Fedley Senbaud felt that his luck was pretty good. When the empire's civil war first broke out, he was merely a one-star-silver-ranked garrison squad leader. After the First Prince declared rebellion, he became one of the company leaders of some suicide troopers at the frontlines. It didn't take long for him to be abandoned in the midst of battle due to his injuries. By the time he regained consciousness, he realized there was nothing but corpses all over him.
Lord Gunmock's corpse was not far away from him on the battlefield. He was shocked to see him lying there. Sir Gunmock was one of the most renowned gold ranked knights at the city Senbaud served at as a garrison squad leader. Rumor had it that Gunmock would break through to the three-star gold rank soon. Whenever he passed through the city gates, Senbaud had to offer his greetings. He was ignored every time. Senbaud really didn't think that a person of such caliber would perish on the battlefield just like that.
As he dragged his injured leg with him while he crawled towards the corpse of Sir Gunmock, he saw that a crude crossbow bolt had pierced the neck of the dead man. Senbaud was dumbstruck at the thought that a gold ranked knight had died on the battlefield just like that: from a stray crossbow bolt. He hadn't even been given the chance to use his abilities!
Sir Gunmock must have died a really horrible death, for him to perish here without anyone knowing anything about it. He couldn't even compare to me. I managed to slay two enemies before getting injured...
Senbaud eventually recovered from his stupor. Since the two could be considered to be from the same hometown, he dug a ditch within which to bury Gunmock, lest his body be mutilated by wild birds and beasts. As expected, when he searched the corpse, he found that the dead man was actually a walking treasure trove. The stainless steel, full-body armor, was undamaged as Gunmock had died from a bolt straight to his unprotected neck. Senbaud couldn't help but wonder what kind of unspeakable sin one had to commit to deserve such an unlucky ending.
The corpse also had a sack filled with roughly four hundred imperial gold coins and several other precious gemstones. There was even a golden bracelet which still had bloodstains on it in the sack. It seemed that during the past two days occupying the small town nearby, Sir Gunmock had profited quite a bit. However, Senbaud didn't understand why Sir Gunmock carried so much of his valuables with him in person.
Aren't they really unwieldy on the battlefield? Well, whatever. At least I get to take advantage of it.
The thing that he was the happiest about was his discovery of a high-ranked battleforce manual within the sack Sir Gunmock carried with him. The battleforce attribute of the manual was the same metal type as his own. Flipping open the manual titled 'Metaltemper Battleforce', Senbaud discovered that one of Sir Gunmock's ancestors was a blademaster who had unfortunately perished in battle during one of the empire's invasion attempts on the trade union.
The blademaster had recorded his insights and realizations in the Metaltemper Battleforce manual. It was to be passed down as a family heirloom so that his descendants would not have to go through trial and error in their battleforce training. It was a shame that nobody in the family after him had the same metal attribute battleforce, save for Gunmock. Even so it was till a shame; he had only trained to two-star gold rank at the age of 50. He was simply too lustful and greedy.
Now that Senbaud had stumbled upon such treasure, he decided to become a deserter. He found himself two strolling horses whose owners had died, stripped Gunmock naked as a newborn baby, and loaded the goods on one of the horses before taking his leave.
As the company leader of some of the suicide troops, he was privy to information on a portion of the battle plans, intelligence, and contingencies. He was a rather intelligent man; he didn't head straight home. It wouldn't take long for him to be forcefully reenlisted and placed on the battlefield once more. He traveled to the coast with his two horses instead and built himself a small grass hut in the wilds not far away from the Sea of Grief. He would hunt for a living and occasionally travel to a small town not too far away to buy some food. The rest of his time he would spend training in the Metaltemper Battleforce. In times of war, the key to survival was to have a well-trained body.
Sometimes Senbaud felt that he was like one of those protagonists in the chivalric novels he read. Now that he had his fortunate encounter, his time to shine would soon come. Three years later, the 27-year-old finally broke through to the three-star silver rank, on his birthday no less. Just as he was on the way back from purchasing some alcohol to celebrate, he stumbled upon an unconscious beauty and brought her back with him.
Just like something directly out of a novel, that beauty described her life which was full of drama and grudges when she awoke. There was a bandit lair around two days' travel from the place Senbaud lived.
Actually, it would be more accurate to call it a pirate lair. The men there often raided at sea and seldom operated on land. That was why he wasn't aware that he was the neighbor of pirates all this time.
The beauty was, in fact, the daughter of the original head of the pirates, who had been killed off by the second and third heads of the group because he divided the spoils unequally. At first, the third head even wanted to take the beauty as his wife, but the men that were loyal to the beauty's father ambushed the third head when he was about to force the beauty to sleep with him. After that, all hell broke loose. During the conflict, the beauty was injured. She managed to escape, but was pursued. In a fit of panic, she ran as fast and far as she could, before fainting in the middle of the road where Senbaud coincidentally met her.
Thus, Senbaud drew his sword for the sake of the beauty and helped her travel along the path of vengeance. He had heard that the pirates originally had four silver ranked fighters among their ranks. The beauty's father was a two-star silver rank, the second and third heads, as well as a man referred to as 'uncle Torin', were one star silver ranks. It was uncle Torin who had brought some others to ambush the third head. At the time, only the one star silver ranked second head remained. Senbaud felt that it would be stupid of him to not take that opportunity to intervene.
All went according to plan and Senbaud was able to triumph over the second head, helping the beauty exact her vengeance. The remaining pirates then took him as their leader. With the aid of uncle Torin, he rebuilt the lair of the pirates and took the role of their boss with the beauty as his wife and mistress of the lair.
Ten years had passed in a flash and Senbaud already had two sons and one daughter. He lived a mostly blissful life, but his career was a little lackluster.
As the pirate boss, Senbaud understood the principle of 'the early bird gets the worm, but the early worm gets eaten by the bird'. That was why he had always been extremely careful when it came to raiding at sea. Whenever he decided to act, he would only do so against smuggling ships or ships that sailed astray from their fleets, without ever touching those belonging to large merchant guilds or nobles. He also never flaunted the wealth he got from raiding.
The pirate lair had developed much during the ten years and began to resemble a normal fishing village more and more. Its population was already reaching 1000 people. Senbaud didn't only focus his attention on raiding, he also recruited vagabonds to begin farming and tending to livestock at the wastelands near the hills. As a result of his foresight the pirates no longer had to rely on trading with the outside world for food. He also had the elderly, women, and children gather firewood, boil seawater for salt, and even formed a small trading convoy to trade their surplus salt, and raided goods for some other resources the fishing village needed. When there was an opportunity, he would set sail to take it. At other times, he would live an honest life fishing and tending to his home. His life was one filled with relaxation and freedom.
But he was aware that even if he managed to disguise the pirate lair as a fishing village, they were not completely safe. There wouldn't be a problem during times of war when others were out killing on the battlefield. But when the situation stabilized, dominion lords or standing armies would be well within their rights to act against the lair. By then, the scene of peace before him would instantly turn to one of blood, fire, and ash.
Additionally, the location of the pirate lair wasn't that well-hidden. There were many outsiders who knew of the place, and the terrain wasn't particularly dangerous. It was situated at the coast at a rural and hilly area. The local dominion lord didn't care much about the lair since the pirates didn't raid his dominion in the first place.
These hills were considered a part of Count Seleih's dominion. Count Seleih used to be a division leader of the former empire's army, but he followed Duke Lormo during the civil war of the empire and helped him establish the Lormo Duchy. Thus, he was promoted from a baron to a count and given the piece of land he currently occupied. There were three villages and one town in Count Seleih's dominion, but most of them were congregated within its southern area. The northern area of his dominion was mostly wastelands, forests and tidelands.
It had been two years already since Senbaud first got in touch with the count. He had hoped to obtain recognition from the noble, and to legalize the existence of his fishing village. For that, he was willing to become the knight of the count and was also ready to pay a huge sum in taxes.
However, Count Seleih was often absent from his own dominion because he served by Duke Lormo's side. Senbaud's letter ended up in the hands of the supervisor of the dominion appointed by the count, who looked down on Senbaud's pirate background and didn't care for his three-star-silver-ranked battleforce. His master was a gold ranked knight, after all.
What the supervisor was concerned about was how he could increase the income of his lord. But Senbaud would never accept a tax rate higher than 65 percent, and wouldn't accept the supervisor's request to send some men to operate at the fishing village so that the tax collection process would be easier.
The baseline for Senbaud was a tax rate of 50 percent, which would be paid by the fishing villager themselves without any intervention. But the supervisor was not willing to accept those conditions, he even threatened to have the count send troops to deal with them. As a result, Senbaud barked back and said that should the forces of the count ever come, he would drop all pleasantries. He would fight the count's forces in a nearby hilly area. He wondered how high a price the count was willing to pay to wipe them out. Senbaud also said that, as long as they existed, they would raid the villages and towns. It was entirely within their ability to render the count's dominion useless.
And so, the two parties arrived at a stalemate. They could do naught but pay attention to one another warily. The supervisor could only shut one eye when it came to the trading convoy of the fishing village and allow the convenience of trading within the town and villages. Senbaud on the other hand would send the supervisor and Count Seleih a tribute during festive seasons. So far, the two sides managed to get along peacefully.
Things had begun to change two months ago, however. Senbaud had broken through to the one star gold rank. Count Seleih, who was far away, at the capital of the Lormo Duchy, heard about it and wrote a personal letter to Senbaud. He expressed his willingness to take Senbaud in as a knight of his house, and said that he would let the fishing village become the manor of a gold ranked knight like Senbaud. Naturally, Senbaud would have to construct the castle or the manor himself, as the count was short on funds.
Despite that, there were obvious benefits to Senbaud becoming a knight of Count Seleih. In doing so, the folk of the fishing village would be considered citizens of Senbaud's manor, and they would only have to pay a tax rate of 30 percent. However, Count Seleih also stated that he would require Senbaud to go to the capital of the Lormo Duchy to do his bidding by his side. The count said that the moment Senbaud arrives at the capital, he would knight him on the spot and elevate his status.
For Count Seleih, taking in a gold ranked knight was really different from taking in a Silver ranked knight. Silver ranked knights were common as clouds, but gold ranked knights were few and far in between. It was such that the count was even willing to overlook Senbaud's background as a pirate. In the battleforce-driven world of Grindia, it was as Senbaud had thought: training hard to get a high battleforce rank was the key to survival in the chaotic times of war.
After pondering for a month, Senbaud accepted the count's invitation to become a knight of House Seleih. However, he couldn't just leave immediately, he had much to do before he could go, such as picking a suitable place for the construction of his castle. Back then, he only thought of first defining the boundaries of the castle and building a makeshift stone building and a moat there since he didn't yet have the financial capabilities to build a proper one immediately.
Two days ago, however, Senbaud received a letter from the count's supervisor. It stated that the count's 50th birthday would be in 20 days, and that the count hoped that he would be able to knight Senbaud on the day as well to add another layer of joy to the celebration. The supervisor didn't fail to remind Senbaud of the count's hobbies, implying that he should bring the count a generous gift for the occasion.
But not only was Senbaud not well off, he didn't have anything that suited the count's taste. That was why he turned his sights back to the sea, hoping that he would be able to profit off raiding once more before heading to the capital of the Lormo Duchy to become Count Seleih's knight. He hoped his wife and children would be able to live better lives after his departure to the capital.
"Boss, there are two ships over there that seem tangled together. One of them is a quick, twin-masted, middle-class, merchant vessel and the other looks rather weird. It seems like a middle-class vessel, but it doesn't appear to be in good condition, one of the masts seem burnt. The two ships are traveling incredibly slow next to each other. Should we tail them and make a killing?"
The one who had spoken was Tok, a huge, burly man with two-star-silver-ranked battleforce. He seemed even more like a pirate than uncle Torin.
Senbaud nodded in reply. It was obvious that the two boats had just been raided. Sights like these were common in the Sea of Grief. The winning side would tie the losing ship to their own to continue their voyage. In doing so they would become sitting ducks themselves.
The process of boarding the merchant vessel couldn't be smoother. Nobody resisted or cried out in confusion; in fact, not a single soul could be seen on the ship. On the other hand, there were a few people on the weird-looking ship, all of whom seemed completely oblivious to the presence of the pirates and continued to mind their own business. There was even one youth who placed his finger against his lips and hushed, gesturing for the pirates to be quiet.
Senbaud had brought two-armed, twin-masted ships along with him which could travel rather fast; they could reach a maximum speed of eight to nine knots. However, they would face some difficulty when traveling against the wind, and required a more experienced helmsman to steer them. Despite that, that particular kind of ship had great battle potential. It could carry many people, which was perfect for boarding actions.
The two armed ships carried on them around 330 pirates in total. There were roughly 100 pirates who boarded the weird-looking ship. They filled the deck up completely.
On the weird ship was a small table on which many beastskins and a pen were placed.
A youth with a black ponytail said to a weathered middle-aged man, "The reason I used your secret technique of green and oil glass production as bait is because I think those are nothing special. Look here at this telescope and the eyeglass. These two are the things that'll make us a real profit. Also, there's the magnifying glass, glassware, flat glass sheets, thickened glass dividers, and even patterned glass. These are the directions glass-working should develop in..."
"Mister Mancheny, you've already roughly got an idea of my thoughts on how glass-working can change. When I bring you back to the dominion, you can be in charge of research and development, as well as production. I'll provide all the manpower and funds you require, and you can experiment to your heart's content without caring about the cost. I trust that my investment in you will multiply hundredfold and benefit our house..."
Senbaud was confused when he heard all that on the deck. Terms like 'glass-working', 'research', and 'technique improvement' sounded so foreign that he couldn't quite grasp the concepts. Also, he felt that the scene before him was off somehow, but he couldn't quite put it into words.
Just as he was about to instruct his men to be more careful in case that was a trap, he saw the ponytail-wearing youth turn to him and reveal his shiny white teeth, laughing joyfully at Senbaud and his men.
"You guys took too long to come! You're making me rather impatient," the youth said as he smiled, "We've waited here at the Sea of Grief for two whole days and only managed to get such a small catch..."
The youth then looked towards the twin-masted, middle-class merchant vessels and said, "Even so, your ships and crew are in good condition. That's great."
The black-haired youth then stood up and said, "I am Count Norton, dominion lord of the Northlands and Silowas Island. I hereby declare that your ship and crew have been expropriated for my use!"
After that, he pointed directly to Senbaud and said, "Hmm, you seem pretty good. From now on, you'll be the squad leader of my marine assault vanguard."