The thunderous roar of the cannons rang out once more. The roughly 60-meter-long Windstorm looked like a fire-breathing beast. Smoke burst out of the ship like large white thorns each time the cannons roared. Small blurry black shadows flew away over the ocean as well. A cliff several hundred meters away shuddered as the shadows vanished into its face. Shortly after a single, massive piece broke loose and slipped into the ocean.
Schwoop! Senbaud popped open his telescope for a look; only to be flabbergasted at what he saw, mouth wide open. The sight before him had greatly exceeded what he imagined to be possible. He'd never dreamt that Lorist's bronze cannons would actually be that mighty, so surprised was, in fact, that he was completely speechless.
After a good while, Senbaud snapped out of the stupor and said with an excited expression, "Mi-milord... With a warship like that, I can guarantee you there isn't a single fleet on Grindia's oceans able to rival us."
"Good," said Lorist absentmindedly as he nodded, still pondering the two reports he had read the day before.
The report that Lundmorde had sent made Lorist come to a frightening conclusion. Other than the eventual extermination of the Teribo kingdom, which was already long set in stone, of the eleven nations that reinforced the allied army, at least four or five of them, apart from the Urubaha and Teria duchies, would also be wiped out.
That was to say, after the War of Glass, the territory of the Union would grow up to five-fold and become one of the three top superpowers on the continent. That assessment was made only based on the territory they conquered, and not their military or economic influence. The area they would control would eclipse that of the now-defunct Krissen Empire and they would be the third largest nation on the whole continent.
As long as the Union was given a few more years to 'digest' and put the territory they conquered in check, even if the second highness successfully reunited the empire, the situation would no longer be the same as it was a century ago when the empire was at its prime and used its military might to suppress the development and growth of the Union. In fact. The Union might return the long-owed 'favor'.
What surprised Lorist the most was the fact that the Chikdor Merchant Guild actually made the Urubaha duchy their own dominion.
It was good news for him since that meant that the guild had truly given up on the notion of conquering Silowas. Lorist realized after checking the map that the guild's decision was a rather well-informed one. With the territory of the Urubaha duchy, the guild would be better able to exert control on the trade routes at the south of Grindia near the Golden Coast without having to waste resources going to war with House Norton.
"Milord, Milord!" called Senbaud for a good while before getting Lorist's attention.
"What's wrong?" asked Lorist.
A little embarrassed, Senbaud said, "Milord, I was thinking of going there directly to see the cannons fire. Is that okay with you?"
Lorist laughed and said, "Senbaud, you're now the captain of the Windstorm. You can do whatever you want, as long as you don't sink the ship. Go ahead and check the ship all you want and familiarize yourself with its handling. It's your responsibility as a captain and you don't need my permission to do so."
When the 24 bronze cannons mounted on the Windstorm first fired, the recoil from the shots caused quite a few cracks on the ship, allowing seawater to start filling up the ship. It took quite a while before the ship was brought back to the shipyard at Bullhorn Bay and the flaw corrected. By the time Senbaud familiarized himself with the ship's handling, Lorist was already ready to depart for Silowas.
After another two volleys of test cannon fire, Senbaud returned to the deck of the ship with a look of joy and excitement.
"Milord, this ship is fantastic! It's just as agile as it is swift. Apart from the Flying Fish of Dawn, I doubt there's another ship that can catch up to the Windstorm. Coupled with these godly bronze cannons, this ship will be completely invincible. I don't think any ship will be able to even get close to the Windstorm."
Windstorm was based on the Flying Fish of Dawn. She was around 60 meters in length and roughly eight to ten meters in width, with a height of roughly 11.7 meters. The ship had four decks. The bottom deck contained the ballast, the one above it was for storage, followed by the gun deck which was fitted with 24 bronze cannons in total. The uppermost deck was the main deck and contained the captain's cabin and crew living quarters.
Apart from the 24 cannon operator teams, numbering 120 men, the Windstorm's full complement held another 128 sailors. It needed 52 men to form a skeleton crew, any less and the ship couldn't be sailed. Not only that, the ship could ferry another 200 marines. Whether it be ranged or close combat, the Windstorm had them covered. It was no wonder Senbaud thought that no ship could possibly take their own out.
Lorist laughed and said, "There are five other similar ships being constructed at the shipyard now. I believe that by next year, you'll have six Windstorms at your disposal. Once that happens, our cannon fleet will truly be known as invincible. Even the Union's 'Invincible Fleet' won't be able to match our own."
Senbaud scoffed, "Hmph, Milord, the so-called 'Invincible Fleet' at Hidegold Bay only relies on their numbers to oppress other fleets. They won't be able to keep up with Windstorm, even if we only considered speed, in actual combat circumstances. We'll be able to sink those modified merchant vessels easily with the cannons on board."
Senbaud was correct. The Union's warships were like floating castles. They had sacrificed any semblance of mobility for defense. While they wouldn't have a problem at the calm seas of Hidegold Bay, the ships were liable to be toppled by strong winds in other places like the Sea of Greed.
"It's good that you're that confident, Senbaud. When you test the ship out at sea, make sure to note down any weaknesses or shortcomings you notice so we can adjust accordingly for the five ships still under construction. Once they are complete, the construction crew will move on to their next project. They are to build a 120-meter-long five-masted warship and arm it with 60 cannons," said Lorist.
"What? There can actually be a ship that big?" asked Senbaud as he swallowed a nervous gulp, "Milord, I will definitely work really hard for you, so please let me command that ship when it's complete..." (Editor's note: Puppydog eyes)
A week had quickly passed and Lorist was about to depart for Silowas on the Windstorm. Right before he left, he held a meeting with the high officials of the house in the main camp at the bay.
"Terman, I will leave the security of Firmrock, Salus, Redriver and the grazing plains at the western Northlands to you, understood?"
"Yes, Milord," said Terman as he saluted respectfully.
"Waxima, Loze has irresponsibly tossed his two spear cavalry divisions to you, so I have no choice but to trouble you to manage them."
"Milord, I don't really mind it. It's not the first time this happened anyway," replied Waxima.
Everyone present burst into uncontrollable laughter.
"Pete," Lorist said, trying to bring the situation back on track, "have your mounted archer brigade defend Hidebull. Even though the mountain barbarians haven't caused any trouble in recent years, it's best if we remain vigilant."
"Understood, milord," said Pete with a bitter smile.
His superior, Josk, was just like Fiercetiger Loze: he also loved to follow his lord along on one adventure after another, frequently leaving the mounted archer brigade under Pete's care.
"Milord, please give me your instructions," said Pajik as he came to attention.
"From today onwards, you will be Belnick's right hand. Pass control of the second local defense brigade to your second in command and help Belnick with the reorganization of the third local defense brigade as well as the formation of the fourth and fifth brigades. The brigades will be consolidated into the first local defense division with Belnick as its commander and you as the vice.
"Yes, milord," said Pajik as he saluted. This was akin to a promotion for him.
Belnick stood up and asked, "Milord, where will the first local defense division be stationed?"
Lorist pointed at the map of the dominion behind him and said, "The first local defense brigade will be stationed at Firmrock castle and the second brigade at the citadel at Tortoise Hill. After reorganizing the third, station them at the port city. The fourth and fifth still have to be trained for at least three months in military regulations after their formation. Use them as reserve troops for now and have them stay at the training camp until we return from the expedition."
Lorist didn't have much of a choice. Of the 60 thousand laborers whose term of service was ending at the end of the year, 50 thousand had already chosen to remain within the dominion. Some even wanted to return home and fetch their families. Even though the house had already begun to develop Redriver, they would only be able to settle a portion of their new subjects. Even so, there were far too many youths among the laborers that fit the criteria to join the army. Apart from the expansion of the heavy-armor and spear-cavalry divisions over the last six months, there were still more than ten thousand youths who wanted a place in the army. Those who were accustomed to water had been transferred to the marine training camp while the rest were stuffed into the local defense division.
Supervisor Spiel stood up and said, "Milord, our treasury has already dropped below a million gold Fordes. Continuing to expand the house's forces will only make our financial situation worse. We're starting several massive development projects in the coming months and I fear we'll be out of money by the fifth or sixth month."
"That won't be a problem," Lorist said as he waved, "In the coming months, our house will gain a huge sum of money. It will be more than enough to cover our expenses. Oh, and Supervisor Spiel, I leave you in charge of the products we intend to let the salt merchant committee sell on our behalf. It will bring in quite substantial profits as well."
"Understood, Milord," said the supervisor worriedly as he sat back down.
"Awaiting your instructions, milord," said Supervisor Boris, the ex-manager of House Kenmays.
"As Knight Charade is not with us, I will leave civilian affairs in your care. From this year onwards, we will collect tax from the Felicitas and Salus settlements, and I hope you can take care of them."
"Rest assured, milord. I will definitely do my best," said the supervisor.
"Old Man Balk, the factories and workshops of the house will be left in your care."
The old man stood up and replied, "Don't worry, Milord. I won't disappoint you."
"Shadekampf, you're someone who's followed me for a long time. I will leave you with the management rights to the development of Redriver. Don't let me down."
"Understood, Milord," said Shadekampf.
It was apparent from his fit and healthy look that he had made good progress with his training during the recent years.
"Supervisor Kedan, Supervisor Hansk will be following me back to Silowas to take care of the mess over there. So, there are various tasks in the dominion that you will have to oversee."
"Milord, you don't have to be worried as long as I'm here. However, I wonder if we really don't need the second highness's permission to go on an expedition against the Hanayabarta kingdom. After all, it's a sovereign kingdom we're talking about," said Kedan.
All of those present knew of Lorist's intentions. Not one felt it weird. If Lorist really endured it and didn't take any action, he wouldn't be fit to be the leader of the household.
However, Supervisor Kedan's worries were well-founded. If the enemy were nobles on roughly the same standing, there would be no need to inform anyone about the attack. However, Lorist planned to take on a whole kingdom, and according to proper regulations, Lorist had to at the very least inform the second highness so that he could lodge an official diplomatic complaint on behalf of his vassal with the Hanayabarta kingdom. Only if the complaint didn't receive a satisfying resolution would the Norton House or the forces of the Andinaq kingdom be allowed to take revenge against the Hanayabarta kingdom for their misdeeds.
Lorist shook his head and said, "We don't have the time to waste on that. Besides, the second highness is currently in the Redlis kingdom and might not even bother with small matters like these. If we really choose to wait, I don't know how long it will take for us to hear anything. Look at the case of the Peterson Merchant Guild, didn't they also conquer the Teria duchy without informing the Union beforehand?"
"But, Milord, those of the Union are nothing but tycoons without proper tradition and protocols. It's no surprise that they act the way they do. On the other hand, we're a house that has a history of a few centuries, so some basic protocols will have to be observed. Going on an expedition against a kingdom is no small issue, so it's best to first have the agreement of a senior noble. Otherwise, we could be considered to be disrespectful to those above us. As this matter concerns the household name, I hope that milord will give it more consideration," advised Supervisor Spiel as well.
"That's enough," Lorist said with a solemn face, "I understand that you guys are worrying on behalf of the house, which is commendable behavior. But did you take into account how the household knights of our house who were captured by the slavers feel? Every day of inaction means a day of torture for them. Another day where they'll have to risk their lives. If we really wait for the agreement of the second highness, it will come soonest after this year. Perhaps, we might not even get anything by the end of the next year.
"Also, has the Hanayabarta kingdom had any interactions with the Andinaq kingdom in the recent years? Did the Andinaq kingdom officially recognize the Hanayabarta kingdom as its own nation?
"Don't forget, our target this time is not a kingdom, but only a band of pirates and slave traders who happen to control a port city. Remember, there has never been a Hanayabarta kingdom. We are only taking action against the slavers who have attacked Silowas to save our subjects and members of our household. The Hanayabarta kingdom is naught but a shallow and deceitful construct made by the enemy to fool others. They were never a proper nation.
"Remember this! Those who slight the Nortons shall be put down, far as they may be! Understood?"
"Yes, milord! Those who slight the Nortons shall be put down, far as they may be!" called out the ones in the tent in unison.
Eight days later, Lorist arrived on Silowas. Potterfang received him with a group of other household knights.
"How many ships do we have now?" asked Lorist. That was the issue he was most concerned about at the moment.
"Milord, Blademaster Engelich, Josk, and Fiercetiger Loze has so far expropriated more than 30 ships. Together with our own ships, we already have enough to transport more than 20 thousand people. The Peterson Merchant Guild sent us a letter that stated that they can lend us 14 ships, four of which are large-class merchant vessels and another ten being middle-class ships. However, those ships would only arrive at the end of the 8th month," reported Potterfang.
"Alright," said Lorist as he nodded. It seemed that Engelich and the rest only had to expropriate another 50 to 60 ships to have enough to transport all 30 thousand plus soldiers of the dominion to the Hanayabarta archipelago. By the end of the 9th month, they would be able to depart.
"How's the morale of our forces? What sort of thoughts do they have on our upcoming expedition?"
"Milord, everyone is enraged about what happened to our island. Even though the second batch of soldiers to arrive didn't see it for themselves, they share the feelings of the first batch who came over to do the cleanup. All of them believe we should teach the slavers a harsh lesson."
"That's great. We must ensure that our morale stays high. Intensify their training while we wait for more ships to arrive so that they will be properly prepared for the actual battle," instructed Lorist.