Lorist currently felt that he was the biggest idiot in the world and was trying his best to resist the urge to give himself two harsh slaps on the face.
When he made that order back then, he couldn't care less about anything else and didn't consider the consequences. Only now did he understand that having too many people with him did not directly translate to more power; in fact, they became a huge burden for the moment.
When Lorist ordered the people of the duke's dominion to be moved to his own dominion, he only thought about how taking them all was soon to giving a slap to the duke in the face so that he would know the true power of the Norton Family while also turning the so-called 'most prosperous area of the Northlands' into nothing but a wasteland so that Duke Loggins wouldn't forget the lesson Lorist wanted to teach him.
What Lorist didn't expect was that his soldiers completed their mission in perfect fashion. Coupled with the support of Hennard's Northland Army soldiers that were disguised as Norton Family soldiers, the total number of people moved from the duke's dominion was more than 280000.
By the time Lorist got to know the actual figure, he was shocked into a daze. He has neglected to consider the scale of number people he was moving when he said, 'I want to deny that dogshit duke from finding even a single smith to make his weapons, a coachman to drive his carriages, a farmer to plant his crops, a tailor to mend his clothes and a servant to pour his drink. Apart from his old vassal nobles and officials as well as the merchants, I want every else to be brought away from his dominion so that he wouldn't have anyone serving him...'
The northbound convoy had around 70000 members and the vagabonds from the Andinaq Kingdom added up to around 100000. Combined with the 280000 people moved from the duke's dominion as well as the 30000 plus captive soldiers as well as the citizens within the dominion, there was an estimated population of more than 500000 people.
It wasn't that space would be a problem for them either. The area of the Norton Family's dominion could easily accommodate another one million people if needed. However, the problem was that most of the dominion were mostly rural wastelands which had not been developed much at all. It wasn't quite possible for the dominion to suddenly be able to support such a large population and that was the root of Lorist's problems.
Right now, what Lorist regretted was that he shouldn't have given up on occupying the duke's dominion. Even if he occupied it, as long as he had sufficient military force on hand, who, if anyone at all, could challenge his rule? He only knew that he didn't consider these factors much back when he made the decision to take what he could and destroy what he couldn't bring with him with a single-minded focus on returning to the family dominion. If he had known that this was the result earlier, he wouldn't have gone through all the trouble of moving everyone and everything to the dominion. Now that they're already on their way, I can't really have them travel back there, can I... thought Lorist as he let out a long sigh.
Charade reminded Lorist sternly, "Locke, we still have around 350 million kilograms of food that we got along the way from the various nobles because the harvest for the winter wheat was just over recently. Coupled with the food we already have, we have a total of 400 million kilograms of food. While that number seems huge, feeding more than 500000 people each month will cost more or less 20 million kilograms of food. That's why right now we must arrange for some farmland reclamation to be done. Otherwise, we will run out of food within 20 months' time, which is to say that we don't have much time at all. We won't be able to accomplish that within this year, so we will have to focus on it next year. If we don't develop enough farmland to sustain us until the winter wheat harvest of the year after, then we really will have to starve."
"Do you have any ideas?" Lorist asked.
Charade took out a map of the Norton Family dominion and pointed at a spot for Lorist to see. "From Firmrock Castle to Maplewoods Bastide along the Bladedge Mountain Range is a huge piece of wasteland. It is enough for around 100 land development villages to be built with each village housing up to 500 households. allowing us to settle down more than 200000 self-sustaining farmers to decrease our burden.
"It's already going to be the 6th month soon, so we only have one month's time to measure the wasteland and decide on where the villages are to be built as well as arrange for the transport of the villagers there. After that, we have three months to build them some living quarters to develop the farmland there. If we can plant the winter wheat during the 11th month, we will be able to harvest them next year. These 200000 farmers should be able to sustain themselves so that we don't have to bear the burden of feeding them."
"Then what about the other 300000 plus people?" Lorist mused.
"I've already checked on Firmrock Castle and the valley city in construction and I believe that if we can find some right spots for three or four towns to be built, it'll be enough to accommodate all the people. The construction will only take one to two years," Charade said as he revealed his well thought out plan without hesitation.
Lorist nodded and said, "Then I'll leave the construction of the reclamation villages and the development of the dominion to you. Please try to come up with a proposal within a month and I will have it passed so that everyone can help you out with it immediately."
At that moment, Shadekampf walked inside and said, "Milord..."
"What's going on?"
"Milord, Irina is pregnant and she's about to deliver..."
"Her pregnancy was discovered around the 10th month last year. However, milord has already went to search for the convoy at that time and we weren't able to contact you. It seems that she's going to give birth within another few days," explained Shadekampf.
Lorist fell into deep thought and realized that Irina might have gotten pregnant during the two days when he laid with her back at the Maplewoods Bastide after he had defeated the 4000 plus soldiers of the Northland Army the duke sent.
Lorist was starting to get a little restless. Since the 9th month of the previous year, he had went on a journey to seek out the northbound convoy and only returned during the 5th month of this year. After more or less nine months of absence, his first child in this world was going to be born.
"Charade, I'll be leaving you in charge of everything and heading back to Maplewoods Bastide right away. If there's anything urgent, just send someone to notify me about it," Lorist said as he prepared to mount his horse and rush back.
"Yes, milord. Also, congratulations!" shouted Charade as he watched Lorist ride off.
Irina was only Lorist's maidservant and her child would only be Lorist's illegitimate son or daughter. Even so, regardless of status, the child would still be the first offspring of Lorist.
On the way to the Maplewoods Bastide, Lorist encountered a messenger that was on his way to send some good news. Irina had birthed a healthy boy after nine months of pregnancy during dawn that day and both the mother and child were in stable condition.
Why is it only nine months? Shouldn't it be ten? After pondering it for a while, Lorist realized that in Grindia, each month had 35 days and Irina's pregnancy of nine Grindian months was already slightly on the long side.
The moment Lorist returned to the bastide, he rushed to check on Irina and the newborn. However, the two of them were fast asleep from fatigue. Not wanting to interrupt their sleep, Lorist left the room on light steps after taking a hurried look at the child.
In the courtyard nearby, Belnick was waiting for Lorist. As he approached, Belnick saluted and said, "Milord, your knight awaits your commands."
Surprised, Lorist hugged Belnick and said, "Brother Beck, you're already a Gold ranked knight?"
Belnick nodded and said, "Yes, milord. I broke through to the Gold rank during the 2nd month this year and have already been waiting to serve you for three whole months."
Back when Lorist first returned to the dominion, one of the first things he did was to check on the injured Belnick who had been recovering within Wildnorth Town, he realized that Belnick had been secretly poisoned over time by the town herbalist, Master Dunbarsen, causing his injuries to take far longer than needed to recover. The reason the four great families had chosen to do something like that was so that the Norton Family would lose their only Three Star Silver ranked knight. But Lorist had foiled their plans and brought Belnick back to his quarters at Maplewoods Bastide. Not only did he treat his injuries and detoxify Belnick, he even gave him a high-ranked wood attribute Battle Force for him to practice and break through to the Gold rank to serve the family when he recovers.
Roughly one year had passed since then and Belnick was already a Gold ranked knight, meaning that Lorist had yet another high-ranked fighter under his command.
"There's no rush at the moment. The family dominion will enter a development stage and there will be more than enough opportunities for you to serve the family," Lorist said.
Before he finished, however, Supervisor Spiel rushed over and said, "Milord, the old butler wants to see you..."
After the passage of one year, the old butler had aged yet again. He stopped Lorist and nagged him for quite some time. However, he wasn't concerned with how Lorist defeated the Duke of the Northlands or the amount of resources and people he had brought into the dominion. Instead, the old butler was worried about Lorist's marriage affairs as he urged Lorist to quickly get wedded to a lady of decent standing so that the Norton Family could have a successor as soon as possible.
Only managing to shake away the old butler after much difficulty, Lorist sought out Spiel and asked, "What's up with Grandpa Gleis?"
"Milord, after the first round of snowfall during winter last year, the old butler said that he wanted to visit the family's forbidden area and didn't allow me to follow him along. However, he didn't return even during the night, so we hurriedly sent someone to search for him only to find that he had slipped from the snow and his wheelchair ended up in a ditch nearby. The old butler himself on the other hand had passed out in the snow for quite some time and when we brought him back indoors, he started having a bad fever. It was fortunate that milord had left enough medicines and herbs behind that we used to treat the old butler. However, after recovering, the old butler's memory seemed to have deteriorated and he often recognizes people wrongly or forgets what he's doing all of a sudden," explained Spiel.
"Sigh, it can't be helped. In the future, don't bother him if there's nothing urgent and let him have the time he needs to rest," Lorist said with a heavy heart. Just last year, the old butler was still quite witty and cunning like an old fox. However, right now, his mental state seemed to have regressed to that of a child and he would forget anything he said himself rather quickly, causing him to often repeat himself. Before they finished the conversation, the old butler even asked Lorist to wed Pesha and said that they had been engaged for a long time already.
It was apparent that the old butler had mistakenly thought that Lorist was the deceased First Young Master, Norton Abelyde. Troubled by what the old butler was saying, Lorist tried to explain that he wasn't the First Young Master only to cause the old butler to be even more confused. In the end, Lorist merely excused himself to stop the painful conversation.
It's all because of that cursed family's forbidden area, Lorist thought. If that stupid corpse cave didn't exist, the Grandpa Gleis wouldn't have visited it alone and fall into the snow like that... It was obvious to Lorist that the old butler had suffered a stroke that was mentally crippling. Lorist finally resolved himself to abolish the practice of sealing the bodies of the Norton Family leaders in that cavern as he wasn't willing to have his corpse placed there to rot after he died either.
After leaving the old butler's residence, Knight Hennard showed up before Lorist with bruised eyes and a swelling nose.
"Huh? Why are you here?" Lorist asked curiously.
Three days ago when Hennard went to Maplewoods Bastide to pick up his lovers excitedly, Lorist thought that he would have left right after that. It truly surprised him when Hennard showed up before him looking so haggard and beaten.
"Locke, didn't you say that if they're willing to follow me back, I can take them with me?" Hennard said angrily.
Nodding, Lorist said, "I did. What happened?"
"I've already met with them and it appeared that they've been suffering over here for quite some time as they were almost too elated to see me. I've already asked them whether they were willing to go to the Cherry Blossom Ridge with me and they all agreed. However, your people didn't want to let them leave and even began to hit me. I gave it my all to resist the urge to retaliate out of my respect to you, hence my injuries," Knight Hennard complained.
"Who was it that didn't allow them to leave?" Lorist asked as his expression turned gloomy. He had explicitly ordered for the surviving women of Wildnorth Town to not be bothered and allowed to rest so that they could hopefully recover from their physical or mental wounds. After that, he would bring them to Firmrock Castle so that they may find partners they like and form new families to start their lives over.
"Supervisor Spiel, tell me what's going on. Also, what did Knight Hennard mean by his lovers' suffering? Did you not regard my instructions seriously? Tell me, who was it that caused them to suffer and even refused to let them go?" Lorist asked Spiel with a solemn expression.
"Mi-milord... It's not my fault. it's Mistress Pesha..." stammered the supervisor under Lorist's angry threats.
"Pesha?" Lorist said, stunned. "What did that woman do this time?"
Turning to Hennard, Lorist asked, "Was it a red-haired woman that refused to let them follow you home?"
"Yes, yes!" said Hennard as he nodded furiously. "That woman was extremely short-tempered! Even if she didn't like what I was saying, she shouldn't have lashed out at me just like that! While I'm a Gold ranked knight, I would never allow myself to hit a woman. Additionally, there were other women who joined her in beating me, so I could only leave as fast as I could..."
Lorist wanted to laugh after hearing about Hennard's hardships. I bet it must've been your frivolous mouth... Haha, you deserve it...
At the same time, Lorist was relieved that the men within the bastide weren't giving the women any trouble.
"Tell me, Supervisor Spiel, what did Pesha do to cause those women to suffer?" Lorist asked in a cold voice.
"Milord, it's like this... Even though Mistress Pesha is a Silver ranked knight, she's never given any assignments and she isn't associated with the garrison force of the family as well. After the women arrived at the bastide, Mistress Pesha managed to get permission from the old butler to be in charge of taking care of them. She then had some basic Battle Force technique diagrams copied and sent to the women and told them to not forget how badly they were treated and encouraged them to start training in Battle Force to become independent and be able to stand up for themselves should they experience the same hardships in the future..." Spiel explained.
Lorist and Hennard listened with much wonder.
"During the past half year, more than 100 women managed to awaken their Battle Force and Mistress Pesha grouped them together to form a female-only garrison force unit and had them train with blades and pikes all day long. There was even once when the mistress wanted to train the courage of his force members by forcing them to kill some livestock at the compound over there, causing some of the animals to go wild and run all over the bastide. Some of the family's garrison force soldiers even had to put the poor animals out of their misery...
"Even though the old butler is a little dazed after recovering from his sickness, he agreed with pretty much anything Mistress Pesha wanted. And given that milord wasn't here, we didn't think that it would be in our place to tell the mistress off. Right now, the women who have awakened their Battle Force are getting more and more furious and some men were even pummeled to the brink of death for simply teasing and flirting with them. Knight Pajik even went to see Mistress Pesha for that incident only to be beaten all the way back, so right now, none of us dares to mess with the women anymore...
"As for the suffering you mentioned, I believe that it's because Mistress Pesha forced the women to train in Battle Force and help out with the farming and livestock raising. Some of the women who were born in families of higher social standings naturally couldn't bear to work in the field all day..." Spiel theorized.
"That's exactly it. My beauties all complained to me that their work was really tiring and that they even had to wash clothes and cook during the winter, causing blisters to form on their hands. I was so pained by their hardships and wanted them to follow me back, only to have the red-haired woman with her other fanatic followers come to stop me. They even started hitting me when all I did was try to communicate with them," Hennard said furiously.
"Sigh, let me bring you there to fetch your beauties," Lorist said as he laughed bitterly. It seemed that he had to settle the issue personally.
'People are all unique and different; for every type of grain there would be 100 more types of people.' Lorist thought that this saying from his past life made a lot of sense. Not every person would be able to handle the pains of training oneself just because they have experienced some hardships. For instance, the lovers of Hennard had all been brought up in relative comfort and they had never needed to work hard for their own livelihoods. It was merely a pipe dream of Pesha's to convert them into independent people overnight.
The female survivors of Wildnorth Town were situated at a courtyard at the northern part of the bastide. There was a wide open space in front of it which the women used as a training ground. Led by Spiel, Lorist arrived at the courtyard and instructed the women who were standing guard to gather everyone together and said that he had something he wanted to announce.
Pesha was the first one to rush out only to be stunned at the sight of Lorist.
"Stand aside, Pesha. I will see you after I settle the issue here," Lorist said coldly.
In response, Pesha bitterly stepped to the side.
It didn't take long for all the women to gather within the courtyard. While Lorist didn't speak in a loud voice, all the women were able to hear everything he said clearly.
"As some of you may recognize, I am Count Norton Lorist. From my point of view, you are all relatives of the traitorous people of Wildnorth Town and I have all the right to sell you off to the slave traders and treat you how I will. However, considering that your husbands and fathers have banded together and let the wolf that was Duke Loggins into the dominion and ultimately caused their own demise and your suffering, I am extremely sympathetic of your experiences and decided to forgive you for your mistakes. From today onwards, you are free people.
"As for your future, you are free to choose from the following choices. You may rely on your relatives within the Maplewoods Bastides or try to make a living for yourself here. Alternatively, you may choose to follow me to Firmrock Castle and find a partner there to start a family and begin your lives anew or choose to become maidservants of the knights of my family or find some other kind of work. As for the third option, I have decided to officially form a female garrison unit for those who have awakened their Battle Force to join if they want to. Their treatment and benefits will be the same as that received by the garrison force soldiers of our family. Naturally, even those who haven't awakened their Battle Force will be welcome to join that unit. However, they will only be given food and living quarters and won't receive the full benefits of being a garrison force member unless they manage to awaken their Battle Force one day to qualify as a formal member of the unit.
"I will give you all three days to decide which path you want to take and have Supervisor Spiel record your choices. You can also ask him should you have any further questions. Alright, that's all I have to say. You may disband."
"Hennard, you can bring your lovers with you now. Spiel, don't forget to ask the women if they are willing to follow Hennard back. If they are not, then forget it," Lorist said.
After Hennard left with Spiel, Lorist turned to Pesha and said, "I will also give you two choices. You can choose to be the leader of the female unit. However, I will take charge of raising and caring for my elder brother's illegitimate son. Alternatively, you can raise the son however you see fit and not interfere with the matters of the family."
"Why can't I lead the unit and raise him at the same time?" Pesha asked, dissatisfied.
Shaking his head, Lorist said, "Given your personality, you're not a real good fit to be a mother. You also haven't given birth before, so you wouldn't understand the pains of bearing a child and wouldn't be able to truly give the child the motherly love and care he deserves. What I'm saying is, either you become a great general or a caring mother. You're free to pick either choice."
"I can find him a caretaker..." Pesha said.
Sighing, Lorist said, "I understand your choice. The female unit will be left in your charge from now on and I will have the regulations and other documents sent to you in a few days. I will bring the child with me tonight and you will have to get my permission if you wish to see him in the future. If you cause any more trouble, I will even revoke your status as a family knight, so think well before you act. That's all."