With the four family alliance settled, Lorist breathed a sigh of relief. After all, the Northlands was far too large; the area it covered was easily as wide as that of two duchies combined. To travel from Firmrock Castle all the way to Hendliff Suspension Bridge took at least 7 days on horseback. However, given that it was occupied by Baron Felim's forces, there was no longer a need to worry about troublesome outsiders like the Second Prince entering the Northlands without warning.
Lorist hoped that Baron Felim and Hennard would reorganize their troops and build up combat ability by routinely sending them to the Second Prince's Winston Province for some excursions to bring in more commoners to the Northlands while pillaging some nobles who didn't cooperate. The point was to cause as much turmoil as possible within the area around the Iblia Kingdom's capital to sabotage the Second Prince's chances of forming yet another army to once again threaten the peace of the Northlands.
Baron Felim and Hennard both agreed to that request right away but they also stated one of their own. As they were quite impressed by the performance of the Norton Family's soldiers, they requested Lorist to provide them with the same stainless steel armor that they thought Lorist's soldiers were using. However, they didn't know that the armor used by the Norton Family forces were actually made from an extra durable steel which was only coated in silver.
Initially, Lorist had planned to distribute some of the metal armor taken from the prisoner soldiers of the First Legion to the other two nobles. However, Baron Felim and Hennard perceived those armor as inherently inferior and believed that the low quality only provided slightly better defense than normal leather armor. Having witnessed the performance of the armor used by the Norton Family forces, they naturally didn't hold normal iron armor in high regard.
At that moment, Count Kenmays came to join the conversation and also decided to outfit his own troops with better equipment. In the past, no matter they be plate armor, scale armor or chain mail, he would be satisfied as long as they were metal armor. However, after seeing the armor of the Norton Family, he felt that his own troops were poor beggars in comparison. Putting aside other factors, just based on looks alone, the Norton Family troops looked far more imposing. Additionally, he felt that getting new sets of identical armor for his troops would improve their uniformity as well as give a slight boost to their morale.
Seeing the other three pleading nonstop, Lorist told them that Grandmaster Sid was the one who redesigned the armor for his troops. He also mentioned that while he naturally couldn't offer the armor used by his own troops for sale, he could have Grandmaster Sid design other custom-made armor sets for each of the three families which would have no less defensive capability than the armor of the Whitelion Legion.
With that, the other three revealed expressions of joy. But before saying anything else, Lorist snapped them out of their daydreams and asked them how they would be able to pay for the cost as each set of armor cost no less than 40 to 50 gold Fordes to make alone, not to say anything about profit yet.
Upon mention of funds, Baron Felim and Hennard's expressions both turned sour. Fortunately, Baron Felim had some wealth on his hands valued around 100000 gold Fordes from his successful conquest of the two bastides of other landed nobles. But Hennard was practically broke and couldn't pay out more than 20000 gold Fordes. Initially, he thought that he could raid the treasury in the duke's manor to gain quite an amount of wealth, but out of his expectations, Princess Sylvia and her Blademaster godmother was still there and had captured Knight Tabik and himself before he could start. Had it not been for Lorist's timely arrival, both of them would still be imprisoned within the manor.
By the time Princess Sylvia leaves the manor, there shouldn't be any valuables remaining within it. Hennard sighed in resignation at the depressing thought. But at that moment, Count Kenmays approached him and gave him a novel idea as his cousin-brother-in-law.
Count Kenmays said, "Right now, what do you think you can do to gain the most amount of money? The answer is, selling off military equipment. Before this, us three families bought a huge number of metal armor from the Norton Family, right? We can just resell that armor to others and use the funds we obtain from that to buy new equipment. As long as Lorist cuts us some slack and doesn't profit too much at our expense, we might even have some funds left from selling the old gear."
Upon hearing that idea, Baron Felim and Hennard turned their frowns upside down and praised Count Kenmays for his keen insight. They followed up and asked who they should sell the old equipment to.
Count Kenmays answered, "I believe the ideal person to sell them to is Duke Madras. These past few years, his forces suffered huge casualties and the Madras Duchy doesn't have any copper mines. Most of the equipment purchased by the duke is either done at a high price from the central four duchies or traded with using food. Currently, as the four central duchies are arming themselves for war, Duke Madras wouldn't be able to buy any equipment from them to refit his army. If we can get into contact with him, I believe he'll offer a good price for our equipment."
The three of them continued to discuss the matter for the rest of the day before finalizing it and handling it to the salt merchant committee since Count Kenmays was in charge of it anyway. However, since they had just split the duke's dominion, Baron Felim and Hennard had things to settle within the area, so the meeting was scheduled one month later at Firmrock Castle, during which Lorist would present the armor designed by Grandmaster Sid to the three other families.
Now that the matter was handled, Lorist intended to return, only to remember the troublesome task that awaited him. Princess Sylvia said that she wanted to return to the Wild Husbandry Province and even appointed him personally to be her escort. Even though the Second Prince's territory is on the other end of the Hendliff Suspension Bridge, can't you go back yourself? Why would you go out of your way to use the suspension bridge built by the Kenmays Family at the eastern Northlands? It seemed that Lorist would have to spend at least ten or so days to accompany the princess all the way to the territory of the Kenmays Family.
Even though Lorist had planned to drag Count Kenmays along with him on the trip with the princess, the moment the truth about Hennard's concubine being the count's cousin sister was revealed, he insisted on meeting up with her first. Coupled with the fact that he would be a little busy meeting up with his other lovers at Gildusk City, the count couldn't leave that area during the days that followed, so Lorist had no choice but to escort the princess himself.
What a useless friend, Lorist thought helplessly. Fortunately, Josk's mounted archer unit had just arrived at Gildusk City. Coupled with the guard brigade led by Els, there would be around 6000 men joining the trip. But when it came to dealing with the princess, Lorist was the only one who could handle it.
Princess Sylvia's own escort consisted of around 400 soldiers, including a fully-armed squad of mounted guards of 120 plus soldiers, split into equal halves of men and women, with most of them being Silver ranks. Combined with the princess's own Gold ranked Battle Force and her Blademaster godmother, Lorist couldn't imagine an imbecile that would dare to provoke them.
Apart from that, they had more than 80 four-wheeled carriages as well as around 300 attendants and maidservants. Given its large scale and status as a noble's convoy, it was the least Lorist could do to show respect by providing a suitable escort.
Just a while after they departed, Lorist's expression had already changed, because along the way he saw many of his own family soldiers escorting groups of poorly-dressed people who were carrying their belongings with them heading in the direction of Firmrock Castle. As Lorist could no longer withhold his curiosity, he stopped one of the squads of soldiers and asked them what was going on.
The squad leader who recognized Lorist frantically saluted before replying seriously, "Milord, these are all prisoners..."
Enraged, Lorist pointed to the elderly folk and women and shouted, "Are you blind? Who told you that these elderly people and women are prisoners? Do they look like they would be sent to the battlefield?"
The squad leader said in a panicked manner, "Milord, I didn't have a choice either. If we don't classify them as prisoners of war, the supply stations on the way won't provide us with any food to distribute to them. How else would we feed them? Additionally, they are family members of the soldiers that joined the allied noble army who have become our prisoners. These people here are worried about their captured family members and willingly followed us as prisoners to be brought back with us. Just now, they were even singing aloud happily as they traveled..."
"Ugh..." Lorist was completely speechless as the people he saw did indeed not look like they were forcefully captured. Instead, they seemed to be in high spirits. However, Lorist found something weird about the guard's statement and questioned him about it. "What's that about supply stations along the way?"
"Milord, I'm not too informed about this either. The orders from the top was for us to transport these 200 or so people to the main camp at Firmrock Castle and the supply stations that were set up along the way was there for us to rest at night and resupply," replied the squad leader.
Lorist finally understood that the supply stations were not that much different from those that were set up during the days of the convoy's travels. The reason the supply stations were set up was to facilitate the transportation of so many people, which the squad leader wasn't aware of.
After waving for the soldier to return to his duties, Lorist called for Els and said, "Els, bring some people along with you to find out why the convoy situation is repeating itself even though all we did was win a battle."
After Els left with ten or so guards, Lorist heard a clear, crisp voice asking, "Count Norton, what's going on? Where are they going? What are your family soldiers doing to those people?"
Turning his head, Lorist saw Princess Sylvia with her face veiled by her scarf, riding atop a snow-white Zeno Horse with a few mounted female guards by her side. She was observing the people who were passing them by intently.
Lorist took a deep breath and replied with a sycophantic tone, "Oh my dear revered princess, ever since the Second Prince entered the Northlands, he raised the tax rate heavily and oppressed the various landed nobles and commoners in that area, causing everyone there to be displeased. Not only that, the Second Prince even ransacked the property of the citizens to raise supplies and funding for his own army for his ambitions of conquest, further pushing the commoners into lives of poverty and suffering.
"But upon hearing that I've defeated the Second Prince, the commoners from all over the Northlands were incredibly elated and celebrated us for chasing the Second Prince out of the Northlands. But they were worried that he would one day return. Coupled with the word that our family provides free housing and farmland to newcomers into the dominion and enforcing only a low tax rate, these commoners made up their minds to follow our family forces back to the dominion in hopes that they will be able to live more peaceful and happy lives.
"Sigh, I didn't get a say in that matter given that they all came willingly. Just look at their happy faces. No matter how hard we tried to dissuade them, we weren't able to shake them off. Operating with such a benevolent policy is harder than I thought and their presence only serves to make it harder for my family forces. Not only do I have to task some soldiers to escort them along the way, I also have to feed them. What do you think, Your Highness? Does a benevolent and peace-loving noble family like us, the Norton Family, deserve any praise for our efforts?"
Reidy and Patt who were listening to Lorist's speech nearby found it incredibly hard to suppress their laughter.
Princess Sylvia on the other hand was completely shocked at what she heard. When she rode away with her horse, she said in a low voice, "Count Norton, you're truly thick-skinned, you know that? How shameless..."
However, Lorist didn't blush at all and merely snickered at that comment.
Els returned after a day had elapsed since his departure. He said, "Milord, I've met a messenger along the way."
According to the messenger, he had been sent to deliver a letter to Lorist by Knight Potterfang, Knight Charade and Knight Loze.
Lorist understood the situation after he opened the thick envelope and read the letters within.
It actually began ten days ago when the various nobles fled the battlefield with their remaining soldiers the moment they saw that there was no hope for them to overcome the waves of ballista bolts. To capture more prisoners, Fiercetiger Loze, Terman, Yuriy and the rest led all their mounted forces and gave chase. A couple of nobles who managed to retreat into the castle of a local noble family along with their shambled forces put up quite a fight for their survival, causing Fiercetiger Loze's forces to sustain tens of casualties from sheer carelessness.
Enraged, Loze called for a brigade of carroballista troops as reinforcements and after flurries of ballista fire, he managed to take over the castle and had the 7 nobles who resisted hanged. After that, he cleared out the dominions of the respective nobles and shipped everything he could find ranging from food, supplies, and money to Firmrock Castle, including even the citizens of those dominions.
Coincidentally, Charade had just arrived at the prisoner camp outside Firmrock Castle and he, Loze and Potterfang had a joint meeting. They concluded that the development of Blackmud Marsh required lots of manpower and given that most of the nobles within the Northlands had participated in the Second Prince's campaign against the Norton Family, apart from Count Kenmays, Baron Shazin and Baron Felim's families, all the other noble families were to be considered enemies of the Norton Family. Thus, they decided to wipe them out all in one go so that there would be no one remaining to cause trouble for the Norton Family in the future.
As the order Lorist gave his subordinates was to pursue the shambled enemy forces, the nobles were considered by Loze and the rest as their target so they decided to carry out their orders thoroughly by pulling the weed out at its roots. If said nobles had surrendered without resistance, their lives might've been spared and their treatment would've been left to Lorist. But those who resisted were hanged along with their family without exception. It was as if Charade, Potterfang and Loze were reliving the days when they exterminated noble families as they traveled with the convoy through the Andinaq Kingdom.
After receiving news about the three wiping out the resisting nobles and sweeping their valuables clean, Yuriy, Terman and the rest supported those actions and split their forces into four, with the leaders of each being Loze, Waxima, Yuriy and Terman respectively, all bringing around one carroballista brigade with them to raid the rest of the Northlands. They destroyed castles, burned towns and took all the resources and commoners along with them.
Lorist had stayed at Gildusk City for a total of five days and that included the two days and three nights when he was out cold while recovering from the duel with Blademaster Xanthi. Before that, he took around 5 days to travel from Firmrock Castle to Gildusk City. Within the short ten days Lorist left Firmrock Castle, the Norton Family had already cleared out the landed nobles in the surrounding area, leaving only tens of noble families within the eastern Northlands temporarily untouched. It was estimated that within another half a month, apart from the Norton, Kenmays, Shazin and Felim families, there would no longer be any other noble family within the Northlands.
What troublesome bastards! Lorist put the letters away helplessly and understood why the messenger took so long to arrive. His subordinates had twisted his order to pursue the fleeing enemy into exterminating all the other nobles in the Northlands they considered to be their enemy! That's why the three responsible, Charade, Potterfang, and Loze, intentionally delayed the news from spreading to Lorist lest they receive the order to stop. And even if Lorist pressed the matter later, the others who didn't oppose the operation would all be held jointly responsible.
The problem was that most of the nobles within the Northlands had supported the Second Prince's campaign because they didn't dare to do otherwise. Now that most of their forces had been captured as prisoners, the remnant forces that defended the dominions of those nobles were naturally unable to resist the attacks of the Norton Family forces, allowing the dominions to be pillaged clean.
Whatever, I'll handle the issue of the other Northlander nobles when I get back, Lorist thought. What truly troubled him was that the others approved the actions of Charade, Potterfang and Loze. The main factor the knights were so keen on capturing prisoners and moving more commoners to the dominion was because they weren't willing to be part of the development effort of Blackmud Marsh. In the past, Lorist used the reason that the dominion didn't have enough manpower to convince them to help out. But right now, while the dominion definitely had more than enough manpower, it might come to lack food next.
Those bastards, always causing me to worry like that, Lorist cursed in his mind.