I'm finally free from my exams! Here's the first regular chapter of the week to commemorate my liberation! Muahahaha! I'm freeeeee!
"Swerve the ship towards point 26, half sail!" yelled a voice.
"Understood! Swerve ship towards 26, half sail!" replied Kurt loudly as he spun the ship wheel with great strength.
The ship tilted and the world outside slowly shifted. A few well-trained marines hung on the mast and lowered half of the sails adeptly.
Rain drizzled on the ocean. Eventually a series of bumps appeared on the horizon. Eventually the bumps became distinct from the ocean itself. The captain of the ship, Schumak, let out a relieved sigh and ordered his helms to change their direction. The ship corrected its course and headed for Nupity, slowly fading into the chilling drizzle.
It was only a quarter past six in the morning and it already felt like the sun would not be showing itself for the day. All Schumak could hope for was that the drizzle would let up when they reach Nupite, he didn't want the ship's unloading to be delayed. He was not concerned with how slippery the port would be for the slaves transporting the cargo. Rather, his worry stemmed from the fact that his cargo that was not waterproofed properly, making them unfit for moving in times of rain.
Droplets of water rained down upon the greyish-black beastskin rainshield. Schumak raised his head, looked to the sky, and estimated that he would see Nupite by noon. Given his long experience at sea, his estimations were usually rather accurate. Looking back at the fleet of ships of which he was in charge, he could not help but feel a sense of pride. This was the northern fleet of the Chikdor Merchant Guild. in other words, it was the strongest fleet the northern seas had ever seen. Schumak's effort had paid off long ago when he was given the honor of commanding such an impressive fleet.
It required between 20 and 26 days to sail from Hidegold Bay to the Shyarsia kingdom. The kingdom was situated near the southern side of the various island nations. A survey by the Chikdor Merchant Guild found that sailors' psyches would suffer if they didn't see land for more than 15 days. The first symptom they would demonstrate was a steep increase in irritability. At the 20 day mark sailors would begin to suffer from despair and aggression. The combination of these three malaises meant that fights were frequent and often over the most insignificant of things. It wasn't very rare for the most trivial of disagreements to burst into a fierce fight from which life threatening injury could result.
The fleet stopped over at the Shyarsia kingdom to complete their assignment to trade for spices. When they first set sail, the sailors and other crew members were patient, obedient, and easier to control. While the journey to the Shyarsia kingdom was not a short one, they managed to arrive before any misfortunate incident occurred and the sailors had ten-odd days to rest up before continuing the voyage. The trip to the Hanayabarta archipelago from the kingdom took less than 10 days, so the average voyage shouldn't encounter any problems.
Should one sail from Hidegold Bay straight to the Hanayabarta kingdom, one would have to travel for easily more than 20 days. However, it took no more than ten days for one to travel from the island nations to the continent to Grindia, after which one only had to sail along the coast of the continent back to Hidegold Bay. That did not in any way suggest that prolonged voyages were something to be encouraged; sailors would naturally begin to worry about their families and homes after two months absent. All that knowhow was something the Chikdor Merchant Guild had discovered over the years.
This time around, the journey involved 67 ships. Before they departed, the management intentionally transferred over 22 large-class, long-distance merchant vessels, mainly because of the letter now in in Schumak's room.
The war with the Teribo kingdom had caused the guild great losses. While their armed fleet did not incur any losses, the guild lost two rank 1 blademasters and seven gold-ranked swordsmen, all of whom had received painstaking effort and investment from the guild over the years.
Fortunately, thanks to First Young Master Serihanem's cunning plan, the Twinhead Dragon Merchant Guild's president, Cobleit, started to trust the Chikdors deeply. He enfeoffed the whole Urubaha duchy to the guild as compensation for their contributions right after the war ended.
But whilst they had finally obtained their own dominion, they were in an even deeper pit than before. It was common knowledge that the Urubaha duchy was a poor nation filled with mountainous regions. The most troubling part was that the availability of cultivable land was so bad that the nation was barely able to sustain its own population. The reason for the formation of the two armies-for-rent was to earn some extra coin for the duchy. All the while decreasing the number of people that required feeding.
As for the civilians, those that wanted a proper diet would become pirates or bandits. The late Duke Urubaha did not care much for their shenanigans. All he cared about was that he be able to collect his taxes. In some instances, his two armies were hired precisely to solve the banditry problem. Either way, he stood to benefit from the situation.
The two armies were absorbed into the Chikdor Merchant Guild when they took over, and was currently a massive burden. Both the Crimson Legion and the Tricolor Sword Legion only had 24 thousand men each, but as a whole package, there were another 200 thousand family members that had to be fed, almost a quarter of the whole duchy's population. The late duke did not care about the families. He only cared about those that could bring him money, and only as far as their ability to make him money stretched. He felt that his giving his soldiers a job with pay was already more grace than they deserved.
Now that Clan Chikdor had taken control over the two armies, they did not wish for them to be as disloyal as they had towards Duke Urubaha. Not only did they have to make them formal standing armies, they also had to ensure their loyalty. They had to enforce military regulation as well as take care of the soldiers' families. However, the War of Glass had caused the prices of food to skyrocket. That was especially the case now that the continent's nations had become cautious towards the Union. Most of the established trade routes had been closed off, with important supplies such as food and metals put under embargoes. The insane prices for food and other supplies within the Union didn't come down as they had expected and hoped, they remained just as high, and even increased.
The Urubaha duchy, required food first and foremost. Only with food could the guild grasp the unwavering loyalty of the civilians within the duchy. For one, Serihanem's plan to develop basic infrastructure within the duchy to rectify its poor state was a step in that direction. Within just two or three years, the guild would be self sufficient with the duchy. It might even begin to see profits.
The main problem was that, no matter how much money the guild had, they were unable to purchase food from the neighboring nations. Even if they did, it would cost a king's ransom. It was not a price even the rich and mighty Chikdor Merchant Guild could afford. The main motivation behind the transfer of more than 20 of those large merchant vessels to the northern fleet was to procure large amounts of food, at least a million Pors, from the Hanayabarta kingdom. Incidentally, a Por is the unit of measurement used in Grindia. It equates to about 50 kilograms. The measurement and name is derived from the linen sack by the same name and the weight it can hold.
The letter within Schumak's ship cabin was penned by President Chikdor personally. In the letter, the president requested that the guild be sold food based on the years of amiable interactions the guild and the kingdom. The reason the king's explicit permission had to be obtained was the alarming amount of food actually ordered. For that, the president had also prepared lots of exquisite gifts.
The fleet traveled through the waterway leading to Nupite. Schumak looked a at the islands from the deck of his ship a little worriedly.
Did the slaver lords actually develop a conscience and stop their slaves from working in the rain?
It did not take long for Schumak to choke with laughter at his passing thought.
Well, why should I care? The slaves' got nothing to do with me anyway.
Currently, the decks of the merchant vessels were filled with sailors. They were far more excited to be at the Hanayabarta kingdom than the Shyarsia kingdom. Other things aside, merely the 'quality' of the women in the brothels here were far superior to those in Shyarsian brothels. The women who fished for customers at the docks of the Shyarsia kingdom were mostly descendents of fishermen or farmers, it was revealed by their tanned skin. Some sailors were convinced they could even smell the stench of fish and mud on them.
The Hanayabartan harlots were mostly female slaves brought over from all over the continent. Not only were their services cheap, there were more than enough of them to satisfy the sailor's needs for a few days and nights.
After passing by Featherfall Island, Schumak finally spotted a group of slaves. It was a family of three. They stood by a run-down stone house on the island, looking at the ships expressionlessly as they sailed by.
"This is weird, since when has the slaver nobles allowed a family of slaves to live together?" asked rank 1 blademaster Kuchid.
Originally, the guild was backed by five blademasters. However, with the loss of one during the interception of the Flying Fish of Dawn and two during the War of Glass (one had perished to defend President Cobleit during an assassination attempt and the other was tricked into being killed by Duke Urubaha when he was at his most defenseless), only Kuchid and Udi, a rank 2 blademaster, remained.
Blademaster Kuchid was attached to the mission because the guild would not permit any mishap on a mission as important as it. He had been specially transferred from his original post at the southern armed fleet.
"Hehe, sir Blademaster, you might be unaware, but the Hanayabarta kingdom does allow slaves to form their families," said old Kurt, the helmsman, "Old female slaves are allowed to wed their male slaves as reward. However, most of the female slaves are used ones that have probably been impregnated by the slaver nobles. They allow them to be wedded to the other slaves precisely because it would save them the trouble of having to raise their unwanted kin. Should they ever wish to have fun with the female slaves again, their husbands would have to stand guard outside their house when they get on with their business."
"Haha, it seems that the slaver nobles live quite plentiful lives. With all those slaves running their manors for them, they are able to live carefreely. They can get their hands on anything they could possibly want and they have the slaves' lives in their hands," said Blademaster Kuchid with a chuckle.
Schumak, on the other hand, shook his head with displeasure.
All those fellows consider is how life is from the slavers' point of view, not the slaves. I can only imagine how horrible it must be to be one of those poor souls.
Even so, given his post as the captain of the guild's northern fleet, all Schumak could care about was whether he would be able to complete his mission. He didn't have the luxury of sympathizing with the slaves.
Past Featherfall Island was Goldshark Island and Duck Island. Nupite was already visible far in the distance.
Huh, there's nobody at the port. Must be because of the rain. Those jetties look oddly empty though... Shouldn't there be at least a ship or two over there?
"What's going on? Did something happen at the port? It shouldn't be that quiet around here," said Kurt, slightly surprised.
"Well, the empty port can only be good for us," Schumak said as he rolled his eyes, "we won't have to worry about finding a spot. Besides, weren't we informed that the kingdom's slavers set out to attack Silowas island? You know, that island belonging to some count that the guild wanted to take as its dominion not too long ago? Perhaps the slavers' ships have gone back to attack it again."
That line of reasoning was indeed rather reasonable, so no one bothered arguing.
Even so, as they approached the city, more and more sailors filled the decks of the ships, impatient to get down for some fun.
"Eh? Why did the slaver nobles build that small hill? Is that a pyramid? What's it for?" asked old Kurt.
As they got closer, Kuchid suddenly gasped. Others began chattering incessantly.
"What's going on?" asked Schumak.
"Those... Those are all... hu-hu-hu-human heads... stacked up... pyramid," stammered the blademaster.
"What are you going on about?" asked Schumak, before he turned to look.
He instantly felt a cold wave wash over his body. His whole being felt frozen, as if he had fallen into an icy abyss.
When the fleet was less than a hundred meters away from the port, the 30-odd-meter-tall pyramid entered the sights of those on board. Pyramids were no rare sight. The continent had its own fair share of pyramid-shaped buildings in the ruins of the ancient civilization, but most of them were tombs. The pyramid that was on the Nupite's shores, however, was constructed wholly of stacked human heads.
It was apparent that the heads had been intentionally embalmed. The pale faces still had the despairing, frenzied looks on their faces from the moments of their deaths. Not one, but all the heads wore similar expressions. The shock brought by the sight was unimaginable, especially with the transparent, resin-like material that filled the space between the heads, making the pyramid look like a crystal encasing countless human heads.
All the sailors on board the ships looked at the shores in deathly silence. All they could feel was the cold numbness that assailed their limbs. It froze them in place as terror crept out of the depths of their psyche and made their teeth chatter and their limbs shiver.
There were quite a number of savage sailors that had seen their fair share of death, some had even crawled directly out of piles of bodies, but faced with the pyramid in front of them, not one managed to maintain their composure. All they did was stare blankly at the structure. They forgot their duties entirely.
More than ten ships actually collided after the helmsmen saw the pyramid. The whole fleet was brought to a standstill.
Just when Schumak snapped out of his stupor and attempted to give the order to get back into formation, he heard the familiar sound of Nupite's horn.
Countless elite soldiers rushed to the port and got into formation. They awaited the fleet's arrival. Some even brought with them countless ballistae to the frontlines.
The expressions on Schumak and Kuchid's faces changed immediately. Subsequently, horns resounded from Goldshark Island and Duck Island and either side of the waterway the fleet was traveling through. Unending rows of soldiers came out and pushed their odd-looking pushcarts. A few minutes later, a horn sound sounded behind the fleet. More than eight large-class ships blocked the waterway the fleet had just come through. The whole northern fleet had become a helpless sitting duck, it could only wait for its fate to arrive.
Lorist brought blademasters Engelich and Shuss as he headed to the port. Facing the fleet, he called out, "Disarm and abandon ship if you want to be spared!"
All the Norton soldiers roared in unison, "Disarm and abandon ship if you want to be spared!"
The northern fleet responded with silence.
Lorist waved his hand and the horns blared once more.
All of a sudden, the rows of catapults launched flaming projectiles at the fleet. The projectiles crossed over 400 meters of water before falling into the water and beating up countless waves.
Schumak mused with a pale look, "What do we do now?"
Kuchid grit his teeth as he muttered, "We have no choice. There's this blademaster on the port radiating seething killing intent... I'm afraid that I'm not his match..."
Schumak looked at the sailors who were on the deck. Not one of them dared to look him in the eye. It appeared that all of them had lost any will to resist when faced with the pyramid. Given that they had been encircled, all that would follow resistance was annihilation.
Schumak solemnly nodded and uttered his last command as the fleet's captain, "Lower all sails, put up the white flags, and approach the shores slowly! We're surrendering!"