"Two days ago, the seven largest merchant guilds of the trade union had a discussion about implementing the nobility system. In principle, the guilds shouldn't be against it as presidents of the seven largest guilds like me will be entitled as dukes. The only problem was the enfeoffment of land.
"The original plan concerned the Falik Plains which had eight cities in total. Apart from Morante City, each of the seven other cities on the plains will be enfeoffed to one of the seven dukes. However, that territory was a little too small, and the Forde Merchant Guild which thrives on agriculture objected vehemently to that and even threatened to leave the trade union. That's why we had to abandon that plan.
"Even though the trade union had a wide sphere of influence, the only other place under its rule apart from the Falik Plains are the Calisto Mountains. In the end, it was decided that the Falik Plains and Morante City would be left untouched as they were the core of the trade union which the citizens depended on for emotional stability. Calisto Mountains would then be divided into 50 different dominions and enfeoffed to those of the rank of viscount and below. As for ranks above the count, they can only expand their land through their own efforts."
When Lorist arrived at the headquarters of the Peterson Merchant Guild, President Peterson didn't tell him anything about the matter regarding the cancelled ship orders. Instead, he began to talk about the seemingly unrelated nobility system that was pending implementation by the trade union. However, Lorist believed that President Peterson told him that for a good reason, so he resigned himself to pay attention.
"For example, Duke Lormo, of the Lormo Duchy, has been interested in joining the trade union ever since the dissolution of the Krissen Empire. I believe that the trade union will give him a chance this time around, on the condition that he revokes his dominion's independence, and his own sovereignty, and put the two provinces, the Yiwas and Puljas Provinces, under the trade union's jurisdiction. Only after that will Duke Lormo be made a duke of the trade union with Yiwas Province as his enfeoffed land.
"As for the Puljas Province which borders the Falik Plains, it would become the dominion of Duke Forde. Mainly because the founder of the Forde Merchant Guild, Duke Forde Morante, and the six other heads of the largest merchant guilds, are credited with the formation of the merchant guild, it stands to reason that his descendants be given some benefits.
"As for the six other largest merchant guilds -- with the exception of the Wald Merchant Guild, who have their sights on the weak Mobia Duchy, which is near the Calisto Mountains -- the Twinhead Dragon Merchant Guild, the Mayflower Merchant Guild, the Wessia Merchant Guild, the Chikdor Merchant Guild, and us, the Peterson Merchant Guild, will be targeting the lands of the former Krissen Empire. The Peterson Merchant Guild is prepared to take over the northwestern area of the Redlis Kingdom and set up our dominion there.
"Yesterday, I have invited Mister Tim over for a discussion. He said that he would be willing to aid the guild by convincing the nobles of the northwestern area of the kingdom to take me as their senior noble after the formation of the dominion. After that, the nobles there, including House Tebri will become part of the nobility of the trade union."
Holy crap, the trade union is actually going to change the policies they have abided by for more than 100 years... Now that they're powerful enough, they've spread their wings and bared their fangs towards the territories formerly belonging to the empire, and are prepared to swallow as much as their appetite allows...
Even Tim, who had been made a noble through Lorist's efforts, had changed sides and joined the trade union without so much as a notification. It was apparent that he was already completely committed to his new cause, neglecting all the favors he had owed in a naked act of betrayal.
At that moment, Lorist's mind was in turmoil. He felt as if there were ten thousand horses stampeding right in front of him. His hand holding the teacup shook slightly. This wasn't a small change, but rather a history-defining development!
The implementation of the nobility system by the trade union had changed them, the harmless bunny, into a bloodthirsty tiger with its mouth agape. Even though their current targets used to be part of the Krissen Empire, which had been their sworn enemies for the past century, it only applied to the seven largest merchant guilds of the union. As President Peterson had said, anyone who wanted titles would have to fight and conquer their own territory. So, what of the second to third-rate merchant guilds? Who would they target next?
With the implementation of the nobility system, Grindia would no longer know peace. Even though the trade union wasn't an empire, it was possibly more powerful than one. Whether it be wealth, population, or influence, they surpassed the Krissen Empire in all regards. They were not unlike a gigantic, invincible titan.
Lorist suddenly thought of the ambitious Second Highness. The man was filled with confidence in his 300000 troops. He was only waiting for his father's passing to engage in the effort to reunite the empire.
Poor Second Highness, it seems that you've missed the opportune time to reunite the empire, and wasted a year of your time. 300000 soldiers... Haha, what a joke...
Trying hard to keep his shock in check, Lorist asked calmly, "President Peterson, was Duke Lormo willing to accept the conditions of the trade union? After all, he is the head of a duchy..."
President Peterson laughed and said, "Sometimes, situations are beyond the control of man. He doesn't have a choice but to accept our conditions. In fact, several influential nobles within the Lormo Duchy were already on bad terms with the duke. Had it not been for our mediation, civil war would have broken out long ago. Even though the trade union accepts his participation, and he would lose his status as the head of the duchy, it will be a kind of release for him.
"Additionally, the conditions we are offering him benefit him quite a lot. Not only did we give him a loan of 5 million gold Fordes that's interest free for up to ten years, we even sent someone to help him form his own merchant guild so that he can gain observer status in the high council. As long as he pays back the loan, he will also be able to be one of the core members of the council, and his merchant guild will be the eighth largest in the union."
Darn, that's a new milestone for betraying one's own country for power!
Everyone would feel that Duke Lormo got a good deal for selling away his duchy. The trade union was incredibly sincere and generous with its conditions. To Duke Lormo, becoming the head of the eighth merchant guild in the high council of the trade union was nothing short of a boost in status. Similarly, that was also the ambition of many of the lesser merchant guilds within the union.
No, wait. This is all a ruse, realized Lorist. Duke Lormo is a goner. The loan of 5 million gold Fordes is truly an alluring trap. If he doesn't pay it back within ten years, Duke Lormo would have to liquidate his assets to pay back the loan according to the regulations of the trade union. In other words, he would be declared bankrupt and his dreams of becoming the eighth member of the high council would be dashed.
There was no way that the seven largest merchant guilds would be willing to further divide their benefits to be given to someone else. Otherwise, there would've been a merchant guild or two that would attain the same status as the big seven over the course of almost 200 years. When Lorist was studying at Dawn Academy, he had heard a rumor about how a merchant guild would be secretly assaulted and ruined upon expanding their businesses beyond the scope of those of the seven largest guilds. Most of the smart ones within the trade union understood that 'rule'.
Thankfully, my dominion is within the Northlands and on Silowas Island. I won't have to worry about interacting with these sly hegemons anytime soon, cheered Lorist secretly.
But what President Peterson said next almost caused him to jump in shock.
"Apart from us, the Peterson Merchant Guild, the others including the Twinhead Dragon Merchant Guild, the Mayflower Merchant Guild, and the Wessia Merchant Guild will be aiming to conquer the Redlis Kingdom for territory. That's because the union understands that the Redlis Kingdom is near its point of collapse after the incessant attacks of the Andinaq Kingdom's Second Highness. To prevent another nation like the Krissen Empire from being formed and threatening our own safety, the trade union has decided to intervene in that conflict to ruin the Second Highness's plan to reunite the empire.
"The following will be related to you, Brother Locke. The Chikdor Merchant Guild is intent on taking your dominion at Silowas Island, and their plan is supported by the rest within the union. As long as they have Silowas Island, the Chikdor Merchant Guild will be able to control the sea trading routes all the way from Hidegold Bay to the northern coasts. They will become the true rulers of the sea. Even though I knew that the island was your dominion, I wasn't able to object to it. The circumstances didn't permit my objection.
"The Chikdor Merchant Guild is already aware of your true identity, and they have even suggested to make you give them the island by force. I have vehemently objected to their methods. Even if we can't be considered friends, you are still my guest. Additionally, the trade union's reputation would be sullied if such a thing was carried out. The other merchant guilds agreed with me, and advised the Chikdor Merchant Guild against starting a conflict with you in Morante City.
"So far, your safety within the city is guaranteed. However, the moment you depart, I suspect the Chikdor Merchant Guild will attack you at sea. Brother Locke, I suggest that you abandon your ship and travel on land. It's safer that way. The strength of the Chikdor Merchant Guild is most pronounced at sea, but they're rather weak on land. Given your skills, you'll definitely have an easier time escaping.
"Please understand that I am unable to help you, Brother Locke. This is the decision of the union. Other than that, the Chikdor Merchant Guild will be giving control of the trade route from Hidegold Bay to the dominion of Viscount Tebri to the Peterson Merchant Guild, and promised that they wouldn't interfere with that. In exchange, we must take a neutral stance between you and them and won't aid any side. Being able to inform you of this news is already the best I can do."
Lorist wanted to curse out loud when he heard all that.
'When trouble strikes, there's nowhere to hide'. The Chikdor Merchant Guild must have realized the strategic location of Silowas Island. It's no surprise that some sharp minds out there have realized the same things I did.
Controlling Silowas Island would be akin to controlling everything from Hidegold Bay to the northern seas. It was no joke to say that whoever controlled Silowas Island was the ruler of the northern seas.
"Brother Locke, if you don't mind, I can help you negotiate with the Chikdor Merchant Guild. That way, you can take a page from Duke Lormo's book and sell the island to the Chikdor Merchant Guild. We'll definitely make sure that you won't lose out on that deal. Also, I think that's the ideal way for you to avoid conflict. After all, the dominion of your house is located in the Northlands, and through selling Silowas Island for a good price, you can gain the favor of the trade union as well as develop your dominion with those funds," advised President Peterson.
Lorist shook his head calmly and said, "Thank you for your kind intentions, president. However, House Norton prides itself in its military background. We are not afraid of the threat of war. Let's forget about selling the island as well. If the Chikdor Merchant Guild intends to take Silowas Island, the dominion of my house, then they better be ready to pay for it with tens of thousands of lives. House Norton will definitely make them aware of the consequences of provoking the Raging Bear of the Northlands."
Silowas Island was crucial in Lorist's plans for the house's future. Losing it would cut the family off from its prosperous future, this is what drove Lorist to be completely unwilling to compromise.
Since the trade union is going to implement a nobility system and involve House Norton in its troubles, then bring it on. The one thing my house doesn't fear is war.
"Brother Locke, I hope you consider this thoroughly. The Chikdor Merchant Guild is one of the strongest forces at sea. For the other guilds like us, even though we have fleets, the scale of those fleets can't possibly compare to those of the Chikdor Merchant Guild. Not only do they have seven large-scale long distance merchant fleets, including near a thousand warships, and more than ten thousand sailors, they also have great influence over the trade union's Invincible Fleet, as well as the navy of the Hanayabarta and Shyarsia kingdoms. Silowas Island is in the middle of the ocean. I'm afraid your conflict with the Chikdor Merchant Guild will end in your defeat..."
President Peterson felt that Lorist was just being stubborn as a result of his youth and inexperience. Compared with the Chikdor Merchant Guild, Lorist didn't even have a single large-class merchant vessel for show. He was like an infant that challenged a giant to a one-on-one battle, and the result of it was all too predictable. To him, Lorist's futile resistance would only bring unnecessary casualties to House Norton.
But little did he know that the naval superiority of the Chikdor Merchant Guild made Lorist even more resolved. Lorist realized that as long as he was able to trump the Chikdor Merchant Guild, House Norton would become the new ruler of the sea. Perhaps, he would have a far easier time dealing with the other merchant guilds at sea than on land.
"President, when will the trade union execute the nobility system?" asked Lorist.
"It will be done after winter on the 18th day of the 3rd month next year. That is the 175th anniversary for the formation of the Torde Trade Union. Duke Lormo will also become part of the trade union on that day, and will be given title then. At the same time, over a hundred people who have contributed to the trade union will be given their titles and enfeoffed their lands," replied President Peterson.
"President, the various duchies and kingdoms neighboring the trade union have always been part of the alliance with the trade union and can be considered to be under their influence. During the past century, they've also provided lots of help to resist the invasion of the Krissen Empire, thus ensuring the union's victory.
"Now that the trade union is going to implement a nobility system, apart from the largest merchant guilds who have their sights on the Redlis Kingdom, what of the territories of the other lesser merchant guilds who will be similarly given titles? Won't their conquest for territory cause turmoil and unrest among the other kingdoms and duchies neighboring the trade union?" asked Lorist.
The president nodded and said, "The nobility system has been used all over Grindia for more than a millennium. This kind of system has long been engraved within the hearts of Grindians, and gaining a piece of hereditary land for one's descendants has always been one of the greatest dreams one can have. Even though the trade union is second to none on the continent when trading and dealing with the nobles of the duchies and kingdoms, there is an undpoken feeling of inferiority inflicted upon us. It's one of the main reasons the trade union is implementing the nobility system.
"The most troubling part of that would be the enfeoffment of land. Without land, the titles one holds would be only honorary ones. Actually, some have expressed their desires to absorb the smaller nations two years back as the foundation for the new nobility system. However, the high council felt that it would affect the union's reputation too badly. They would become the public enemy named alongside the Krissen Empire. The proposal was denied in the end.
"This time, the high council has declared that those who wish to conquer their own territory must do so only within the Redlis and Andinaq kingdoms, since there's more than enough land over there. It would also extinguish any chances of the Krissen Empire reuniting and rising again, thus allowing the trade union to no longer worry about anything. The neighboring nations won't be too worried about their own safety following the implementation of the trade union's nobility system either.
"As a result, the land all the way from the Great Andalou Plains to the Redlis Kingdom would become the territory to be enfeoffed by the trade union. That's also one of the factors the Chikdor Merchant Guild wants your Silowas Island. Predictably, the trade union will not allow Silowas Island, which can pose a threat to the coasts of the Great Andalou Plains, to be out of the union's control."
Finally, President Peterson sincerely said to Lorist, "Brother Locke, don't think that just because it's only the end of the 11th month that everything will only begin in 3 or so months. Actually, a lot of preparatory work will have to be done during the months leading up to the aforementioned date. In a few days, Duke Lormo will be signing the agreement to accept the conditions of the trade union and relinquish the independence of his duchy.
"The Wald Merchant Guild also hopes that they'll be able to take the Mobia Kingdom into the trade union just like the Lormo Duchy. The rest, including the Twinhead Dragon Merchant Guild, the Wessia Merchant Guild, and the Mayflower Merchant Guild will be building up the military force of the Redlis Kingdom one way or another. As long as they can fight the 300000 soldiers of the Second Highness and cause immense damage to both sides, the various merchant guilds of the trade union can swoop in for the spoils of battle and begin conquering their territory.
"I think that when one's might can't compare to one's foe, one must endure and compromise, lest one make the irrational choice that will devastate one's own house. Brother Locke, please reconsider my suggestion. It is not my wish to start conflict easily. Additionally, sea battles are very different from land battles, and the Chikdor Merchant Guild is no stranger to the former, with their great experience and advantage in numbers. The cancellation of your ship orders during the past few days is also one of the tactics used by the Chikdor Merchant Guild to apply pressure to you."
Lorist replied solemnly, "Alright, president. I will definitely consider this matter seriously."