The ships' sails gradually disappeared beyond the horizons. Not even the slightest trace of them was left behind.
The reinforcements sent to Silowas this time numbered only three brigades, a total of 9 thousand men. There weren't enough functioning ships to send any more. Had it not been for the inclusion of the eight additional ships from the whaling fleet, Senbaud would only have been able to ferry even just 4 thousand people, even with the use of the two new large-class long-distance armed ships completed by the shipyards recently.
Lorist had originally intended to lead the reinforcements personally, but Potterfang and the other convinced him to remain on the mainland.
"As your knight, I can't allow you to lead the charge every single time while we, the subjects of the house, sit back and reap the benefits. That would become a mark of shame for we household knights.
"Other than that, given the demeanor of the slavers and slave traders of the Hanayabarta kingdom, they might not stay on Silowas for long. They might be gone by the time we arrive. I can't have milord waste your time on a trip for nothing. It's better if you stay here and wait for our report while you tend to other matters of the house. Leaving the dominion that often will put a lot of delays in our plans."
While Potterfang sounded incredibly troubled when he voiced his concerns, Lorist understood them completely. The dominion would be far more stable with Lorist present. If he left the dominion that frequently, the other three allied families might plot something behind his back. At the end of the previous year, in the annual general meeting, Potterfang and Spiel had taken his place. It would do him no good if he were to miss this year's meeting.
As for Lorist's concern about the threat to the island, Potterfang smiled and said, "There won't be a big deal. The surviving local defense brigade soldiers and guards reported that most of the enemy are but an unruly bunch of fighters. The only thing we have to worry about is their blademasters. We will be bringing two heavy-armored brigades and one wheelbarrow-ballista brigade. Even blademasters wouldn't dare to charge head-on into our formation.
"I think that if not much of the enemy is left on the island, or if all of them have departed, the three brigades will only have to deal with cleaning up the aftermath there. If the enemy is still there, I will set up a stronghold and wait for further reinforcements from the house. Given the speed of the Flying Fish of Dawn, it wouldn't take you more than ten days to travel over here."
Five gold-ranked knights were participating in the reinforcement operation. Apart from Potterfang, Josk and Senbaud, the battle-hungry Loze, and Yuriy, who had just recently broken through to the gold rank, were joining in. Other than that, Tarkel, who was placed in charge of the formation of Furybear, and Els, were sent on a special mission there.
The order Lorist gave Els and Tarkel was to head to Morant if the island was occupied. From there they would disguise themselves as members of the Peterson Merchant Guild and investigate where the captives taken from the island had been taken. Once this was known, they had to find a way to rescue the house's officers and knights. Foremost among the people they had to locate was Charade and his companions. On par with his importance, was the aim of investigating the military might of the kingdom, includes the statuses of the slaver nobles and their slave traders.
The ocean breeze carried with it a salty smell. Bullhorn Bay had two curved cliffs that flanked the bay on both sides. As a result, the waters of the bay were calm regardless of how strong the winds outside of the bay were blowing. A lighthouse was going to be constructed at one of those cliffs so that sailors would be able to make their way to the bay without getting lost.
Lorist stood on the cliff to watch over the fleet as they departed. He also wanted to find a suitable spot for the lighthouse's construction. If he could, he wanted to have an artillery emplacement built that could watch over the bay. If this could be achieved, then the city had nothing to fear from the sea, and Bullhorn Bay would be a safe harbor for the dominion.
Once the fleet was out of sight, Lorist walked into the deeper part of the cliff and overlooked the city and the bay.
It was getting busier by the day. Laborers scurried like ants all over the place. The house's defeat at Silowas didn't hamper the city's development. The 700 or so residents of Whitebird Town who had been evacuated were arranged to stay there. For the past two months, Lorist could hear the cries, ringing out like cracked bells, of the refugees as they mourned their loved and lost.
On the other side of the bay, a shipyard was gradually being constructed. From the top of the cliff, five ship keels could be seen laid out on the empty space in the shipyard. Countless laborers swarmed around them like ants around a carcass. In a few more months, those five ships would be completed and added to the house's new naval arsenal.
At the port near the shipyard was a ship similar to the Flying Ship of Dawn, save for her larger size. It was the house's new large-class three-masted warship, the Windstorm. A hundred and twenty-eight of the house's elitist marines were selected and allowed to familiarize themselves with the ship. By the time Senbaud returned from his current voyage, the Windstorm would be mounted with 24 bronze cannons. She would be an invincible warship, raining death and destruction down on her foes much like the disaster she was named after.
"Malek," Lorist said, "This time around, I would like to pick out half of the experienced veterans from your carroballista division and draft them into the wheelbarrow-ballista division to hasten its formation. I would like to station the wheelbarrow-ballista division at Silowas for now."
Malek though in expressionless silence for a while before answering, "Milord, may I suggest something?"
"Go ahead," said Lorist.
He didn't expect the renowned 'Iron-faced' Malek to have anything to say about his decision.
"Milord, I know that you are really close to Dulles, but I feel that you have given him too heavy a burden. He follows you around all the time. It isn't good for his training," Malek said with some hesitance, "Dulles has already served as the vice commander of the carroballista division. He was my subordinate for quite some time and I know him quite well. I've even dueled with him before, he's rather talented. He's been at the three-star silver rank for too long now. It's been three years since he's shown any progress with his training. What he needs is time to focus on his training. He won't be able to break through into the gold rank otherwise.
"Milord, I understand your reasoning for expanding the wheelbarrow-ballista division. There is no way that you will let the slavers and traders of the Hanayabarta kingdom off. The day the wheelbarrow-ballista division is completely formed is the day you set out on an expedition to the kingdom. I hope that you will allow me to take Dulles's place as the division's commander.
"I believe this will be a win-win for the both of us. The carrobalista division is primarily responsible for the defense of the dominion. The Northlands have been firmly under our control and that of our allies for several years now. Everything here is peaceful and the division doesn't have much to do. I seriously doubt we'll see any turmoil or conflict for at least the next decade. Let Dulles become the carroballista division's commander so he can use this rare time of peace to raise his personal strength."
Lorist had to use all his might to contain his laughter, even so, a giggle or two still escaped.
Malek, aren't you just impatient for some glory? It is true that the carroballista division doesn't get involved in any combat anymore.
Despite his suspicions, Lorist had to admit that Malek's excuse had some sense to it. Dulles did indeed require a good amount of time to break through to the gold rank. If he managed to further his training, nobody would be able to accuse Lorist of favoritism for prioritizing Dulles so frequently.
"Why would you think that I had the intention of going on an expedition against the kingdom?" asked Lorist.
"Milord, we are the Roaring Raging Bear of the Northlands. The house has never had an instance when we stayed quiet and endured a slap in the face by anyone. Given my understanding of your personality, Milord, you're not the type to keep quiet and swallow your anger. You would definitely take your vengeance. And given the way you executed the kingdom's captive sailors, I shudder to imagine how much more cruel your vengeance on the rest of the kingdom will be," replied Malek.
"Ugh..." Even if you put it that way, you're basically calling me ruthless and petty, aren't you?
Lorist furrowed his brow in thought. He decided to ignore the off-handed remark Malek had just made. He understood Malek's demeanor well. The man was incredibly straightforward and would say whatever was on his mind, regardless of the topic or the company.
"Well, Malek, actually, I had my reasons for making you the commander of the carroballista division. The house only has a few gold-ranked knights. Even though recently, Terman, Yuriy, and Senbaud have joined their ranks, I still feel that it's not enough. Making you the commander of the carroballista division was my way of using your reputation as a gold-ranked knight to bolster their morale and warn others not to look down on our forces," explained Lorist.
"Milord, Redriver and Salus are already stationed with Fiercetiger Loze's two spear cavalry divisions. Right behind them is Firmrock Castle, which is defended at the front and back by a regiment of garrison soldiers. Paulobins's first local defense brigade is also garrisoned in the castle. We even have the first police brigade in charge of guarding the warehouses. Coupled with Terman's knight brigade, I doubt there are any that would look down on our forces.
"The carroballista division's existence has also been kept secret from the outside world; only the three allied houses of the Northlands know of them. Milord, if you allow me to switch places with Dulles, that would also provide enough stimulation to him. He would come to understand that if he doesn't advance in his training, he wouldn't be able to be of aid to you nearly as much. It will prompt him to train even harder."
Very well, Malek, since you want to switch so badly that you'd give me such a far-fetched reason, I guess I have no choice but to yield.
Smiling, Lorist said, "Fine, Malek. You have thoroughly convinced me. After the incident on Silowas concludes, I will have Dulles transfer back and you will take his place as the commander of the wheelbarrow-ballista division. Make sure to transfer the veterans of the carroballista division there, but don't make it so that the might of the carroballista division falls drastically as a result."
"Yes, I understand, Milord. Thank you," said Malek as he saluted.
After getting down from the cliff, Lorist brought Howard and a squad of guards to the valley at the blade-edge mountains where Professor Balbo's gunpowder research lab was located. Before they even arrived, they could hear booming sounds in the distance.
Professor Balbo rushed towards Lorist as he entered the valley.
His face flushed, he yelled, "Lord Count, I can't stand this! Either you hold the cannon training somewhere else, or move my lab!"
This was one of the things Lorist had overlooked. At first, he thought that testing gunpowder near the lab was a logical arrangement. But the operation training for the cannoneers held there caused the whole valley to be graced with the thunderous sounds all day long.
"Alright! I'll have them move to another place!" yelled Lorist in reply.
Nobody would be able to hear what he said if he spoke normally.
He gestured to Howard to order the cannoneers to stop their training before doing anything else.
After a long while, the booming sounds quelled one after another. All that was left in the air was the pungent smell of gunpowder.
Grandmaster Sid brought Grandmaster Julian with him from the training field. The two of them were wearing masks and earmuffs.
"Milord, you're here," mumbled Sid as he removed his muff, "It's too quiet in here. I'm already used to hearing the booms nonstop."
"The two of you are insane!" yelled Professor Balbo loudly.
"Hahahaha..." laughed both the grandmasters.
"Milord, the 36 cannons completed in the last batch have just passed the tests. We're already letting the newly-recruited cannoneers train with them. Grandmaster Sid has installed sights on the bronze cannons, so the cannoneers are able to learn to use them pretty quickly. They are able to hit six times out of ten now," reported Julian.
"Thank you for your hard work, gentlemen," Lorist thanked, before he asked, "Have you finished the recoil-absorbing mounts I've asked you to make? These cannons will be installed on ships, not land, so we will need something stable to mount them on."
Sid replied, "Milord, we have tried making something like that, but they're not the ones you designed that used steel springs. We tried to make them using springs at first, only to fail a lot of times. In the end, Grandmaster Fellin felt that we could use the super ballista's leather suspender and managed to achieve the same effect with the cannons. We were just testing them now, and the preliminary results seem promising. The cannons don't seem to have moved much from their original position."
"Very well, have 24 of those cannons fitted with the recoil-absorbing mounts for now and ship them to Bullhorn Bay to be installed on the Windstorm. Our cannoneers can train on board over there. Additionally, the other 12 bronze cannons will have to be moved somewhere else so as to not bother Professor Balbo here," said Lorist.
"Oh, and, Milord... There's another issue. While the cannoneers can shoot well on land, the ship motions at sea might render their accuracy useless. By then, they might even hit less than once in ten times. That's why the cannoneers believe that their accuracy training now won't be of any use at sea. Do you have any thoughts on that?" asked Sid.
"Oh? That's simple," said Lorist. He had watched a movie in his past life about the Russian navy during the times of the Tsar. He recalled how the cannoneers were trained in the movie and said, "Choose somewhere near the ocean and set up a few swing-like contraptions near the coast. The platforms of the swings will be where the cannons are mounted, which will also be roughly as large as what a normal cannon station on a ship would be. After that, have a few wooden boxes or small boats drift several hundreds of meters away from the swings on the water. Those will be the targets for the cannons. Before firing the cannons, make sure the swing is swaying so that the ship motions at sea can be more or less simulated. That will solve the uncertainty the cannoneers have and also greatly improve their accuracy."
The next fortnight saw Lorist busy with the cannoneers of the Windstorm's training as well as the other duties he had as the lord of the house. After that, he had to wait impatiently for Potterfang's report on the island.
On the other hand, there was good news from the northlands as well. Old man Balk had buried himself in the paper workshop for a whole month and finally managed to come up with paper that was pure white. Lorist rewarded the ones involved in the research greatly and ordered Balk to streamline the production process. For instance, they could use the waste products of the paper's production to make toilet paper. Additionally, a new paper workshop would be built for the paper to be made into different derivative products, such as folders, notebooks, drawing canvases, and so on, for sale.
Apart from the breakthrough in papermaking techniques, Master Mancheny of the glass production plant also introduced two new products. The first was a gold-framed magnifying glass with a golden handle that was also engraved with intricate patterns. It gave off an air of magnificent luxury. Needless to say, this was the craftsmanship of the old silversmith.
The second product was a transparent tea-set made from oil glass. After rewarding the old master greatly, Lorist made it known that while the transparent wares looked incredibly elegant, the rich and powerful might not necessarily fancy them. But should they be adorned with golden engravings, they would definitely be able to sell for much, much more. Looking inspired, Master Mancheny dashed off to continue his work immediately.
After one week, just as Lorist was about to stare a hole through his telescope, the Flying Fish of Dawn appeared on the horizon as it sailed towards Bullhorn Bay.