With a stern expression, Lorist was seated within the tent and looking at the crestfallen knights of his family.
"Well, explain. Why aren't you saying anything even though all of you dared to go overboard? While having more manpower will add to our might, do we have enough to feed them all? The Felicitas Settlement has only just recently stabilized and we still need to send food there for this year as they can only begin to sustain themselves starting next year after the first harvests. I'm sure you've heard what Supervisor Spiel and Supervisor Camorra said just now. The food stash within the family dominion can only last us 8 more months at this rate.
"It's already the 12th day of the 7th month right now and there's only 4 months before the 11th month comes. And all of us will have to survive the winter for three whole months from the 12th month to the 3rd month next year. What comes after that? We'll run out of food by the 4th or 5th month. For two whole years, we've spent so much resources and funds to develop Felicitas Settlement and our future seemed so bright that I thought we could even relax for a bit. But you lot on the other hand gave the family another huge burden!"
Lorist was incredibly troubled as he had much to worry about. The Northlands had a total population of around 800000 people. During the pillaging of the duke's dominion, they moved another 300000 people. This time around, the family knights had swept clean all of the dominions of other noble families within the Northlands apart from those of the Kenmays, Shazin and Felim families and brought in another 280000 people into the dominion. Right now, apart from the original 200000 plus people within the dominion and the 800000 people that the Second Prince brought to the duke's dominion for the past two years, almost the whole of the population of the Northlands had been gathered up.
"I bet you thought that you could gain a lot of food from the dominions of those other noble families, didn't you? You all know how that plan turned out. The Second Prince has already sucked the whole of the Northlands dry. And do you know how much the nobles taxed their citizens during the reign of the Second Prince? 70 percent! 50 percent of that alone would go to the Second Prince. The commoners only had the bare minimum of food to survive. Otherwise, why would they be so willing to follow our soldiers back to the dominion as prisoners of war? The food we brought along with us was akin to something that they hadn't even had the chance to taste for a year or so. They also got to eat until they were full..."
Lorist laughed bitterly and thought back at the supply stations he passed by when he escorted the princess to the Wild Husbandry Province. During mealtime, the supply stations would be really crowded with elated commoners that were traveling to the Norton Family dominion. It was like they were holding a large banquet. When Lorist went to check out what was going on, he found that the magical beast meat porridge was a delicacy that those commoners didn't get to eat usually. Not only that, the porridge was cooked with salt, a rare commodity for commoners, and they also each received a piece of thick black bread.
If the commoners remained under the rule of their original lords, this season would be when they conducted the yearly potato harvest. Even though more than half of the crop was going to be taken away by the nobles, they would still be able to survive on some wild vegetation through the cold season in time for the winter harvests.
But the Norton Family forces arrived and captured their ruling noble, ransacked the castle, and forced all the commoners to leave with them. While some of them were unwilling in the beginning, upon hearing mentions of free housing and farmland, not to mention the relatively low tax rate, everyone was eventually convinced. And when the commoners saw the soldiers cook their porridges with thick slices of dried magical beast meat, they all scrambled for their share and happily accepted the status as a prisoner of war.
If Lorist had enough food, there would be absolutely no reason for worry. Without the 280000 commoners, even if they were to gain an extra 60000 prisoners, the family's food stocks could sustain the population of the dominion for up to 15 months. Even if some natural disaster were to happen, they would still be able to fare well. But with the extra 280000 mouths to feed, the supervisors estimate that their available food stash could only last another 8 months. Even if the year end potato harvests at Felicitas Settlement were to be taken into account, that would at most buy them another three months.
Settling down the 280000 commoners by allocating housing and farmland to them would also take up to two years at the very least. During that time, they will be dependent on the Norton Family for food. Add to the fact that a lot of manpower was required to develop Blackmud Marsh, those commoners would not be able to produce food for the next few years. For the next three years at the very least, the commoners were nothing but a burden to the family.
Taking a deep breath, Lorist looked at his knights with a stiff gaze and said, "What's wrong? Have you all turned mute? Where would we get food to feed all those people?"
Charade said with a hint of sobbing, "Milord, it's our fault. We've committed a mistake... Please punish us however you see fit..."
"Hand me the map of the family dominion as well as the map of the lands originally belonging to Count Spenseid," Lorist instructed Reidy.
"How many prisoners did you manage to capture this time?" Lorist asked.
"There are a total of 63248 people. Every soldier of the allied noble army that isn't dead has been captured by us. The First Legion of the Second Prince sustained around 11000 casualties with 8000 dead and around 3000 injured. We've already given them treatment and they can begin working after they recover within a few months," Charade said. While feeling awfully repentant, he still had a good grasp of the statistics.
It was no exaggeration that the allied noble army of the Northlands numbered around 100000 soldiers. However, after they had been completely defeated, not a single managed to escape capture. Even their base was wiped clean completely.
"How many of those nobles are still alive?" Lorist asked.
"47 of them. There were 20 who resisted and were hanged by us," Charade said in a low voice.
"Sigh..." Lorist thought deeply in silence before saying, "Supervisor Camorra, you will bring Tarkel with you to deal with these nobles and hang those who don't behave well. Send the nobles entitled by the Second Prince out of the border. As for the original nobles of the Northlands, treat them the same we do the Spenseid Family and give them a yearly pension. As their castles have been destroyed by us and their commoners moved to our domain, sending them back would be equal to sending them to their deaths. We can only postpone the assignment of new dominions to them for the future."
"Yes, milord," said Camorra.
Reidy came back with the maps and laid them up on the table.
"Since the three of you were the main cause of the trouble, you will be in charge of fixing it. Knight Potterfang, lead three heavy-armored infantry brigades to escort the prisoners to Blackmud Marsh to begin their work term. Remember two things. First, the defensive walls and entrenchments from Tortoise Hill to Hidebull Mound must be completed before the 11th month. Just use the dirt dug out for the entrenchments as material for the defensive walls and pour water over them during the winter to freeze them up. I don't want to mess around with the magical beasts again during winter this year, so we'll bar what remains of the magical beast wave outside the walls.
"Second, the construction of roads at Blackmud Marsh can be slowed down for now. I will have the carroballista division cooperate with you to eliminate those Ironspine Crocodiles. However, the construction of the roads near the coast have to be sped up so that we can have a pathway to the highland hills soon. I hope that we can begin searching for a suitable place near the coast to build a shipyard, understood?" Lorist said as he tapped the map with his finger.
Potterfang straightened his body as he said, "Yes, milord. I will definitely fulfill your two demands."
"Don't agree to them so quickly before hearing the whole thing. The width of the wall I mentioned just now must be increased until we can at least fit two rows of chariots lined side by side," Lorist said. As two rows of chariots occupied up to 5 meters of width, the workload of the construction of the wall would be almost doubled.
Stunned, Potterfang asked, "Milord, why do we need it to be wide enough for two rows?"
"The distance between Tortoise Hill and Hidebull Mound is more than 10 kilometers. Are you going to have our family soldiers run that distance every single day? We must make it so that it is wide enough for two rows of chariots so that during emergencies we can mobilize the carroballista division to defend ourselves, understood?"
"Yes, milord," said Potterfang as he lowered his head in embarrassment.
"Knight Charade, you will have a lot on your hands to do. First, the distribution of farmland to the citizens of Felicitas Settlement must be completed by the end of this year. Don't forget to get the planting going as the land is being distributed. There is still enough time from now to the 11th month to plant some potatoes. We must definitely make use of as much planting area as we can as food is of critical importance right now. After harvesting the potatoes, you have to have the citizens there begin the planting for the winter wheat and tell them that magical beasts will no longer come this winter so that they won't have to worry about their crops being ruined and can plant without worries. Next year, the family will only collect 10 percent of their harvest, so the more they plant. the more they have remaining for themselves."
"I understand, milord. I will definitely do it well," Charade said.
"You can leave small matters like these to Butler Boris. What you have to focus on is not that," Lorist said, before he pointed to the commoner camp outside the tent. "You will be forming a labor team of youths from the 200000 plus commoners that have just arrived to begin building a town at Poplar Coast. I want to use the town there as a supply center to facilitate the development of Blackmud Marsh. So, transport the related development resources there.
"Additionally, we also have to prioritize the construction of the rear city at Firmrock Castle. Both the defensive facilities as well as the residential areas must be completed before the end of next year to spare me from seeing half-completed rubble all day. After these two projects are complete, you can prepare the construction of the Firmrock frontal city.
"Lastly, come over to take a look at the dominion formerly belonging to Count Spenseid. Loze, you come over here too," Lorist said as he tapped on the map on the table.
Both of them walked towards the table obediently.
"The land encompassing the dominion of Count Spenseid as well as several other nobles around the area is one of the rare places within the Northlands which is rich with aquatic plants. There are also 8 lakes in total, with three of them being larger ones, which are extremely suited for reclamation for agricultural production. I have decided to call this place Salus Settlement and from today onwards, that land belongs to the Norton Family.
"Salus Settlement can be divided into eight sectors similar to Felicitas Settlement. Knight Charade, you will be responsible for settling the 200000 plus commoners there. I will have Supervisor Kedan assist you with arranging for their residence as well as making a registry of their households. Supervisor Spiel will be in charge of the distribution of food while Supervisor Hansk will aid you with surveying and planning. I need the place to be managed like the towns of the seven sectors of Felicitas Settlement.
"But, after you divide the Salus Settlement into eight sectors, only focus the developmental efforts on three or four sectors first. The remaining ones shall be developed when we have a bigger population. Make sure to take the soonest opportunity to have the commoners plant potatoes on the reclaimed farmland. It's always better to have some extra food. As for Loze, all three brigades of your pike cavalrymen will be stationed at Salus Settlement and be responsible for the security of the area," Lorist explained. He had spent much of his recent time in coming up with the plan to handle the extra citizens.
"Milord, why don't you just move the commoners into the dominion? Look, along this path from Firmrock Castle to Maplewoods Bastide, the Felicitas Settlement on the left that is near the Bladedge Mountains has already began developing. On the right side, we have the Black Forests and that land is even wider than the Felicitas Settlement. It would definitely be able to house more people than Felicitas Settlement," Charade said.
Lorist shook his head and said, "We still haven't ascertained the safety of that area. I don't plan to develop that piece of wasteland just yet. While we could still use it for husbandry, forget building towns and reclaiming farmland for now. Do you remember that three years ago, our supply convoy transporting resources from Maplewoods Bastide to Firmrock Castle was attacked by barbarians near that area? Fortunately, Josk was there and used his divine archery skills to kill more than 30 barbarian soldiers in one go, sending the rest scurrying back into the Black Forests in fear.
"Until we deal with the mountain barbarians, it's better to leave that wasteland untouched for now. If they show up there and are discovered by us, we will use our forces to eliminate them. But if we start developing the area and the barbarians attack during that time, the laborers will sustain quite a lot of casualties. At that time, we will have to divert more military force to ensure the safety of the developers and stretch ourselves thin, so it is far from ideal.
"Now that only the four allied families remain within the Northlands, we are relatively safe from outside threats and don't have to rely as much on the defense of Firmrock Castle to ensure the safety of our dominion. As long as we can build reasonably good defense infrastructure at the towns and villages of the Salus Settlement like those of Felicitas Settlement, even if enemies invade us, the garrison there will be able to withstand the first wave of attacks. After that, our family forces will go to reinforce them and wipe the enemy out.
"That's why, the development of Salus Settlement is one of our top priorities. The invasion of Duke Loggins and the Second Prince have boosted the reputation of us, the Family of the Raging Bear, and it's about time we stretched out our claws towards more territory lest we be regarded as turtles who only know how to hide within our comfort zone. Do you guys understand now?"
"Understood, milord," replied the knights within the tent in unison.
"Also, there are two other things. The first is to make sure some plot of land is set for the construction of a bastide in each of the eight sectors of Salus Settlement. That will be left to Knight Charade," Lorist said.
"Milord, what is that for?" Charade asked curiously. He wondered why there would be a need for a bastide when there was already a central town in each sector where soldiers could be stationed.
Lorist laughed and said, "The family already has 6 Gold ranked knights. According to tradition, each one of them should already be given their own bastide. I've been delaying that right of theirs for the past two years as there were too many matters in the family that had to be settled first. Now that the time is right, it's about time they be given their own manorial estate bastides. The construction of two of those manor bastides is due to Terman and Yuriy's quick progress in training during the recent years. Since they left the academy a few years ago, they've already trained to the peak of the Silver rank from the Three Star Silver rank. Within two or three years, I believe that they'll be able to break through to the Gold rank. At that time, we should have those manors ready for them.
"Knight Charade, you also have to train harder and not fall behind. Also, Dulles, don't be so smitten by the might of the carroballistas. You should not neglect your training as it is also quite important as well. If you're able to reach the Gold rank, then you'll definitely have your own manor as well. I can even help you form another carroballista division which you will be the commander of."
"Really?" said Dulles excitedly.
"I won't lie to you," Lorist said as he nodded.
"Alright, then I'll begin training hard tonight when I get back," Dulles said as he patted his chest, causing everyone present to laugh out loud.
When the laughter died down, Lorist's expression turned serious again when he said, "Yuriy, I heard that you were the most enthusiastic one during the pillaging of the other nobles. This second matter will be handed to you. During the 8th month, Old Man Balk will be bringing the woodworking masters to the Black Forests to look for suitable wood. You shall lead your cavalry troops to serve as their escort and make sure that not one of them get injured, understood?"
"Yes, milord. Just like you said, these masters are all valued talents of the family. I will definitely give it my all to ensure their safety. If I knew that beforehand, I would've picked up woodworking myself in the past," said Yuriy, whose voice gradually lowered as he continued.
"It's not too late if you start now, you know. I can give you two years of vacation for that and when you come back, you will become the first knight carpenter of the family. When we go to war in the future, I will make sure to send a group of soldiers to protect you too," said Lorist, who had heard what Yuriy muttered.
"Milord, there's no need for that. Otherwise, I think you'll ask me to carry a saw instead of a sword into battle..." Yuriy responded with a bitter look.
The people within the tent broke into another bout of laughter.