympathizes with him can buzz off along with that old guy! We don't need to feed a useless parasite like him! Quick! Ten canes, that's an order!"
Lorist and Patt could hear Charade's roaring as they descended the stairs to the third floor and wondered what could possibly make him so furious.
When they arrived at the hall, they saw the officer Charade had chased out of the hall run out in terror with Charade fuming with rage.
"What's going on?" Lorist asked.
"It's nothing big... An old guy past his seventies old insisted that he used to be a town mayor in the past and picked two females from the vagabonds to become his maidservants and even took ten percent of the supplies we handed them from those who used to be his townsfolk! Didn't we just carry out a cleanup and check of the camps recently? It was then we noticed that he had stockpiled huge amounts of resources which he took from others. Just when we were about to confiscate them, he started an outburst because he thought that we would let him have his way given his age. That's why I ordered him to be caned ten strokes so that he would remember this lesson. He thinks he still has any status over others despite being a vagabond, how ridiculous," Charade said.
"Wouldn't it be easier for us if we just hanged him? I mean, given his age, he's nothing but a burden and will only consume our supplies without contributing. What say you, milord?" said the seated Yuriy as he sipped on some hot tea.
Lorist thought for a bit before he said, "Forget it. Since Charade has already handed down his punishment, there's no longer a need for that. However, make sure to kick out these sneaky and cunning parasites who only take and don't give by the time we leave lest they spoil the community spirit we have. Just leave them here to fend for themselves when we depart."
The reason Charade asked for the meeting was to discuss the matter of the departure with Lorist. Unlike Lorist who wanted to return to the dominion as soon as possible, Charade was relieved to hear that they had to wait at least another month before they could start their journey again. Given that there was much to prepare for the journey including repairing the carriages, letting the horses warm up and preparing the clothing and food supplies for more than 100000 people, the convoy and the vagabonds couldn't just leave on short notice.
The other important factor was that Charade intended to transport the remaining 85 million kilograms of food back to the dominion, which would undoubtedly displace some people who were originally traveling on carriage, resulting in a slower traveling speed overall.
Lorist was quite troubled by that as he preferred to return to the dominion earlier rather than spending more time to bring the food with them. However, the figure that Charade told him instantly convinced him.
Charade said that during the two and a half month stay at Kobo City which numbered roughly 80 days, the 170000 or so people at Kobo City had already consumed more than 15 million kilograms of the food stored there. If they didn't bring the food back with them to the dominion, a food shortage would no doubt occur within three months of their arrival. Charade believed that the food reserves back at the dominion would definitely not be able to accommodate the huge influx of people.
Lorist felt that Charade's reasoning was rather sound as well. He recalled that Supervisor Spiel had reported to him that the food reserves at the dominion amounted to roughly 30 million kilograms and the laborers at the construction site also relied on the food there as well. Now that the Wildnorth Town had been abandoned, the yearly food produce of Maplewoods Bastide only amounted to about 4 million kilograms of food. If they did not bring the food in Kobo City back, the convoy members and the vagabonds would no doubt have to starve within six months of arriving at the dominion.
"Let's bring the food along," Lorist said helplessly. Suddenly recalling something else, he said, "Don't forget that it will be quite troublesome when we attempt to cross the river. Since we still have to wait for a month, have the work smiths make some small boats and planks which we can use to make a floating bridge for the crossing."
"Are you referring to the Locke Fishing Boats?"
"Well, something like those. However, since we need to transport the carriages across as well, the floating bridge has to be around 5 meters wide and each boat has to be filled with two layers of green clay. Also, the distance from one bank to another of the river is roughly 300 meters, so make enough boats so that the bridge can stretch long enough to the other side," instructed Lorist.
On the 10th day of the 2nd month, the Second Highness once again rushed to Kobo City despite the rainy weather. He came for two reasons: to borrow more food and to request Lorist to delay his departure until the 5th month after the harvest of the winter wheat.
The Second Highness's reason for his request was so that Lorist would be able to guard Kobo City as he brought his troops to suppress the landed nobles of Delamock Province so that they wouldn't give him trouble during his battle with Duke Madras. He was confident that he would be able to completely take over Delamock Province and have Duke Madras bow down before him.
Lorist refused it immediately and said that he hadn't contacted his family since the 9th month of last year and couldn't bear to stay any longer. Ever since the winter passed and the spring rain started falling, he was already rather impatient about leaving for his dominion. He apologized for not being able to accept the request of the Second Highness.
Lorist then mentioned that when the convoy departed, he could hand control of Kobo City to the Second Highness who only had to have around 10000 of his Royal Defense Guard soldiers stationed to protect it. Lorist also insisted that he believed that the nobles of Delamock Province definitely wouldn't act recklessly. As for the matter of food, Lorist was willing to hand 10 million more kilograms of it to the Second Highness as an early celebratory gift for his defeat of Duke Madras.
However, no matter what Lorist said, the Second Highness merely furrowed his brow and said that if he had to use 10000 soldiers to guard at Kobo City, he wouldn't be able to muster enough military strength to face the Seamountain Legion and that the best method to overcome that was to have Lorist leave at least half of the convoy's force there while he leads the rest of the convoy back to the dominion.
Lorist still refused nevertheless and insisted that he had promised every person of the convoy to lead them home and that he wouldn't leave a single one behind. He was obligated to fulfill his oath and there was no reason for him to leave his soldiers there either as the city was not part of his family's dominion anyway and he had no obligation to guard it.
In the end, the both of them parted on bad terms.
Seeing the silhouette of the Second Highness leaving in the distance, Lorist nudged Charade with his elbow and said, "Now, you understand, right? If he doesn't give Kobo City to our family, any other benefits he promises will merely be shallow ones. You can already see how hard he tried to convince us to stay without mentioning anything about that."
Charade laughed bitterly before he said, "I think we have to hasten our preparation work and leave as soon as we can. I suspect that the Second Highness came to ask us to stay because he received word of the Second Prince's eventual campaign on the Delamock Province. That's why he hopes that we will be here to block the Second Prince so that he has enough time to rally his forces. Perhaps, the Second Highness might even be hoping that our forces and the Second Prince's soldiers would wipe ourselves out so that he can reap all the benefits."
"Your analysis is correct," Lorist said as he nodded. "I also think the same. That's why he's unwilling to station his own Royal Defense Guard soldiers here. I refuse to believe that having 10000 men here would affect his battle against the duke anyway. Didn't you read the letter Els sent to us?
"During winter, the Second Highness didn't sit idly at all. With the 50 million kilograms of food he got from us, not only did he replenish the numbers of the Fiercegale Legion to 56000 people, he also managed to expand his Royal Defense Guard into a 83000-strong force. Other than that, he also renovated the Lichtana Citadel and formed a 20000-strong garrison army there. Only idiots would believe his claim of not having enough soldiers. Even if he can't send his Royal Defense Guard out, what about his garrison army? Does he take us for fools?"
"I feel that the Second Highness is a little too ambitious. Even though we've helped him out so many times, he was willing to give us the short end of the stick without batting a single eye. Does he think that we wouldn't be able to grasp his true intentions?" Charade said emotionally. "Compared to him, you are too soft, Locke. Sometimes, I really don't understand why you're so kind to the point of being taken advantage by others. You should know that you're a dominion lord now and no longer just an instructor of the Dawn Academy. You should act with pride and dignity."
Lorist laughed out loud and recited a saying that Charade found to be very weird. "Being cold and calculative doesn't necessarily make one a hero; being kind and considerate doesn't make one any less of a ruler..."
Lorist then turned and started walking towards the castle as he asked, "Do you feel that following a dominion lord like me or a hero like the Second Highness is better?"
"Oh, you must've read that saying from some obscure book again. It does sound pretty insightful though," Charade said as he hurriedly started walking to keep up. "Needless to say, of course I'd follow you! You're my little brother Locke, so I have to make sure you don't screw up and become a joke of a dominion lord! Also, I'd never join the Second Highness no matter what. Otherwise, I might end up helping him count the money he got from selling me out without the slightest clue! How bad for me would that be?!
"I only feel sympathy for the former students from our academy and some other Silver ranked knights that decided to join his side... Even though our convoy didn't suffer any major losses for more than half a year of traveling, within ten days of joining the Second Highness, so many of them had died... Also, Locke, I think you should remind your cousin sister Glacia that she definitely wouldn't stand a chance to become the queen or empress given the Second Highness's ambition and personality..." muttered Charade nonstop.
Lorist sighed and said, "Fatty, you have so much to say, don't you? It's alright. Everyone has their own path and even if we try, it would be incredibly hard to change the paths they've set their minds on. I'll definitely remind my cousin sister of that. As for whether she'll take my advice to heart, that's up to her."