"Milord, I think that the deal you made with Fisablen Family was a really irrational act on your part. From a strategic point of view, this is basically akin to strengthening one's enemy..." Howard who had been bothered by the deal for two whole days could no longer hold back and took the chance during tea time to tell Lorist his thoughts.
Lorist calmly popped a honeyed scone into his mouth before he washed it down with some tea and looked at Howard with a smile.
Howard blushed after Lorist stared at him without saying anything. When he got fed up, he said, "Master, please tell me why you agreed to the deal with the Fisablen Family. Everyone else is saying that it's because you have been beguiled by Princess Sylvia..."
Lorist hurriedly turned behind to take a look and was relieved to find that Telesti was still sitting on the grassy ground nearby with her newborn child along with Little Vinny. Even though Telesti's young maidservant had already grown into a fine young lady, not a trace of her childish and playful personality disappeared as was evident from her continuous toying with the baby's legs. Neither of them heard what Howard had just said.
"Come over here, you brat," Lorist said with a solemn look as he stretched his hand to ruffle Howard's hair into a bird's nest shape. "Looks like you've grown and are able to consider things from a strategic perspective already... Not bad... Alright, sit down right here. It's time to give you a lecture.
"Howard, answer this question of mine first. What is Duke Fisablen and the Frontier Legion to you?" Lorist asked.
Howard gave it some thought before he replied, "Master, even though Duke Fisablen and his Frontier Legion hasn't clashed with us directly so far, no matter what, they're still a potential threat to our family. If we want to attack the Iblia Kingdom in the future, they will become our enemy. Many other people are of the same opinion as I am."
"The Iblia Kingdom? Hehe, Howard, you should set your sights further. Don't just look at things that are right in front of you. In my eyes, I have never took Duke Fisablen and the Frontier Legion seriously as I think that they're not fit to even be considered our enemy," Lorist said arrogantly.
"Master, why do you think so? Duke Fisablen's Frontier Legion has up to 78000 elite soldiers and that number can definitely rival the forces of our family. And after the armament deal with them is carried out, their military might will only increase! You can definitely not be too careless!" Howard advised.
"Hehe..." Lorist snickered and said, "Howard, tell me what you think about Duke Fisablen's abandonment of the position of the regent of the Iblia Kingdom and his return to his lair at Eastwild Province."
"That's because of the plot you laid against him, master. Currently, the Iblia Kingdom is in a really deep mess and there's nothing the duke can do about it, so he has no choice but to give up on it," Howard said after he recalled the details about the situation.
Lorist shook his head and said, "You're wrong about that, Howard. No matter how good a plan or plot is, it would be nothing but a parlor trick in the face of true power and might. Actually, if the duke was ruthless enough, he could've cleansed the nobles that opposed him and gathered up the ones in favor of him to build up support for himself. He definitely has the capability to do so. As long as he can restore order to the kingdom and restart productivity, the Iblia Kingdom will no doubt be able to regain its vitality within five years, and not remain in its current chaotic state as a dying nation.
"But Duke Fisablen gave up on that notion because that was a path of no return. Either he succeeds in his effort or the Fisablen Family dies in vain for it. That's why he was afraid of doing so and was willing to abandon the kingdom so that he could be assured that his family would be able to continue on. As long as he has the Frontier Legion, no matter who it is, one would still have to treat the Fisablen Family with respect. Even if the duke himself was no longer present, the Fisablen Family would still be able to exist and survive based on the Frontier Legion alone.
"From that point, it can be seen that Duke Fisablen had long lost his ambitions. Even though the founding of the Iblia Kingdom was only possible with his support, the kingdom is already pushed to its limit. And Duke Fisablen understands well that his departure would signify that he has abandoned all attempt at saving the Iblia Kingdom.
"Let's look back at the Frontier Legion. Back then, the reason it was formed was to resist the attacks of the grassland barbarians of the northeastern plains. But nobody expected that when Duke Fisablen took command of the legion, its might would increase that quickly. Not only was it able to suppress the grassland barbarians, it was even able to expand the territory of the empire by conquering a whole province at the border. That's why the biggest enemy for the Frontier Legion is still the grassland barbarians of the northeastern plains.
"And while the Frontier Legion does indeed boast a number of 78000 men, half of the soldiers from the legion are actually required to defend against the attacks of the grassland barbarians. In the past, Duke Fisablen only needed three to four cavalry divisions from the legion to suppress his opponents within the Iblia Kingdom. However, ever since our family exterminated the Second Prince's force of 100000, the duke understands that it would be incredibly hard for him to take us four families of the Northlands on with the soldiers he has on hand.
"The act of ordering 100000 sets of equipment from our family with Princess Sylvia being their representative is akin to the Fisablen Family presenting an olive branch to us, signifying that they have no intention of being our enemy as well as to test whether our family really has the might to oppose them. By agreeing to this deal, we have expressed that we don't intend to treat the Fisablen Family as our enemy as well as making a subtle statement that our family doesn't mind the fact that the Frontier Legion's strength would increase from their purchase of our military equipment.
"Many people within our family are worried that the 100000 sets of equipment would greatly increase the strength of the Frontier Legion and think that selling the equipment to them is like making trouble for ourselves. Actually, they are so afraid because they've heard of Duke Fisablen's fearsome reputation as the war god of the plains. Howard, let me ask you, if our family's forces faces off against the whole of the Frontier Legion right now, do you think we would lose?"
"That's impossible. Given the might of our forces, the Frontier Legion has absolutely no chance of success at all. Whether it be the quality of the soldiers or equipment, our forces far surpass the Frontier Legion in those regards," Howard said confidently.
"Then, do you think the Frontier Legion will be able to fight on equal grounds with us or perhaps even defeat us if they're armed with the equipment we sell them?" Lorist asked again.
Howard stayed silent as he pondered upon the possibility before he finally shook his head and said, "They still don't have much odds of success even if that was the case. Our family forces' logistics support is still far superior to the Frontier Legion's. Even if we don't use any tactics whatsoever and fight them by the book, while they might win a number of battles using specific strategies and tactics, they'll still be defeated in the long run. But milord, even if that were the case, our family forces would suffer huge casualties as well, and that's why I think it's bad for us to strengthen the enemy like that..."
Lorist nodded and said, "Howard, you really are quite thorough in your considerations and I'm incredibly glad that you are able to do so. But you have to remember one important thing. As a general or commander, when you set foot on the battlefield, you have to consider your subordinates and soldiers as a mere number and be able to make calm observations about the state of battle at all times. You can definitely not allow anger or sympathy cloud your mind. Naturally, you have to think well about how to defeat the enemy while minimizing casualties to your own forces as well. But you must never forget your original goal just because you are suffering more casualties than expected, because if you don't obtain victory, all the casualties you incur would have been in vain. Only by securing your victory can the sacrifice be justified.
"What you said just now makes a lot of sense and the 100000 sets of equipment will indeed increase the might of the Frontier Legion. But you and the others who worry have forgotten the most important thing. This is a trade and you must consider the price the Fisablen Family and the Frontier Legion must pay to fulfill their end of the bargain. To our family, the 100000 sets of equipment is only 1 year's worth of production. But we are able to get up to 2 million cows and sheep from it.
"Livestock of that number is almost equal to two magical beast waves, each with more than one million beasts. That's definitely not a price the Fisablen Family can afford to pay since the Eastwild Province and the Wild Husbandry Province, the two largest livestock-producing provinces, only has a yearly output of 500000 cows and sheep. They definitely can't give us all the livestock they produce since they have to rely on them to trade for food, mounts, salt and other necessities for daily life. On the other hand, our agreement stipulates that they have to provide us with 400000 cows and sheep yearly for five years while we only have to give them two Frontier Legion divisions' worth of equipment per year, which goes up to 20000 sets yearly.
"That's why the Fisablen Family and the Frontier Legion set their sights on the grassland barbarians to rob their tribes of their livestock. But do you think the barbarians are a bunch that can be easily provoked? The tribes that have up to 100000 or more animals are those that have at least tens of thousands of members with all of them being capable soldiers as well. Even if the troops of the Frontier Legion arm themselves with the equipment provided by our family, that doesn't mean that the soldiers of the Frontier Legion would be impervious to damage and they will still suffer some casualties. I estimate that five years later, the Frontier Legion might need another twenty to thirty thousand sets of equipment to replace the broken ones.
"In some way, the signing of the agreement with us by the Fisablen Family is akin to having them work for our family for five years, all the while causing the grudge between their family and the grassland barbarians to grow even heavier. Even if they get all the gear we agreed to sell them five years later, they can only focus their efforts on resisting the retaliatory efforts of the grassland barbarians. And with five years of time to develop, do you think the might of our family will stay the same? By then, I think that we won't even consider the Frontier Legion to be of the slightest threat to us."
"Five years, huh?" Howard mumbled while scratching his head, before he smiled embarrassedly and said, "Master, I really have forgotten the most crucial factor of all: time..."
After reconsidering the whole situation, Howard's eyes shone with understanding. "Master, so basically if they sign the agreement, it means that the Fisablen Family and the Frontier Legion would have no choice but to be on friendly terms with us and can definitely not antagonize us in any way, because they have to use their elite soldiers to rob the barbarians of their livestock. In fact, they'll be trying their best to get on good terms with us to prevent themselves from being sandwiched by enemies from both sides and also due to the fact that we're in complete control of their supply of military equipment."
"Not bad, that's the gist of it. In the end, the people within our family opposing my decision can only see what's directly in front of them are worrying about nothing," Lorist said with a smile on his face as he lifted his tea cup up.
Right after that, Patt brought a dirty-looking family soldier hurriedly before Lorist and said, "Milord, there is an urgent report from the navy camp. During their drills, the three training ships sustained attacks by whales and two of them were flipped over with many casualties among the marines. So far, up to 370 of them are still missing..."
"What did you say?!" Lorist yelled with a look of shock on his face as he stood up and knocked over the table in front of him along with the teapot and cup placed upon it.
Lorist left that night itself along with his guards and arrived at the navy camp Bullhorn Bay on the afternoon of the next day.
"Milord, I have betrayed your trust because of my own incompetence and caused the navy troops so many casualties..." said Gold ranked knight Freiyar with an incredibly regretful look on his face.
Patting on his shoulder, Lorist said, "This is not your fault. I know that you have expended lots of effort on setting up the navy camp and you were also not aboard any of the ships during this training drill, so this incident was beyond your control. First, prepare something for me and the guards to eat. We haven't had anything hot since yesterday afternoon..."
The incident occurred as followed. During the middle of the 10th month when the three ships were handed to the navy camp for the marines to use during their training, they only sailed within Bullhorn Bay to familiarize themselves with the ships' properties and capabilities. But after doing the same thing for ten plus days, the navy troops were a little sick of repeating the same thing again and again and decided to head out of the bay. Just like that, each following sailing drill saw the ships sailing further and further away from the bay until three days prior, they discovered a small island roughly 50 or so kilometers away from Bullhorn Bay. However, that island was surrounded by a school of playful whales.
That island was not documented on the various maps probably because it wasn't large enough and was skimmed over by the Magi when they drew the maps of the Grindia Continent. That's why the maps that were passed down through the generations didn't have a record of that island. So, the marines took it upon themselves to name the place 'Whale Island' after the whales that frolicked around it.
During the training session two days prior, Freiyar himself had also gotten aboard one of the ships and saw the island for himself. At that time, he even refused the request of some soldiers to dock on the shore, mainly because he felt that the whales around the island were too numerous and he was worried that something bad would happen to the training ships if they approached so carelessly without preparation. But little did anyone expect that the group of marines whose turn to train was yesterday would be unable to resist their curiosity to check the island out, causing three training ships each carrying 200 excited people to sail straight towards the island.
Just when they were within 5 kilometers of the island shore, the two ships at the forefront started being assaulted by the whales, the largest of which was as big as a training ship itself. After the largest whale jumped and rammed into one of the ships, causing it to flip over entirely, it rammed against another ship immediately following that. By the time the single remaining ship retreated to a safe distance, its crew only managed to save 23 people by sending smaller life boats in with the remaining 377 marines who were originally riding the two flipped ships still missing in action.
Freiyar explained the details of the situation in a deep voice and everyone understood what it meant to be missing at sea. Apart from the few fortunate ones who had been spared from the horrible fate, the rest have most likely departed from this world.
"Whales are not magical beasts. So, why did they attack our training ships?" Els, the leader of the guard brigade, asked.
"I'm not sure about the reason either," said Freiyar as he shook his head. "Ever since the incident yesterday, I've asked a few older boatmen and some fishing folk and according to their explanations, it's possible that the whales have stopped near Whale Island because they were nursing their young. That's why they might've considered the three training ships to be encroaching upon their territory and launched their attacks.
"Milord, currently all the navy marines are in a very horrible mood due to the incident yesterday. I was considering whether we should punish the marines and captains that managed to return alive. After all, the tragedy only happened because of their overwhelming curiosity and recklessness..."
"If you had formally ordered them to not approach that small island, then I won't oppose to punishing them," Lorist said.
Freiyar gave it some thought and said, "No, I didn't give them the explicit order to not approach the island..."
"Then forget it. Even though the marines on duty must always be disciplined and obedient, having lots of curiosity and desire for exploration is not a bad thing in itself. Even though such a tragedy occurred in the early stages of training, we cannot allow this incident to impact our family's dedication to set sailing into the seas. No matter it be the island or territory of the whales, as long as they are part of the ocean, then the Norton Family's fleet will definitely roam across it unabated!
"Freiyar, you should first focus on consoling the marine troops. I will have the shipyard build whaling ships right away and by spring next year, our family will begin hunting those whales. We will turn that 'dominion' of the whales to become the lands of their demise," Lorist said as he thumped his hand hatefully on the table.