Lorist wasn't aware at all that the Second Prince had made his decision to deploy his troops against the Norton Family; in fact, the reason he believed that the Second Prince was crazy in making his ludicrous demands known was because he felt that there was no way that the Second Prince would willingly engage in a full-on conflict against him and believed that the Second Prince's letter was merely an empty threat. Lorist thought that the word 'insane' wouldn't even be able to aptly capture the essence of the Second Prince's mania.
Had it not been for the fact that most of the elite troops of the Norton Family were occupied with developing Blackmud Marsh, Lorist would've taken the initiative and mobilized his troops to teach the Second Prince a lesson himself. However, seeing that the Second Prince had nothing else to say in his letter, Lorist didn't take it seriously and even confidently wrote his insulting reply in hopes that the figurative slap on the face his letter represented would wake the Second Prince out from his pipe dream.
At that moment, Lorist was standing atop a huge wooden 'tank', which was what Lorist called this new carroballista devised by Grandmaster Fellin to satisfy Lorist's request. Apart from its size that is easily three times that of the normal steel ballistas, the 3.6-meter-long, cone-tipped, armor-piercing bolts it used were far heavier than the riding lances used by Terman's knights.
For the convenient installation of the humongous ballista, Grandmaster Fellin also had some experienced master carpenters fashion a large flat cart for ease of transportation. When Lorist first saw the 5 pairs of wooden wheels beneath the cart, he immediately named the 7-meter-long contraption a tank.
It's a shame that the tank wasn't able to move by itself. Given its size, it also took 15 days, a staggeringly long time, to be transported from the ballista workshop at Bladedge Mountains all the way to the Blackmud Marsh with the aid of ten huge work horses. After that, the tank's wheels got caught in a pothole at the marsh, causing Lorist to have to gather 50 family knights and tens of horses to spend half a day hauling it out of the pothole.
"There wasn't any other choice. Due to the incredible recoil generated by the firing of this ballista, normal carts would easily be torn apart from the recoil. That's why this platform cart is not hollow and weighs around 2500 kilograms," Grandmaster Fellin explained in a slightly embarrassed tone.
"Grandmaster Fellin, what you've made is nothing short of a road roller! Didn't you notice that the paths this carroballista traveled through have all been flattened nicely?" Lorist joked. "Tell me more about the might of this ballista."
After that debacle, Lorist still felt that it was better to just call it a carroballista. Even though it did have five sets of wheels, the lack of autonomous mobility is a huge disadvantage.
"The main problem we're facing now still comes from the custom made ballista bolts. Bolts as long as those are a little too heavy and the weight will severely impact the accuracy of the ballista. Despite that, the force of the bolt is indeed increased and it has a firing range of around 500 meters. I can assure you that even a crocodile of 20 meters in length will be killed if hit by a single bolt," Grandmaster Fellin praised his creation confidently.
"Ironspine Crocodile! Careful, they're here! Three of them from the left! There's a huge one and two smaller ones! Carroballista units, prepare to engage!" shouted one of the scouting soldiers at the front. Reports like these were already a common occurrence since two months back, so everyone returned to their usual jobs without bothering with the presence of the magical beasts as they were confident that the carroballista units would protect them well.
Of the three components of the development project drafted by Lorist, the first one which involved the construction of a wall from Hidebull Mound to Tortoise Hill so far hasn't encountered with any troubles with Ironspine Crocodiles. The other component involved filling out tens of meters of the marsh to connect the marsh to the highland hills where the port is near. Given that rocks and earth were constantly rolled down the Mountains, the Ironspine Crocodiles naturally didn't interfere. Additionally, the crocodiles showed little to no interest with the sea and usually wouldn't approach its vicinity, so there was no need to worry about the safety of workers there.
So only the central component of the plan, which was constructing a road from the Blackmud Marsh all the way to the highland hills, was under constant threat of Ironspine Crocodile attacks. There, the carroballista division has already eliminated over 200 of those magical beasts.
Lorist jumped down from the gigantic carroballista and ran forward to take a look. A little over a hundred meters into the marsh, three faint ripples in the mud could be seen approaching. Based on the displacement of the mud, Lorist estimated that the two crocodiles on the left and right are not that big, being only around the 4 meter range. The crocodile in the middle however was slightly larger at around 7 meters. Wonderful, just right on time for us to test this gigantic carroballista out.
"Stand back and move the carroballistas to the side of the gigantic carroballista and lure the crocodiles over here. I'll leave the small ones to you. The big one will be our test subject of this gigantic ballista's might," Lorist instructed.
Lorist had no choice but to order for the other carroballistas to be moved as the gigantic carroballista truly took too long to mobilize. Luring the crocodiles in the direction of the gigantic carroballista would be much faster.
The soldiers manning the five smaller carroballistas happily complied to their orders. To ensure that the ballista bolt was forceful enough to kill the crocodiles, the soldiers usually waited for the crocodiles to be within 5 to 10 meters before firing away. That way, the collection of the crocodile carcasses would also be much easier as the carcasses would slowly sink back into the mud given enough time. However, that method was not without its shortcomings: the larger crocodiles would pose a real threat to the carroballistas. With their much thicker hide, they could still attack with full vigor even after being pierced by a couple of 2-meter-long bolts. They could only be stopped if a bolt pierced them squarely in the head.
At that moment, every one of those soldiers was looking forward to witnessing the might of the huge carroballista and quickly moved beside it and waited.
After the three Ironspine Crocodiles got onto land, their travel speed was significantly slowed by the uneven terrain. Given that they were far less agile on land than in the muddy waters, that made them easier targets to aim at.
Twang! A thunderous sound rang out followed by the unnerving hum of the vibrating ballista string as Lorist saw the ballista bolt silhouette whoosh past his side from the corner of his eye, nailing the forwardmost, 7-meter-long crocodile onto the ground. The crocodile struggled for a few breaths before ceasing to move entirely.
"Great!" Lorist roared excitedly. WIth a super ballista like that, they wouldn't even have to fear crocodiles that were over 5 meters tall!
Just as he was about to turn around and praise the grandmaster, the sight before him shocked him quite a bit.
The soldier who had aimed and fired the ballista was shivering nonstop as the other two assistants by his side gave him massages to his upper body muscles.
"What's up with him?" Lorist asked.
"Milord, this is also one of the weaknesses of the gigantic ballista. One person can only fire it once. Due to the vibration of the steel fiber wire, every archer who fires it will become like that and will have to rest for more than half an hour before being able to recover. Additionally, the archer should not attempt to fire this ballista another time to make sure he doesn't suffer from long term injuries. However, you don't need to worry about this as we have over 10 archers trained to operate this ballista to take one another's place," Grandmaster Fellin explained.
Lorist inspected the ballista closely again and noticed that the steel ballista mounted on the wooden platform was slightly different from the normal ones. Even though the ballista was only mounted with one support pedestal, it was three times as thick as that of the normal ballistas. At the top of the pedestal was a large steel sphere bearing which was clipped nicely into a semi-spherical hole at the bottom of the ballista itself which allowed for ease of movement across multiple axes for aiming. However, the archer had to use his shoulder to prop up the ballista from the rear end to aim before firing. It was no wonder the archer would be that severely affected by the recoil of the ballista.
Lorist breathed a huge sigh and thought that it was probably a mistake to have Grandmaster Fellin to come out with the huge modified ballista. Recalling that the assignment he gave him on researching a new type of bow that could be fired from horseback wasn't progressing well, Lorist concluded that Grandmaster Fellin was not a creative or innovative person.
Even though Lorist had asked for a larger ballista to be built, Grandmaster Fellin merely used the exact same design and enlarged it threefold without thinking about possible optimizations he could've made with some tweaks to the design. What irked Lorist most was the fact that the scale of the enlargement of the design was so perfectly done that he didn't know whether he should praise the grandmaster for his close attention to detail or not.
Oh well, I guess I can't do much about the archers only being able to fire one shot per day. After all, we have a division of soldiers at our disposal. At most, we'll just have to get them to line up for their turn to fire the ballista. I'm sure that we'll eventually wipe the Ironspine Crocodiles out.
"Grandmaster Fellin, I'm rather satisfied with what this super ballista can do. So, manufacture two more of these. I believe that with 3 of these at our disposal, the family soldiers will no longer be under threat from the magical beasts during the development project," Lorist said.
"Understood, milord. We will definitely build the other two ballistas as soon as possible and have them delivered here to the marsh." Grandmaster Fellin on the other hand was quite elated that he had gained Lorist's approval and instantly agreed to the request.
At the end of the 5th month, Ovidis, who was the current commander of the first local defense brigade, sent Lorist an arrow letter.
According to the messenger, the arrow letter was sent by a knight who had appeared before Firmrock Castle yesterday afternoon. The letter was tied to an arrow which was shot up by the knight to the walls of the castle. After seeing the knight leave, Ovidis noticed the letter tied onto it and saw that it was addressed to 'Baron Norton', before he immediately sent the messenger along with a squad of men to Lorist right away.
A 'Z' shaped insignia could be seen on the letter. Thinking that it seemed rather familiar, Lorist recalled that it was the insignia of Knight Hennard's family, the Shazin Family. Upon opening the letter, Lorist was enraged. Even though he hadn't went seeking trouble with the Second Prince, the latter had already began to make his move.
Knight Hennard's message was simple: he stated that when he attended the Northlands noble gathering at Gildusk City, the Second Prince declared that he would launch a military campaign against the Norton Family with the reason being the disrespect they have shown for the Iblia Royal Family and their refusal to heed the orders of the Second Prince by not paying a yearly tribute to him as well as their acceptance of the entitlement by the Andinaq Royal Family. 'Because of that treasonous act', Hennard quoted, the Second Prince decided that he would deploy his forces to mete out punishment.
Knight Hennard also added that he had already been imprisoned by the Second Prince and was forced to provide 10000 soldiers in the battle against the Nortons and that this letter was written by him in secret and sent back to his family along with the order to deploy the soldiers so that it could be relayed to Firmrock Castle after that. He also said that he would do his best to delay the proceedings and estimated that with the hesitance of the other nobles of the Northlands, the Second Prince would not march to Firmrock Castle with his troops before the 20th day of the 6th month and hoped that his timely warning would give Lorist enough time to make his preparations. Additionally, he mentioned that Count Kenmays has also been imprisoned and forced to contribute to the campaign as well.
Sol! Can't you let me farm in peace? Even though I have completely no interest in playing the game of war and domination with other nobles and only want to develop my dominion, why does trouble always come my way? Do they really think that the Norton Family is that easy to bully? It seems that the lesson I taught Duke Loggins wasn't impressionable enough. This time around, I better make an example out of the Second Prince. Let's see if anyone will dare to wake the Raging Bear that is the Norton Family after this incident...
"Pass my orders down. From today onwards, all development work at Blackmud Marsh will be put at a halt. Have all the knights assemble here as soon as possible. I want to host an emergency meeting," Lorist instructed the guard nearby, quickly sending more messengers to rush to deliver the message as soon as possible.
During the night, a small tent was filled to the brim with tens of Norton Family knights with many of them still covered in dirt and grime. Every one of them was curious why Lorist had called for a meeting on such short notice and wondered what was going on.
Reidy pushed the tent entrance open and Lorist marched into it with a solemn expression.
"Greetings to our lord!" Potterfang announced. All the knights within the tent stood up straight and saluted.
Lorist nodded and said, "There's no need for pleasantries. Take a seat. Today, I have gathered you here to tell you of some bad news. The Second Prince has gone insane and wrote me a letter that demanded me to pledge allegiance to him and also for our family to pay 500000 gold Fordes to him as well as supply him with 5 million kilograms of salt yearly without cost. Naturally, I have rejected all of them. Now, he has issued a call to arms to the other nobles of the Northlands to launch a campaign against our family and they will bring their soldiers to Firmrock Castle soon."
The people within the tent instantly broke into loud chatters. What surprised Lorist was that everyone seemed to look rather excited. He really didn't understand why they were so happy even though they were going to war.
"Locke, your plan truly is amazing. You had us fake the wounds on the magical beast carcasses before and now, idiots have come to our door knocking," Els said happily.
Lorist grimaced the moment he heard that. He had asked had the sword and spear wounds on the beasts to be faked back then because he didn't want outsiders to know that the family had such advanced steel ballistas. After all, Lorist understood the principle of not showing all your trump cards to your opponent. The other reason was that Lorist wanted to show the outside world the might of the Norton Family forces that could crush even those ferocious magical beasts with only the sword and spear.
Contrary to Lorist's expectations, however, the Second Prince had interpreted that as a sign that the Norton Family lost a lot of soldiers as a result from the battles with the magical beasts, which was the deciding factor for his declaration of war against the Norton Family. Had Lorist known about that, he would definitely sigh in regret that his smarts had brought another needless conflict to his dominion.
"Milord, please don't worry. Given the might of our family forces, it is a given that we will defeat the allied army of the Second Prince and the nobles of the Northlands. In fact, not only do we have to defeat them, we have to catch as many prisoners as we can," Potterfang said, representing the other knights by expressing their dedication and determination to win the upcoming battles.
"Catch more prisoners? Prisoners take food to sustain, you know!" Lorist rebuked jokingly even though he didn't mind the idea. It was a good thing for them to be confident in their victory. What worried him was their battle lust, which was a little too high for his tastes. For them to all look so happy despite hearing about an inevitable battle ahead, how weird... Why didn't I get this vibe from them on usual days?
"While it's great that you're all confident in our victory, we still shouldn't be careless. I know that our forces are incredibly mighty and we must take this opportunity to teach the Second Prince and the other nobles a lesson they'll never forget to quench their thirst for the riches of our family dominion. However, the variables on the battlefield can change at any moment, so we must still take the necessary precautions lest we suffer any unnecessary losses at the brink of victory. I hope you all will heed my caution well," Lorist reminded.
"Since the enemy is almost here, we must make our preparations as well. I have ordered the work at Blackmud Marsh to be halted for now. Have the garrison soldiers return to their respective posts within the dominion within the next five days and make sure they're ready to mobilize at a moment's notice. As for the formal soldiers of the family, have them gather at Firmrock Castle to make preparations. The new recruits who have been training for two months or longer shall be enlisted into their respective units as soon as possible and make sure they are ready for battle and familiar with the new command structure," Lorist instructed.