Even though Lorist left for three whole months and only just returned to Firmrock Castle right when Telesti was about to give birth, he had almost constantly had his guards send some gifts and love letters to her during his absence. That was why Telesti forgave Lorist for breaking his promise easily, much to Lorist's relief, as it wouldn't do her any good to receive any kind of shock just before giving birth.
When Charade entered the study and saw Lorist laughing out loud, he asked curiously, "What are you so happy about?"
Lorist waved a letter in his hand with a smile and said, "I just received news that Duke Fisablen ran back to the Eastwild Province. The letter states that ever since the duke was made the regent of the Iblia Kingdom, he had been busy arguing with the other nobles all day long and didn't have time to do other things, with several of his new policies secretly resisted by the other nobles. In the end, this Blademaster duke could no longer deal with his huge workload and eventually resigned from the position of the regent of the kingdom and left the capital, leaving only one cavalry division to guard it. Currently, the head of the Iblia Kingdom is that beautiful queen of theirs."
"That poor old guy must still don't know that this was all planned by you," Charade said as he shook his head. "When I first heard the messengers tell me that you didn't allow our family forces to raid the city's other nobles of their wealth and resources and your good treatment to the queen, I knew you were up to something. It was when you let our family's two carroballista divisions help Hennard and Felim's families sweep the rest of Winston Province clean without killing the nobles that resisted us that I confirmed my suspicions and understood that your target was Duke Fisablen himself all along."
"No, you're wrong about that. In actuality, I wasn't directing these troubles to anyone in particular. It was that old duke who made the jump into that pit of mess himself. When we mobilized the soldiers this time around, I made it really clear that we were only there for the Second Prince himself and didn't have any intentions of going against the other nobles of the Iblia Kingdom and didn't stop them from spreading the reputation of our family as bandits throughout the whole continent."
Lorist stood up before he reached for a small barrel of fruit wine and took out two silver cups. After he poured the wine, he handed Charade one cup and said, "Try it. We got this from a vineyard within the Winston Province."
Charade tasted the wine and praised its deliciousness. "This tastes rather good. Then again, Locke, I'm really confused by what you're doing. Even though you didn't take anything from the nobles in the royal capital, you still helped Baron Felim and Henard pillage most of the nobles within the Winston Province. Aren't those two actions a little contradictory?"
"Hehe..." Lorist giggled as he said, "Not at all. What you don't understand is the type of people the nobles of the Iblia Kingdom are. Initially when the Second Prince found his kingdom, he used his authority to entitle others and enfeoff them land to sell noble titles, causing most of the land within the Winston Province apart from the royal capital to be sold away and tens of new noble families to appear. That's why the Iblia Kingdom has the most landed nobles compared to the other powers nearby.
"The Second Prince relied on the funds he gained from selling titles and land to build an army to attack the Melein Duchy. But little did he know that he would proceed to suffer huge losses over the next two years, with the battles he fought turning the whole Southern Province of his kingdom into a ravaged wasteland. The nobles who had bought their titles could also foresee their stark future and had long escaped to the royal capital to protect their wealth and also to pester the Second Prince to be responsible for the damage he caused to the Southern Province.
"During the previous year, as the Second Prince wasn't able to borrow any soldiers from Duke Fisablen, he still had to give some kind of satisfying resolution to the nobles who stayed at the royal capital. That's why he decided that he would try to conquer the Madras Duchy's Delamock Province and move the dominions of the nobles within the royal capital there while trying to make a small profit for himself all the while resolving the food debt he owed Duke Madras.
"You'll understand after taking a look at this map. Given that the Delamock Province is well known to be one of the largest food producers of the former empire, do you think the land of Winston Province which is situated right next to it will be any worse? In actuality, the Second Prince lacked the power over his subordinate nobles unlike Duke Madras, and wasn't able to stop the nobles he entitled from doing whatever they wanted after they were enfeoffed their land within the Winston Province. Hence, the nobles stopped focusing on planting food because it was unprofitable and instead started up all kinds of fruit wineries and plantations. That's why after the Southern Province of the Iblia Kingdom was rendered useless, the Iblia Kingdom began to lack a good food source, with most of the food being within the hands of the nobles of Winston Province. The high price of food was solely the fault of those nobles.
"And given the high price of food, the nobles of Winston Province took the opportunity to stockpile more and more of it while trying hard at the same time to prevent other sources of food from entering the kingdom so that they could profit by maintaining the high market price of food. That naturally incited the envy and jealousy of the nobles of the ravaged Southern Province, causing much conflict to manifest between the two factions. That was also one of the main reasons why the Second Prince was so reluctant on returning to the royal capital as he couldn't be bothered to mediate between the arguing nobles.
"That's why when word of our three families attacking the Winston Province spread to the royal capital, the nobles who stayed there actually cheered for our arrival because that meant that the Winston Province nobles that they envied so much would finally be getting the short end of the stick. That is also the true intention behind my actions. Initially, I even felt that we needed to mow down the number of nobles of the Iblia Kingdom just like what you and the convoy did when you passed through the Andinaq Kingdom. Through hanging all those nobles, the state of the kingdom became far more clean and stabilized.
"However, if we do that, we would only be doing a favor to the people in power of the Iblia Kingdom. In the case of Duke Fisablen, if he manages to tidy up the four provinces of the Iblia Kingdom, his power and influence would no doubt multiply by a few times. By cleansing the Iblia Kingdom of the extra nobles, we would be making a larger enemy for ourselves instead and I definitely wouldn't do something that foolish.
"That was the reason for my explicit instructions to the Felim Family and Hennard's forces to not kill the nobles they pillaged and only take all their food and movable assets as well as their commoner subjects so that the Winston Province nobles would be on bad terms with those at the royal capital. If I raided the nobles at the royal capital, all the nobles would be united in their hatred towards us. But now that I didn't touch those nobles at the royal capital, surely they will be jumping with joy at the losses of the nobles of Winston Province.
"There's no doubt that the nobles of Winston Province hate the fact that we've moved their commoner subjects away the most. Without them, they will not be able to gather wealth and plant food. And given that the Northlands had a natural border, which is Metropoulos River, there's no way that they will be able to retaliate against us. If they want more commoners, they will have to take them from other people. But since I have moved the poor commoners away from the royal capital, those nobles won't have anyone to rally. That means that they will have no choice but to prey on the Delamock Province of the Madras Duchy which is just nearby.
"The last time the Second Prince attacked Delamock Province, the ones who funded that operation were the nobles of the Southern Province who stayed at the royal capital with the Winston Province nobles only reluctantly providing small amounts of food and few soldiers to fulfill their obligation. So naturally, if the nobles of Winston Province wish to attack Delamock Province, they will receive strong objection from the nobles of the Southern Province.
"In the past, the suggestions of the nobles of the Southern Province would frequently be met with objection from those of the Winston Province. And back then, the Southern Province nobles were unable to compete in terms of military might with the Winston Province nobles and could only endure. But right now, the two noble factions are roughly on equal standing and anything the Winston Province nobles propose will definitely be opposed by the nobles of the Southern Province. That's why when Duke Fisablen made himself the regent of the Iblia Kingdom, he realized that the division between the two noble factions caused him to be unable to get anything done, as the order to deploy soldiers couldn't be passed. It was actually rather smart of him to resign from the position of the regent and head home right away.
"If Duke Fisablen had been more ruthless, he could've killed off all the nobles who opposed his will and could possibly maintain his grasp on the kingdom and push it towards a direction he had hoped for. It's a shame that the old man didn't do so, perhaps because he lacked the courage to do so or he was too self-aware about the reputation of his family and understood that an act like that would make the Fisablen Family public enemy number one, causing him to be willing to give up just like that and head back to his own domain.
"As we are too far away from the Winston Province, it wouldn't be appropriate for us to set our sights on it, at least not before we have control of the whole of the Northlands. That's why it is my intention to cause as much chaos there as possible. With Duke Fisablen now gone, there's no one powerful enough to stifle the conflict between the two noble factions and war would surely break out. It won't take long until we see soldiers facing off against each other. By then, we only have to watch them kill each other off from the sidelines."
After Charade heard everything, his eyes were completely dazed before he said, "Locke, I didn't expect that you would change so quickly after becoming a dominion lord. Your thoughts stretch further and further away into the future and you're even able to predict things to such an extent now..."
Lorist shrugged as he said, "I had no choice. I only found out that nobles don't just organize hunting events or mess around by organizing dance parties and hooking up with other beautiful noble ladies all day long after becoming a dominion lord myself. Instead, I have to constantly worry about the affairs of my family and consider its future, the livelihood of the commoners as well as being responsible for my knights and subordinates. There is also much deceit and vested interests among the interaction with other nobles, so if I don't consider my options thoroughly, I will no doubt be taken advantaged of badly. Circumstances have forced me to change my way of thinking."
Finishing the wine in his cup, Charade wiped his mouth before he said, "Alright, stop complaining already. You've been doing a great job and the family's future is looking brighter than ever. Back to the main topic, why have you sought me out so urgently?"
Lorist pointed to a thick stack of beastskin documents that were on the table and said, "At the end of this month, the near 40000 poor commoners we moved from WIndbury City and the 70000 plus commoners from the Winston Province will arrive at our dominion and I will leave their affairs to you. Settle them down at Salus Settlement since they're lacking people over there. This new influx of commoners should satisfy the need there.
"Alongside the commoners are the 15000 prisoners of the Frontier Legion. Duke Fisablen will definitely not give up on these soldiers as the total population of the Wild Husbandry Province and the Eastwild Province numbered less than 500000. Had it not been for the refugees of the ravaged Southern Province that made their way to the duke's dominion, he wouldn't have been able to build up a full army within these few short years. This time around though, the soldiers we captured were all elite soldiers and not the 30000 who were lent to and wasted by the Second Prince years ago, so the duke will definitely pay for their ransom to get them back.
"I won't be letting the captured soldiers into the central part of the dominion, so I will leave it to you to arrange for them to work on building the roads and other infrastructure in the Salus Settlement. As it's a waste to just let the elite workforce leave like that, when the messenger of the duke comes to negotiate for their release, do your best to postpone it so that we can squeeze as much work out of them as possible."
Charade almost burst out laughing as he said, "Locke, you're getting more and more crafty for you to want to utilize the slightest bit of manpower like that... If Duke Fisablen knows about this, there's no doubt that he would cough out blood in anger. Alright, I understand your intentions well so leave it to me. I will make sure that the duke pays a handsome sum to get these soldiers of his back."
Lorist circled around his study as he stroked his chin before he said, "Duke Fisablen doesn't have that much money and his adopted son and treasured general, Viscount Kristoph, is still in my hands as well as his 15000 soldiers. I suspect that he isn't able to afford a high amount like this. That's why I've decided that I won't demand money from him but livestock instead. The Wild Husbandry Province and the Eastwild Province produce the most livestock among the other provinces of the former empire with over half of the market share in livestock controlled by them, as summarized by the records of the Morante City market research report.
"Previously when you guys killed off so many nobles of the Northlands, didn't you make lots of vacant lands? We can use those lands as our family's pastures. If we take one cow for each prisoner we have, we'll be getting at least 15000 of them already. I wonder how many cows should I charge for Viscount Kristoph's release... Definitely not less than 10000. Just place the cows we get within the western area after we get them and convert that place into the largest pasture in the Northlands."
Charade nodded and said, "So far, the only place that produces livestock within the dominion is Maplewoods Bastide with them having up to 2000 cows and sheep. Even though some commoners have begun rearing livestock within the Felicitas Settlement, most of them are sheep and they number only up to a few hundred, which is considered to be really small-scale. Had it not been for the meat we got from the extermination of the magical beast wave, the family dominion would have run out of meat a long time ago. This idea is not bad as the western area of the Northlands is not too dangerous and suitable for the livestock to graze in."
"Then it's decided. Also, our three families had taken quite a huge amount of food with us this time around and our family got a share of around 32.5 million kilograms alongside some other valuables. I have decided to use this food to stabilize the situation of Salus Settlement and I'll leave the handling of the food to you. Since Hennard and the Felim Family don't lack any food, they're willing to sell their share to us according to market price, and I've already agreed to that. I'll leave the rest to you then," Lorist added.
"Alright, I already have the gist of it," Charade said before he took the related beastskin documents on the table into his hands. "Locke, how many days is it until Telesti gives birth?"
"Perhaps within a few short days. I estimate it to be around the 11th or the 12th day of the month," Lorist said as he looked at the window outside.
"Are you going to treat her properly and accordingly?" Charade asked.
Lorist shrugged his shoulders and said, "What choice do I have? You know well that I've proposed marriage to her multiple times over but she always turns me down with the excuse that she has taken an oath of celibacy to the God of Knowledge and Wisdom, Siminglyde and will stay unmarried for life. I hope that she'll change her mind after giving birth to this child..."
"Oh, thinking back to that year when we set out from Morante City towards the Northlands... It has already been five years, huh... You're already 29 now and it's about time you formed your own family as a dominion lord. Miss Telesti is definitely a rather good fit to be your official wife, so you had better try harder to persuade her," Charade said as he sighed.
Lorist nodded and sent Charade out when he was about to leave. When he opened the door however, he saw Howard standing outside and snickered before he said, "Fatty, by the end of this year, Baron Felim will be coming over to spend the winter and his 15-year-old daughter will be coming with him..."
Stunned, Charade said, "Baron Felim? He's only 35, right? How would he have a daughter that young? And he's still not married yet, right?"
Lorist laughed out loud and said, "That's his illegitimate daughter and I heard that the child's mother was only 16 when she gave birth while Baron Felim himself was only around 18..."
"What a savage!" Charade cursed loudly, despite the envious look he had on his face. "But what does his daughter have anything to do with him coming over to spend winter?"
Lorist looked at the blushing Howard before he said, "The baron has taken a great liking to this young one and wants to bring his daughter over here for them to meet. If they get along, he'll negotiate with Potterfang about their engagement."
Charade laughed out and said, "That's a great thing, Howard! Congratulations for getting a wife even though you only accompanied milord for such a short trip! I think you should join milord on more trips in the future as well..."
Unable to resist being poked fun at by the two, Howard turned and left, leaving Lorist alone with Charade to laugh out loudly by themselves.