On the 31st day of the 8th month, Lorist got disembarked from the Flying Fish of Dawn and was received by Potterfang and Supervisor Hansk at the port.
"The haul wasn't bad this time around. We got 17 ships in total, five large-class long-distance merchant vessels and 12 middle-class armed ships. All of them belong to the slaver fleets of the Hanayabarta kingdom. One of them was transporting smuggled goods, which Supervisor Hansk will make an inventory of, and their other two fleets were ferrying around a thousand slaves. They had all been purchased from the Golden Coast. We will let them work on the island for a period of time before we release them," said Lorist.
"Alright, Milord," replied Supervisor Hansk.
"There are also more than 200 slavers on the ships. Potterfang, send someone to question them before hanging them. As for their sailors, hang those who don't behave. As long as any of them are subjects of the Hanayabarta kingdom, make sure not to let them off, understood?" instructed Lorist casually, deciding the fate of more than a hundred lives without a single care in the world.
"Understood, Milord," said Potterfang, before he turned around and barked a few orders. Soon, a few silver-ranked knights brought a regiment of soldiers with them to the ships that t had just been taken.
Lorist had been rather anxious recently. When he couldn't calm himself down, he would set sail for the Sea of Grief to join Engelich and the others expropriating ships. The Sea of Grief was largely empty, however. It was no surprise since the ships came from somewhere else after all. Lorist had already expropriated most of the smuggler's ships, and even those who managed to evade capture did not dare to sail in the area anymore.
Frustrated and annoyed, Lorist traveled straight to the trade route near Hidegold Bay where the ships of the Hanayabarta kingdom would pass through with the Flying Fish of Dawn and Windstorm. As expected, there were far more ships there for their taking. The slaver nobles of the kingdom mostly had their own fleets, with the larger ones having roughly eight ships and the smaller ones had two or three. Within half a month, more than 40 ships were successfully taken. As long as the Flying Fish of Dawn managed to line up to the enemy ships, with Lorist's presence there, the ship would no longer be able to escape. The Windstorm also finally got her chance to test out the might of her cannons. More than seven ships that attempted to sail away had been sunk by the Windstorm with relative ease.
"Milord, all the troops to be deployed have made their way to the island," said Potterfang.
"Okay. The coast is filled with the ships of the house, so I already had a hunch about that," said Lorist.
"However, I realized that many of our soldiers are not used to the ship motions. Many of them get seasick because they are not used to spending extended periods of time at sea," said Potterfang.
"We don't have a choice. Have some herbalists cook up more medicine for seasickness and give each soldier one bottle of it," Lorist came up with a less-than-ideal solution, "Is there anything else?"
"Milord, the 14 ships the Peterson Merchant Guild lent us has also just arrived. President Peterson even wrote you a letter. Also, Knight Lundmorde sent us an update on the conflict between the Teribo kingdom and the Union as well as the second highness's battles at the Redlis kingdom," said Supervisor Hansk as he took out a letter.
As he opened it, Lorist asked, "What did the report say?"
"The Teribo kingdom is no more and the Union has won. Also, the second highness suffered a huge loss at the Majik Province," Potterfang replied, "I placed the report in your tent, Milord."
"Oh," Lorist said, before putting aside the matter of the report as he started to read President Peterson's letter.
Apart from asking how Lorist was doing, the president briefly described the victory and the following changes coming to the Union. One of the most important things he stated was the fact that the Union has been set back rather heavily after eight months of war with the Teribo kingdom. Even the Peterson Merchant Guild, one of the big seven guilds of the Union, had suffered huge losses in terms of might and business. It has been one of the toughest ordeals they have ever faced.
This was different from the resistance of the invasion of the Krissen Empire. Back then, the Union had allies all over that supported their cause. The various neighboring nations all understood that if the Union fell, they would be the empire's next targets. That was why they supported the Union as best as they could and forged very close ties. Even if the Union suffered heavy losses from a Krissen invasion attempt, they would recover rather quickly in the coming years with trade between the other nations.
But the War of Glass was a different beast altogether. Even though the Union was technically the one that was attacked, their enemy was the simple-minded Teribo VII. It was incredibly unlucky of the Union to get an enemy like that who managed to change the perception other nations had of the Union. He turned the Union from the victim to the aggressor.
To the neighboring nations, the Union, which no longer has an enemy to worry about at the north, had begun to use their superior might to suppress the smaller nations around them. Many believed that the War of Glass was started as an excuse for the Union to begin their monopoly on the glass trade.
The truth of the matter was not important to those onlookers. What mattered was the situation before their eyes. The Union's deployment of troops at the capital of the kingdom, Feyers, and their declaration of the extermination of the Teribo kingdom was seen as excessive by the neighboring nations no matter how much of a fool Teribo VII actually was. The formation of the allied army of eleven nations was more of a precaution for the Union's ambitions than a way to earn a quick buck at Teribo VII's expense.
But nobody would've expected how the War of Glass actually came to a close. Just as the military historians who studied the conflict had described, there were no open field battles or sieges. Apart from raids, military mobilization, assassinations, and counter-assassinations the armies of both sides had stood each other off without any large-scale conflict for more than six months. Right after that, however, seven of the smaller nations were exterminated out of nowhere.
This was a war-laden with deception, scheming, transactions, threats, assassinations, surrenders, and betrayals, as one military historian described. The truth was not far from his writings. Nearing the end of the war, two smaller merchant guilds worked together and supported a rival military faction in one of those nations financially and held their countrymen at ransom, causing the reinforcements that nation sent to the allied army to have to retreat to capture the king and surrender him to the Union in exchange for the lives of their family members.
President Peterson understood that even though the War of Glass had ended with the Union's victory, the aftereffects were only just beginning to show. On the bright side, the Union did manage to successfully implement the nobility system. After swallowing the territory of seven neighboring nations, the Union became the third largest nation on the continent and had more than enough land to enfeoff.
But as a consequence, the remaining neighboring nations of the Union steeled their guard against the Union. Not only were the various trade routes of the Peterson Merchant Guild affected, some nations even levied sanctions against any and all trade with the Union or imposed heavy taxes on any trade carried out by the Union.
Given the situation, the Peterson Merchant Guild had begun to face serious trouble. Even though they managed to get a dominion for their guild, it cost them rather a lot. Not only did they have to start new trade routes, they also had to reestablish their trade deals, settle down their new subjects, develop their dominion, and form a new combat force.
That was why President Peterson expressed his hopes that he could delay his payment to the Norton House for a year and a half, and even wished to purchase the military equipment of the house with a loan from them. The president said in the letter that the old method of trading goods was also no longer possible as many of their trade routes had been cut off all of a sudden. Also, with the inflation of prices, the house would also no longer be able to obtain the food they needed through them, given that the price of food had quadrupled after the war.
"How much money does the Peterson Merchant Guild owe us?" asked Lorist.
"Milord, they still owe us 320 thousand gold Fordes for the magic beast fur deal. Originally, they were going to pay us back with food, but they delayed the payment because of the war. As we happened to be attacked at Silowas at the same time, we agreed to let them postpone payment. Other than that, they also ordered more than 10 thousand sets of military equipment worth 540 thousand gold Fordes," Supervisor Hansk recalled the details of the trades at his fingertips, "Milord, what did the president say? When will they guild pay us back the money?"
"See for yourself," said Lorist as he passed over the letter of the president.
Supervisor Hansk's paled as he read the letter.
"Milord, there is no way we can accept the request of the guild this time around. If they delay for another year and a half, our house will run out of money. Supervisor Spiel has already made clear estimates that the funds of the house will run out by the 6th month of next year at the latest. We were hoping that the payment from the guild would relieve us of the burden imposed on us by the development projects within the dominion. If this is the case, there's bound to be chaos in the dominion soon..." said he.
Nodding, Lorist said, "It's fine, I have some plans in mind. I will draft a reply for President Peterson's letter. Supervisor Hansk, there should be around ten thousand gold Fordes' worth of goods on the ships, so go make an inventory of them. We must use whatever we can right now."
The supervisor rushed to the ship.
Potterfang could no longer stay quiet and said, "Milord, is the house in that much financial trouble?"
"That's right. Had it not been for the release of the laborers this year who have finished their term and the attack we suffered at Silowas, we might have been able to survive longer. The new products we just released might even help us out quite a bit on that front," Lorist said as he smiled bitterly, "But I didn't think that so many of the laborers fit the criteria to join our forces and actually want to. While refusing them is easy, it's a huge waste. I was under the impression that the Chikdor Merchant Guild wanted to attack Silowas, so I agreed to the expansion of our forces.
"With so many new soldiers who we have to provide with adequate training and gear, the cost of maintaining them will only continue to rise. That is especially the case with the marines' and sailors' training. The cost of training the Windstorm's cannoneers is roughly 30 thousand gold Fordes already.
"The Hanayabarta kingdom's attack on Silowas only served to worsen our situation. The pension we have to pay for the dead soldiers is quite substantial. The expedition against the kingdom will also likely cost us hundreds of thousands of gold Fordes. Supervisor Spiel is correct, the house will be bankrupt by the 6th month of next year."
"Is there nothing we can do, Milord?" asked Potterfang.
"Well," Lorist said as he waved the letter of President Peterson around, "Originally, I intended to take advantage of the merchant guilds that want to form their own forces to protect their own dominion. But given how long the War of Glass has dragged on, the guilds have also lost far too much. Even the Peterson Merchant Guild, one of the big seven, is finding the recent days tough, so the smaller guilds are even further out of the question. If we want to dabble in this business, we'll have to wait three years, at least, for the guilds regain their momentum."
Potterfang breathed a long sigh at the news. Given that he was a man of the military, all he could be worry about the financial situation of the house.
Pog, I have a question for you. Do you know which method is the easiest to make money with?" Lorist asked, much to the surprise of Potterfang.
"Umm," Potterfang hummed, before he finally replied, "Isn't it dealing in military gear? I've often heard Knight Charade say that the military business is extremely profitable. That was what the northbound convoy relied on as well along the journey."
"No," Lorist said, shaking his head, "The best method is raiding and robbing the landed nobles. Do you remember the time we defeated Count Cobry and occupied his city? I returned to the dominion first whereas Charade and you guys stayed for three months. You did business with the local nobles and didn't even make more than a million gold Fordes of profit.
"But after that, the convoy traveled to the Andinaq kingdom. Even though the convoy was exploited by the second highness, you guys used your might to wipe out two-thirds of the nobles there and managed to pilfer 5 million gold Fordes' worth of goods. If we didn't use that money for anything, our knights would be able to live lives of luxury for a few lifetimes.
"But I invested the money in the development of the dominion and strengthening the forces of the house. With that, we managed to exterminate the magic beast wave that had plagued the dominion for more than 200 years and provided a safe environment for our troops and subjects to live in. We also started many factories and workshops, as well as villages and institutions of study. We'll also be launching a proper academy soon.
"Other than that, we also managed to find a location to build a port at the Bladedge mountains and built up our port city, all the while converting part of the dangerous Blackmud Marsh into farmable land. The dominion was only able to flourish because the house invested so much money in it. The annual spending of the house is easily over a million gold Fordes. All the profits we reaped are also invested for further development, like the case with the 2 million plus gold Fordes we made from the military equipment deals with our three allies.
"Had it not been for the slavers' attack on the island, I might have deployed you guys against the Madras duchy. That's because there aren't any richer forces near the Northlands that we can raid. Originally, I intended to attack the Sidgler province's Platinum Beach before launching an ambush on Duke Madras' lair and making off with his riches. We could have used the money we gained from that expedition to solve our crisis.
"Don't look at me like that, Pog. You are one of my most-trusted knights, and that's why I'm willing to be so frank with you. I made that plan to give our forces a chance to engage in actual battle as well. You should know best that good soldiers aren't the result of training, but participation in real battles. Other than that, the Madras duchy is hostile towards us, so we have a good reason to go to war with them. Profiting off their riches was only a minor goal of the plan," said Lorist as he laughed.
"But now that the Hanayabarta kingdom has come knocking on our doors, we'll let Duke Madras off the time being. After all, his dominion is at Sidgler, and it's not like he can move away all of a sudden. We can be sure that there will be more chances to attack him. To be honest, I'm not that worried about our financial situation right now. The Hanayabarta kingdom is bound to have much more riches than the Madras duchy, given that the slavers must have made huge profits over the dark trade of people. I would definitely be glad to use their ill-deserved wealth for a greater purpose."
Lorist revealed an insidious smile as he said, "Potterfang..."
Potterfang stood at attention and said, "Milord, please let me know of your will."
"Remember, the main priority of the expedition on the Hanayabarta kingdom is the rescue of our men from the slavers. After that comes sucking their wealth dry to relieve the financial crisis of our house. As for our soldiers, we should spread the propaganda that we are taking righteous vengeance against the Hanayabarta kingdom for wronging us. Let them know that we are sailing to free our comrades. That way, our soldiers won't feel like they are pirates or bandits, understood?"
"Milord, I understand. Like you said, those who slight the Nortons shall be put down, far as they may be! We are going to punish the darned slaver nobles and slave traders. Reaping their wealth is only par for the course and not our main goal."
"Good. Potterfang, tell me more about the report Lundmorde sent. How did the second highness lose that badly?"
"Well, after the War of Glass, Teribo VII went insane and killed himself. Many nations that sent forces to join the allied army were also swallowed up. Two of the nations, in particular, was ended by the very soldiers they sent out as reinforcements, so I suspect something along the lines of bribery went on. They actually captured the leaders of their nation and surrendered them to the Union. Right now, the Union has the third largest territory of all the nations on Grindia, and they have incurred the caution and suspicion of their neighbors.
"Lundmorde says that the price of goods in Morante right now is incredibly high. The ale at the Red Grace Inn that costs only two coppers is worth ten coppers right now. Also, Lundmorde asked for a raise, he said he wouldn't be able to feed his family otherwise.
"As for the second highness's loss, Lundmorde only found out about it after he read the Morante Daily. According to the paper, a new military strategist called Zitram or something emerged among the nobles of the Redlis kingdom. He used the second highness's carelessness to bait his forces into a low-lying area and destroyed a dam nearby. As a result, the second highness's army has been wiped out. Even though it's said that the second highness managed to escape alive, his army of 70 thousand is almost completely decimated. He's sworn vengeance against the man.