Lorist arrived at Silowas Island with the ships he had expropriated on the 34th day of the 12th month. There were another two days left until the 36th day of the 12th month, which was one of the three great celebrations in a Grindian year, it celebrated the coming of the new year.
In ancient times, the weather was cold during new year and snow fell constantly, so Grindians would stay at home, indoors, to welcome the new year. People would celebrate in their homes by feasting and sleeping without doing anything else. It was also why the day was known as the Day of Rest. But with the improvement in warmth-retaining clothing, people started going out on the streets during the Day of Rest. Some shops even used the opportunity to have sales, further reinforcing the day’s festive air.
Charade awaited Lorist's arrival worriedly at the port. Even though Lorist had sent him a letter, it was incredibly lacking in details. Additionally, Josk and Els only stayed briefly before heading back to the Sea of Grief. They only mentioned that something big had happened without being specific. It caused Charade so much worry he had bags under his eyes.
However, when he finally met Lorist, he didn't bother asking about what happened and instead told him a piece of good news right away. There was word from the Northlands that Terman and Yuriy had both broken through to the one-star gold rank. That meant that Lorist had another two gold-ranked knights under him. The household now had a total of eight gold-ranked knights.
Lorist was overjoyed. He turned to Els, who simply shrugged.
"I have a feeling that my turn will come next year,” he replied.
Lorist’s gaze returned to Charade. He laughed bitterly.
"I think I'll need two or three more years... I don't even have enough time to deal with the matters at hand, so how would I be able to sit still and train? I've already been here for more than a year..." was his answer.
Terman, Yuriy, Els and Charade were the friends that Lorist had made during his ten years at Dawn Academy, and they were also his most trusted subordinates. When they first joined Lorist's cause and became his knights, they were only at the three-star silver rank. Even though Terman and Yuriy didn't have much talent in training, through their hard work and military experience over the past seven years, they finally managed to take the next step and become gold-ranked knights.
Els, on the other hand, trained in the dark attribute battleforce technique passed down in his family. Dark attribute battleforce was known to be slower to train. Even though Els only held the position of the leader of Lorist's guards and didn't seem that impressive, Lorist believed that the moment Els broke through to become a gold-ranked knight, he would definitely be able to impress many with his prowess.
Charade, on the other hand, was easily the most talented among the four. It was too bad that he was entrusted with so many important tasks. Charade's impressive management skills had actually held his battleforce training back and Lorist felt quite sorry for having no choice but to burden him.
Lorist hugged Charade tightly and said, "I'm sorry, old friend. The burden I've entrusted to you with is indeed too heavy. Head back to the Northlands with me in due time and stay there for two years. Train hard and break through, you'll be given a manor of your own like Terman and the rest."
Stunned, Charade asked, "What's wrong, Locke? Didn't we agree that I would be put in charge of the development of Silowas Island?"
Lorist laughed bitterly and said, "I'm sorry, we've got involved in a huge, troublesome matter and Silowas Island will soon become a battlefield. Our enemy this time is incredibly powerful and I can't have you stay here. It is too dangerous. You will have to go back to the dominion. Let's talk more at the camp. This is not a good place to discuss this."
Senbaud walked over and reported to Lorist, "Milord, all the ships have already been anchored and checked. The crews for the ships have been assigned. Please give me further instructions."
Charade looked at Senbaud curiously.
“This is...?" asked he.
"Oh, come here. Senbaud, let me introduce you to the chief knight of House Norton, Charade. He makes the decision in my absence," Lorist introduced the two, "This is Senbaud, a gold-ranked pirate. Pretty rare, right? Now he's the squad leader of my marine assault vanguard. He's proven to be rather capable in the little time he’s been with us already. I've been considering making him Freiyar’s aid and vice commander."
With a troubled look, Senbaud said, "Milord, please don't bring up my pirate background... I'm now your subordinate. If I am a pirate, then you're the pirate boss..."
Initially, Senbaud thought the position of the squad leader of the marine assault vanguard was nothing more than a glorified title for suicide squad captain. However, when they were raiding, or rather, expropriating ships at the Sea of Grief, Senbaud realized that Lorist rushed into battle even sooner than he did. Many times, Lorist was able to subdue a whole ship all by himself. Most of the time Senbaud’s job was to clear up Lorist’s mess. His tasks ranged from deciding on the expropriated ships’ quartermasters, restructuring the crews, and capturing the prisoners. Lorist had even praised his resourcefulness a few times.
Charade nodded towards Senbaud and said, "Nice to meet you, Senbaud. Don't mind what Milord says. He likes to joke around a lot. You should work hard now that you’ve joined the household. You’ll have a bright future as long as you do."
Charade resolved himself to start training hard so that he could break through to the gold rank as soon as possible. Seeing many of his friends break through the milestone, and how the ones Lorist recruited were also of the gold rank, Charade felt it would be a little unseemly for a chief knight like him to only be on the verge of the three-star silver rank.
"Freiyar, come here. Senbaud will be your aide from now on," called Lorist to Freiyar, who had his eyes fixed on the large-class merchant vessels at the coast.
Freiyar got off the ship.
"Good day. I'm Freiyar, the leader of the navy marine brigade,” he said.
Lorist continued the introductions.
"This here is Tok, the vice captain of the marine assault vanguard. He's also quite capable in naval battles. He will serve under you. Freiyar, this is Uncle Torin, Tok's father, and he's quite capable with logistics. Senbaud only managed to keep so many ships in check with his help. Your marine brigade will finally have a proper supervisor."
Charade asked, "Milord, did you expropriate all these ships yourself?"
Lorist merely nodded. Everyone present had an unspoken understanding of what 'expropriation' meant.
"Milord, why did you have to resort to that?" asked Charade hesitantly.
He understood Lorist's personality well during his years of interacting with him. He had heard Lorist say that robbery was the most unskilled crime that had no bottom line. It was naught but a result of oppressing the weak with force. Seeing that Lorist had expropriated so many ships, Charade thought that he must have had some good reason behind it. He thought about what Lorist had said about Silowas Island becoming a battlefield. He couldn't help but wonder what was really going on.
"Let's talk about this when we go back. You'll know the truth soon enough," said Lorist with a sigh.
When they returned to the camp, Charade was informed of what had happened.
Angrily thumping on the table, he said, "Ridiculous... What does the implementation of the nobility system have anything to do with the Chikdor Merchant Guild taking Silowas Island as their own dominion?!"
Unlike the enraged reaction of Patt, Nors, Jim, Hansk, and Kedan; Senbaud, Torin, and Tok were all shocked. They felt it was thanks to the trade union that they had so unfortunately drawn the attention of Lorist.
Lorist's frenzied sweeping of all the ships at the Sea of Grief to form a fleet against the Chikdor Merchant Guild shocked them greatly, but at the same time, it generated a sense of excitement for them. They never expected that hit-and-run pirates like them would have a chance to confront the ships of the trade union.
The Chikdor Merchant Guild was the hegemon of the southern seas, however. Did they stand a chance of victory against such a formidable force?
"Don't worry," Lorist said as he waved his hand, "I am prepared to deploy Potterfang's heavy-armored division over here and form another steel carroballista division. There shouldn’t be any issues with two divisions defending the island. The Chikdor Merchant Guild may be impressive at sea, but they are nothing but soft-shelled crabs on land. If they want to conquer the island, they'll have to make landfall. No matter how many they send, we will wipe them all out. Let's see how much manpower and resources they're prepared to deploy."
"What should the navy marine brigade be in charge of, in that case, Milord?" asked Freiyar.
"Your marine brigade will officially be known as the Oceanic Legion from now on. Freiyar, you are the commander of the Oceanic Legion."
Originally, Lorist wanted to call them ‘the navy’, but after considering the fact that such a concept didn't exist on Grindia, and given the rather underdeveloped state of naval warfare, he chose a name that was simpler to comprehend.
"The marine brigade we have at Bullhorn Bay will be your reserve troops. This time around, Senbaud will help you arrange the ships I expropriated into two armed fleets. One of them will focus on speed and have patrol, reconnaissance and interception duties. The other will be relatively slow and focus on transporting manpower and resources, and fight in direct confrontations, understood?"
"Yes, milord, I understand," replied Freiyar.
"Let me remind you: this time around I've expropriated lots of ships, including most of their crew. Senbaud already has an organized name list. Currently, the two armed fleets are manned mainly by our marines and the pirates that joined us along with Senbaud. As for the men from the ships we expropriated, you should be cautious with their use. If anything goes wrong, it will become incredibly hard to keep under control. If these fellows perform well, we must naturally treat them as we would our comrades. Discrimination is completely forbidden."
"Yes, milord. I will do as you say," promised Freiyar.
After Freiyar left, Charade said, "Milord, while there wouldn't be any problem for Potterfang's heavy-armored division to be deployed here, forming another carroballista division on the island won't be possible."
"Even though Silowas Island is huge, two-thirds of its area is covered by mountains and dense forests. Only the terrain here in the eastern area of the island is suitable for agriculture and habitation. We wouldn't be able to feed a whole carroballista division's worth of men and horses. Additionally, we just took in up to 60 thousand refugees from the southwestern area of the Andinaq Kingdom to prepare for large-scale development. Even the food we purchased from the Second Highness can only last us four months at most, and the Second Highness has refused further purchases. He said that the remaining food he had was not for sale as it was reserved for his troops," explained Charade.
"Oh, is that so?" Lorist was troubled after hearing the explanation. He had forgotten that Silowas Island was barely able to sustain its population with on its own agricultural produce alone. Bringing in more soldiers would cause a food shortage.
Potterfang's heavily-armored infantry division excelled in close combat. Even though their armor seemed like the standard issue armor of the house’s forces, they wore another layer of mail armor, much like Terman's knights. While it increased the load on each soldier, it afforded them far greater defense. Despite that, they would only be able to show their best performance when acting in concert with the carroballista division, defending as the latter attacked.
The problem was that each carroballista required two horses to move it around swiftly so they could be stationed around the battlefield with ease. Without war horses, the steel ballistae couldn't be moved around the battlefield and stationing them would be quite troublesome. The ballistae wouldn't be able to fire at short notice in that case.
The most Lorist could do about this was to return to the Northlands and discuss how they could resolve the issue with Grandmaster Sid and the rest. Additionally, there were quite a lot of matters back at the dominion that Lorist had to deal with personally, such as setting Professor Balbo’s gunpowder research into motion, as well as Master Mancheny's glass production. Lorist also had to start experimenting with cannon and gun designs. Once he had functioning designs, he could equip his ships therewith. Once that was done, the Chikdor Merchant Guild would be in for a nasty surprise. Who the true hegemon of the seas was, was a question that would have to be reconsidered.
Lorist wasn't too willing to leave Silowas Island even so. He understood that House Norton lacked high-tier battle power the most. Based on military power alone, if Lorist claimed House Norton to be ranked second in might, nobody would dare to claim the first spot. Be it the quality of their soldiers or of their equipment, the house’s forces completely trumped the other powers by leaps and bounds. Even the Second Highness’ 300 thousand-strong army didn't pose much of a threat.
However, apart from Lorist, there were no other blademasters serving the house. During his recent trip to Morante City, Lorist realized that the big-seven merchant guilds could easily bring out four or five blademasters to be stationed elsewhere. However, House Norton only had Lorist.
Even though human-wave tactics could be used to swarm blademasters, it would cost the lives of countless brave soldiers. The huge bleeding gash caused by the assault of Blademaster Zarinan on the house’s forces had yet to heal completely. That was why Lorist wasn't intent on leaving Silowas Island in the near future. He had to stand by to receive the Chikdor Merchant Guild’s assault.
Lorist believed that since the guild had already lost one blademaster, he could definitely take on three or four more. If he could wipe out at least two of them, his forces could exterminate the invading enemy forces. The guild, after being taught such a harsh lesson, would definitely come to understand that taking Silowas Island was nothing but a pipe dream. Lorist would only be able to return to the Northands without worry after they had been taught this lesson.
"How about this, Freiyar, you will form the two other fleets as quickly as you can. Have the fast fleet patrol the island and maintain its security. When the other armed fleet is completely formed, have it focus all its efforts on transporting food from the Northlands to the island. We must have at least one year's worth of food stocked here," decided Lorist.
"What about the refugees we brought in, Milord? Are we going to stop the development plan?" asked Hansk as he stood up.
He had been put in charge of the planning effort for the development of the dominion. His hand, full of beastskin documents which he seemed intent to report on, attested to this fact.
Lorist almost freaked out as he thought, Why are so many transmigrators I read about able to spend their days in luxury, earning money and hooking up with girls? And even when a war does come to them, they would be able to send tens of millions of soldiers onto the battlefield easily? In contrast, I don't even have enough food to supply two divisions of soldiers here... And given the amount of other stuff I have to tend to, I'm usually busy for the whole day...
Rubbing his temples, Lorist asked, "Summarize it for me, Hansk. Tell me how many development plans you have finished preparing."
Hansk flipped through the beastskin documents in his hands a few times before replying.
"Milord, the main ones concern the move of Whitebird Town, the expansion of the port area, the construction of the defensive walls, and other infrastructure for Whitebird Town and the commerce area, the construction of the embankment at the east part of the island, as well as the replanning and rebuilding of the seven villages and farmland. The renovation of Seaview Manor is nearing its end, and the location for the port for exclusive use of the marine brigade has also been decided. However, the location on which the local defense brigade's citadel is to be constructed has not been decided yet, mainly because of the folk of Whitebird Town’s objections."
"Oh, what's up with that?"
"Milord, the folk of Whitebird Town believe that they will not need another local defense brigade because they already have a town garrison of 500 men. They think that the garrison alone is sufficient for the defense of the town. Our original plan was to build the citadel for the local defense brigade between Whitebird Town, the commerce area, and the port..."
The one who explained the situation was the leader of the third local defense brigade, Patt.
"Where will the port for the marine brigade and our Oceanic Legion be constructed?" asked Lorist.
"Over here," Hansk said as he opened a map of Silowas Island, "It's right here along the ridge between Whitebird Town and Seaview Manor. There is a small bay here that will prove to be convenient shielding from waves and strong winds. However, we will have to use a lot of manpower to level the terrain."
Lorist nodded, "Then, station the third local defense brigade where Farama Village used to be. That way, the local defense brigade, the Oceanic Legion, and the two regiments of guards at Seaview Manor will form a triangular defense perimeter. Even before we mobilize our forces from the dominion of the house, the Chikdor Merchant Guild will find it difficult to pierce our defensive line.
"As for Whitebird Town, leave it as it is and let the garrison there maintain order. However, notify them that a battle between House Norton and the Chikdor Merchant Guild will soon take place on the island. For the ones who wish to leave, we will provide them transport to the Northlands. The garrison can choose to maintain a neutral stance in the conflict between us and the guild. They intend to take the island as their own dominion, so I'm sure they wouldn't do anything to the folk living here..."
Just after he finished speaking, Els, who was in charge of the patrols, rushed in with a white letter.
"Milord, the Second Highness just sent an ambassador here to notify us that Andinaq I, the king of the Andinaq Kingdom, passed away five days ago..."
The Third Prince is dead? The founding king of the Andinaq Kingdom, who was officially the heir to the legacy of the Krissen Empire and unfortunate enough to be injured as a result of the assassination plots between his two other brothers, Andinaq I, had finally left the realm of man. Second Highness Auguslo was finally free of the last chain that bound him. He could now finally mobilize his army and begin the war to unify the Empire.
Lorist received the letter from Els, "The skies are changing..."
 The author woefully overstates the effectiveness of wearing mail under plate here. Don’t get me wrong, mail is very good armor, but it is largely superfluous when worn beneath plate. Mail was worn historically mainly to cover the sections between plates and in joints that would periodically be exposed during movements. The sections where the mail is beneath the plate see very little, if any, benefit from the addition of mail.