After 28 days of difficult hauling, the carcass delivery team finally arrived at Gildusk City. Part of that was thanks to Lorist's considerate and appropriate preparations by tying up the frozen carcasses securely onto the sledges so that they could be transported more easily. Otherwise, it would've taken far longer for Count Kenmays's order to be carried out if they had resorted to normal carriages.
One panicked lookout guard blew the horn accidentally at the sight of the arrival of the team and woke the whole of the city, causing many to flock to the square outside the duke's mansion to take a curious look.
Over 200 magical beast carcasses of roughly 40 different types were arranged into a few rows at the square, the most eye-catching of which being the four-meter-tall mammoth carcass which radiated a tense air of savagery. Had it not been for Lorist's worry that the city gates wouldn't be able to let a bigger carcass through, Lorist would've sent them a mammoth that was over 5 meters tall.
Count Kenmays was so excited that his face flushed red as Lorist truly had gave him a lot of face by sending over so many carcasses per his request and even wrote him a personal letter. Apart from stating that he had sent the carcasses as a gift to Princess Sylvia, Lorist said that he would leave the rest for Count Kenmays's keeping. The moment he finished reading the letter, the count instantly came up with a few ways to use the carcasses to improve his relationship with the other beautiful noble ladies and expand the Kenmays Family's network.
The Second Prince walked forward with the queen and Princess Sylvia along with a large group of nobles and observed the magical beast carcasses up close. As the rest of the nobles were chattering about, the Second Prince was instead observing the wounds on the bodies of the magical beasts.
"Count Kenmays, where is the person in charge for the transport of these carcasses? Call him over so that I can reward him. Now that I've seen this, I forgive Baron Norton for refusing my invitation. It seems he has indeed been busy battling magical beasts. That person in charge should be aware of the situation of the battle, right? Have him brief me on it," instructed the Second Prince.
Count Kenmays held his chest and saluted as he said, "I deeply apologize as the ones who transported the carcasses were the soldiers of my family and not those of the Norton Family. According to my messenger, the Norton Family could not even send out so much as a guide as almost all of the soldiers of their family are caught up in the massive battle."
"Oh, I see. Then it's fine," said the Second Prince, a little crestfallen.
"My Lord Count, I'd like to have that huge snow leopard and those two green-colored winter wolves. Oh, and that antelope over there catches my eye too. I wonder if you would be so kind to part with these carcasses..." Unlike the Second Prince, the queen was instead intrigued by the furs of the beasts.
"My beautiful queen, your servant will be more than happy to satisfy your demand. However, that white snow leopard and antelope is meant to be a new year's gift from Baron Norton to Princess Sylvia, so it is truly not my decision to make. As for the two winter wolves, I shall present them to you as a sign of my apology, my beautiful queen," Count Kenmays said apologetically.
The queen merely nodded before heading to Princess Sylvia and whispering something to her.
The Second Prince sat in his study with a middle-aged man standing before him.
"Did you manage to find out about it?" asked the Second Prince.
"I have, my king. That messenger said that when he met with the baron, he was leading his family soldiers and building a defense line at the plains using frozen ice walls to stop the charge of the magical beasts. The messenger reported clearly that all of the Norton Family soldiers were stationed at that defense line to the point that they couldn't afford to send even a single one of them to help out with the transport of the carcasses. That was why they messenger had no choice but to return to the dominion of the Kenmays Family to arrange for another transport convoy to complete the operation," replied the man respectfully.
The Second Prince then tapped on the table with his finger in deep thought.
"Your Majesty, the messenger also said that he had estimated that the soldiers at the defense line numbered only around 30000 people. He was quite worried that a small number of men as that would be unable to withstand the assault of the magical beasts."
"Oh, are you certain?" asked the Second Prince as a gleam shone through his eyes.
"Yes, Your Majesty. That messenger has long worked to deliver messages for the count and he is already used to the sight of their own troops of 30000 plus men training. That was why he was able to get a rough estimate of the number of soldiers of the Norton Family."
The Second Prince pondered for a while before changing the subject. "Have you seen the magical beasts at the square just now?"
"Yes, I have. The fatal wounds on the beasts' bodies were probably the cause of their deaths. That mammoth I saw seemed to have been struck by 3 ballista bolts before being attacked by infantry troops all over and collapsing with the fatal strike possibly coming from a spear thrust by a Gold ranked knight from the look of the wound on its forehead. I also noticed traces of blood at the bottom of the feet of the mammoth and that could be an indicator of the price the Norton Family paid to take down the beast.
"Those magical bulls also have sword and spear wounds on them, leading me to conclude that the Norton Family possibly does not have that many ballistas. Apart from the mammoth and a few larger magical bulls that have ballista wounds, the other magical beasts seem to have been killed with swords, pikes and axes. However, the smaller magical beasts looked like they were killed by a longbow instead," the middle-aged man expressed his detailed observations.
The Second Prince asked another question, "Have you found out where Baron Shazin obtained so much salt from?"
"Your Majesty, Baron Shazin purchased around 5 million kilograms of food from the duke's dominion during the 9th month of last year and shipped those to the Norton Family's dominion. That's why I suspect that the salt was produced in the land of the Nortons as there is a coast near the Bladedge Mountains. Also, the only parties that are selling salt are Baron Shazin and Count Kenmays. Both of them have good relations with Baron Norton and have a history of trading with their family."
The Second Prince stood up and started walking in circles in his study.
"Three years ago, the Norton Family's 40000 plus forces raided the duke's dominion and even defeated the Allied Noble Army led by Duke Loggins at Firmrock Castle in one fell swoop, thus forcing around 200000 citizens of the duke's dominion to move into their own. Ever since then, they have cast a strong presence on the tides of the Northlands...
"Ever since my arrival here, I've felt a little unsettled by the Norton Family's mysterious attitude. Not only did he decline my invitation and refuse to obey my orders, he even accepted a title from the Royal Family of the Andinaq Kingdom! That is outright treason! Even though I now command the First Legion, I still don't dare to prod the bear that is resting at a corner of the Northlands, because I'm worried that the army that I've toiled so hard to build up would end up in shambles in the aftermath of the conflict with the Raging Bear and allow others to have an opportunity to take a bite at my expense...
"On the other hand, I'm worried that if I allow the Norton Family to settle down their 200000 new citizens in peace, they would grow stronger gradually. However, today's news has made me really glad. Hahahaha..." The Second Prince started laughing out maniacally without warning.
"It seems that the Norton Family also has to deal with the magical beasts! Their 40000 plus troops three years back are only left with less than 30000 now. I wonder how many more men they will continue to lose for the rest of the winter. With the magical beasts attacking their dominion yearly like that, there is no way they will be able to settle the 200000 citizens down. That's why they have resorted to increasing their salt production to trade it for more food and even decided to sell off the precious weapons and metal armor of their family just to be able to sustain their population...
"I've never heard of a dumber dominion lord all my life. He truly is an embarrassment to us nobles. I've never understood why the Raging Bear chose to hide in a corner like a frightened turtle, but now I see that it was because they have took on a burden they couldn't sustain. Hehe, they think they can protect their dominion with only Firmrock Castle? In actuality, we don't even have to attack them up front. We can instead choose to surround them and cut them off from the outside world so that they lose access to food and sustenance. I'm sure that they will crumble after 6 months of encirclement, unless, they resort to cannibalism... Otherwise, they will be groveling before me to ask to be spared... Hahaha..."
"Your Majesty truly is wise," praised the middle-aged man.
The Second Prince continued in circles within his study before stopping entirely and said, "Have Viscount Zinderson visit the Norton Family's dominion again as my messenger to plant a spy there when the snow melts around the 15th day of the 3rd month. You will pretend to be a normal attendant and try to uncover more details about the Norton Family to see if they are truly crippled by the onslaught of the magical beasts."
"Your will is my command, Your Majesty," said the middle-aged man before he left.
On the 15th day of the 3rd month within the grand hall of Firmrock Castle, Lorist delivered his speech of gratitude to his knights and administrative officers. "During the 5th month last year, we were seated here within this exact hall when we laid out our plans for the rest of the year. However, it's only the 3rd month right now and we've gathered here once again. 'Why is that so?', some of you may ask... That's because we have already persevered through the long and grueling battle with the magical beasts and have eliminated the magical beast wave! From today onwards, we will be able to live calm and peaceful lives...
"I thank you all for your sincere efforts. As for the brave soldiers who have sacrificed themselves for this endeavor..." Lorist proceeded to bow deeply to the knights and the officers of the family, who quickly got up and returned the bow.
"Norton... Norton... Norton..." A chant started to brew within the hall.
Lorist waved both his hands downwards to gesture for the chant to quiet down for him to continue his speech. "For the past three years, we have been dealing with the magical beast wave as well as developing the dominion. During this time, we have constructed new houses, roads, and even started multiple factories. We have developed the empty wasteland from nothing into the one we see today. As your dominion lord, I feel proud for all of your achievements and the talent you all have."
The hall once again erupted with applause.
"That's why we will begin mass agricultural development in Felicitas Settlement, beginning first with building the irrigation, thus fulfilling one of the family's promises to our citizens by assigning them some farmland so that they can start their peaceful and blissful lives here with us," Lorist announced.
Reidy and Patt stepped forward and hung a huge map in the middle of the hall.
"Now, I will brief you all on the focus of the family for the coming years," Lorist said as he took a small wooden stick and walked towards the huge map.
"As everyone of you know, the Northlands is rural and isolated from hugely populated areas. Originally, there were only two routes in and out of the Northlands and a new suspension bridge at the eastern Northlands have also been built recently. Despite that, one of the routes at Metropoulos River has been sealed off by Duke Madras, preventing anyone from crossing the river there. That can be said to be our fault as the northbound convoy did indeed act a little out of hand while crossing the duchy," Lorist joked.
Quite a number of ex-convoy members within the hall laughed out loud as well.
"With the crossing point downstream blocked off, the Northlands only has two exits. However, we must be aware that both of these routes head towards the border of the Iblia Kingdom. For example, even though the Kenmays Family controls the suspension bridge at the east, they have to face the pressure of the troops of Duke Fisablen's Frontier Legion and arm themselves as a precaution.
"As for our family, we have never really placed our interests in these routes as it would take far too long to reach the central nations of the Grindia Continent by traveling on land. There are also too many variables to look out for using that mode of travel. I trust that all of you don't want another experience of traveling with a huge convoy.
"For now, we will focus our attention towards the sea. Look over here. If we are able to find a suitable place to build a port at the Bladedge Mountains, we will be able to form a trading fleet and have access to the Madras Duchy, the Andinaq Kingdom, the western part of the Redlis Kingdom, the Lormo Duchy, the Hanayabarta Kingdom as well as reach Morante City within one month of travel using a sea route. We can even reach the Relic Islands as well as many other nations that are near the coasts.
"However, we still haven't been able to locate a suitable place to build a port at Bladedge Mountains. But, that doesn't mean that there isn't one within the dominion. Look at this map here," Lorist said before he instructed Reidy to hang out a different map.
"This map details the most dangerous terrain within the family dominion: Blackmud Marsh," Lorist said.
The people within the hall gasped in unison before they began to chatter.
"Everyone, please quiet down. Perhaps some of you have heard that anyone below the Silver rank should not even enter the marsh. That is in fact true because there are savage magical beasts living within the marsh such as Ironspine Crocodiles. Only blade glows of Silver ranked fighters can injure those beasts. But, if you take a closer look at the map, you will realize why I chose Blackmud Marsh to be where we build our port."
Lorist pointed at a spot on the map with his wooden stick and said, "This here is the Azure River. It stretches from the depths of the Magical Dragon Mountains to the ocean coast and splits the marsh into two parts. The marsh on the side of our dominion is only a fourth of the whole Blackmud Marsh. And over here near the border of the marsh and Bladedge Mountains is a bay. That is the perfect place for us to build the port!
"In actuality, after doing some research on the documents archived by the family, the real Blackmud Marsh is actually on the other side of the Azure River. It is because during winter, the ice that forms on the river often blocks off the river opening to the sea, causing the overflowed river water to flow onto the bank of the Azure River on our dominion's side frequently, eventually turning that part of the dominion into part of the marsh.
"Right now, we will try to change the marsh on our side for it to serve as a home to our port. Near the river is a tortoise-shaped mound which we call Tortoise Hill. We will build a wall from Tortoise Hill all the way to Hidebull Mound to connect those two places. That way, no magical beast or barbarian will be able to pose a threat to the family.
"After that, we will build an embankment along the Azure River all the way from the Tortoise Mountain to the border of the Bladedge Mountains to prevent the Ironspine Crocodiles from attacking that wall as well as the river from overflowing. Upon completion of the embankment, the rich land around the Blackmud Marsh can be developed into rich farmland and a thriving port city..."