Lorist only managed to return to SIlowas by the end of the 11th month along with the ten police brigades formed from the liberated slaves. In the following winter, the Oceanic Legion would not have time to rest up. Instead, they had to continue shipping the food and supplies, soldiers and liberated slaves all the way to Silowas. The whole process would continue until the 2nd month of the next year.
Currently, the Oceanic Legion numbered around 45 thousand men, with more than 400 ships spread out across the seas. Lorist ordered the Oceanic Legion's commander, Gold-ranked Knight Senbaud, to reorganize the legion following the completion of the transport process in hopes of forming two armed patrol fleets with cannons as their main armament to defend the coasts of The Northlands as well as Silowas. Not only that, he intended for three transportation merchant fleets to be formed, as well as release around 200 ships that he had commandeered before his campaign and compensate the losses of the owners to ship some of the slaves who wished to go back to their homes on the continent of Grindia.
As for the 20 slave-formed police brigades at the Hanayabarta archipelago, they would join together with the five local defense brigades at the dominion to form a local defense legion, comprising of five divisions which each encompassed five brigades. In total, the legion would have 75 thousand men and would become one of the most important defensive forces for the Norton house.
Having benefited from the wealth upon exterminating the Hanayabarta kingdom, Lorist had more than enough funds to reorganize his army. Not only did he form the local defense legion, he also intended to form two open-field battle assault legions. Firmrock Legion would be infantry focused while Tigersoar Legion would serve as a shock troop unit comprising mainly of cavalry.
Time flew during the course of the busy days. During the 3rd month of the next year, Lorist hosted a new year's knight festival at Firmrock Castle within the dominion and announced his decision to reform their military. The formation of the Firmrock Legion would involve two heavy-armored divisions, one wheelbarrow-ballista division, and another division formed from the combination of the two scout brigades that were consolidated from the ranks of the mounted archers and light cavalry scout brigades, the Thunderbolt Brigade, and three other logistics brigades, with a total number of 60 thousand men spread across four different divisions. It would be headed by Gold-ranked Knight Potterfang with Gold-ranked Knights Malek and the newly-joined Messen as his aides.
The Tigersoar Legion would be headed by Gold-ranked Knight Fiercetiger Loze, with Gold-ranked Knight Yuriy and Divine Marksman Josk serving as his aides. Tigersoar Legion would comprise of two spear cavalry divisions, one carroballista division, another division formed from the combination of a scout brigade, the female brigade, and three other logistics brigades. It would also have a total number of 60 thousand troops.
Finally, the local defense legion comprises 25 brigades, numbering 75 thousand men in total, with Gold-ranked Knight Freiyar as the commander, with two gold-ranked knights, Belnick and former slave fighter Jades, as his aides.
Apart from the three legions, Terman would continue his post as the commander of the three Norton Knight Brigade numbering nine thousand men. Lorist himself on the other hand would control his own personal guard brigade of three thousand men. Other than that, the Oceanic Legion Senbaud commanded had 18 thousand men. In other words, the total number of troops the House of Norton had was 225 thousand, and that did not include the police brigades, garrison legion, and town and village guards that had more than 100 thousand people in total.
Firmrock Legion would be the main infantry assault force and would be stationed at Silowas. Tigersoar Legion on the other hand would be stationed between Salus and Redriver. Given that The Northlands was desolate and mostly empty, it was the place where cavalry troops could shine with their advantage in mobility. The 25 brigades of the local defense legion on the other hand were stationed at different locations, with the first local defense brigade assigned to Firmrock Castle, the second brigade assigned to port city, which was named Northsea by Grandmaster Ciroba. The third and fourth brigades were stationed at the citadels at Hidebull Mound and Tortoise Hill respectively to defend against any potential barbarian invasion.
As the western part of The Northlands had already become the livestock-rearing area of the Nortons, Lorist agreed to Charade's suggestion to reinstate the smuggling path through the Bladedge Mountains the former residents of Wildnorth Town used. That was the path that the troops of Duke Loggins, led by Gold-ranked Knights Chevany and Hennard, used to sneak into the territory of the Nortons. With the passing of almost seven years, the vines that had been set aflame had long grown back and could be used again to construct another suspension bridge.
With the new path, the livestock produce of The Northlands did not have to be shipped through a large detour pass Firmrock Castle into the dominion of the Nortons. Instead, they could be brought straight through the smuggling route at Bladedge Mountains into the dominion within only two days. Lorist did not plan to have a proper bridge constructed as he planned to have a vine bridge built based on the ancient bridges of Sichuan he saw in a documentary in his past life. Following that, he intended to build a citadel near the cavern where Chevany died and defend it with the fifth local defense brigade.
The remaining 20 local defense brigades would begin training within the dominion in various aspects, such as battleforce awakening, military engine training, and other martial training. Lorist informed his household knights that he hoped for the Norton house to have an unparalleled elite force that is fitting for the name of the Roaring Raging Bear within the next two years.
Following the announcement of the military reorganizations, Lorist began to talk about the results of developing the dominion in the past year. With the development of Redriver and Northsea concluding in the current year, the only development project that remained was Nico Academy, with the exception of the restoration of the smuggling path and the construction of the citadel nearby there. Lorist assigned Shadekampf the tasks of maintaining the roads within the dominion, including widening and flattening them better, so that the state of transportation within the dominion would improve.
The development plan of Silowas would proceed as previously planned, with the main workforce being the tens of thousands of liberated slaves brought over from Hanayabarta. Coupled with the aid of Potterfang's Firmrock Legion that would be stationed at Silowas, the development should be complete within the next two years. The main supervisor of the house's census department, Hansk, was appointed to be the new governor of Silowas.
Lorist found himself some free time after the meeting and headed to visit his disciple, Howard. When he left for the Hanayabarta kingdom, he had stopped Howard from accompanying him on the campaign despite the latter's insistence. Given the dangers involved, Lorist would not be able to spare extra effort to look after Howard during the conflict. But Howard had maintained that given that he had broken through to the iron rank, he would be more than capable of defending himself from some random soldiers.
Lorist merely smiled at his disciple's response and got Reidy to start training Howard to develop dynamic vision, which Lorist stated was one of the main requirements a disciple of his had to fulfill. Given that Howard was already an iron rank, Lorist advised Howard to take the chance during his absence on the expedition to develop dynamic vision.
So, Howard left with Reidy in the end. When Lorist returned to the dominion, Reidy reported to him that Howard had indeed successfully developed dynamic vision. However, given the difference in physical traits between Howard and Reidy, it took the former up to half a month before he got used to the vertigo-inducing ride on the spinning chair, the embarrassment of which prevented him from coming to see Lorist himself.
By the time Lorist arrived at the training grounds behind Firmrock Castle, he saw Howard training in swordsmanship. It was apparent that his swordsmanship had improved quite a lot following his development of dynamic vision. Lorist was rather satisfied with the results and felt that Howard would be more than capable of taking on silver ranks in another two years of training.
Apart from guiding both his disciples, Lorist went to pester Telesti on occasion or visit his concubine Irina to relieve his sexual needs. Two months later, both Irina and Telesti got pregnant once again. Irina was more than delighted at the news, but Telesti was furious beyond belief, given that she had to focus on the construction of Nico Academy in the following year. Thus, she declared Lorist an unwanted guest and refused to let him visit her.
Having no other choice, Lorist returned to Firmrock Castle and happened to meet Charade, who was preparing to submit his request for vacation. Charade intended to enter seclusion training with Blademaster Engelich's personal guidance for two years to break through to the gold rank.
That was a matter Lorist had agreed to back when they were still at Hanayabarta. After accepting Charade's vacation request, Lorist opened a few bottles of wine, ordered some snacks and drunk with Charade for one last time before his seclusion. After a few drinks, Charade finally asked, "Why did you launch such a large military expansion effort right after the extermination of the Hanayabarta kingdom? Do you have another target in mind? Given the current number of more than 300 thousand total troops, the military costs have long exceeded the income generated by the dominion. It would cost more than a million gold Fordes to maintain our military based on a rough estimation. I'm worried that this would become a huge burden for us in the coming years."
Lorist chuckled before he brought over a map of the Madras duchy, thumped his fist on it, and said, "No worries, the Madras duchy will become ours in another two years."
When Charade wanted to ask more about what he meant by that, Lorist had already slumped unconscious onto his sofa.
It did not take long for Charade's absence to cause a chain of problems of its own. Before ten days even passed, Dulles, Els, Jim, Waxima, Pajik, Pete and a few other silver-ranked household knights submitted their own leave requests, with the same reason of wanting to break through to the gold rank in the following two years. Even former bandit Ovidis of the Thunderbolt Brigade did the same.
"What the hell are you guys up to?! Are you going to go on a leave too?" barked Lorist angrily at Ovidis.
Ovidis said in a troubled tone, "Milord, didn't you give me a high-ranked fire attribute battleforce manual when you first took me in as a household knight? Back then, I was already at the three star silver rank. By now, I've already familiarized myself with the contents of the manual and am already at the peak of my rank. I feel that I will be breaking through soon, so I had to ask for a one-year leave."
"Ugh..." Moving closer to Ovidis, Lorist did in fact feel that he had the aura of peak three star silver rank. Right away, his rage turned into joy as he patted on Ovidis's shoulder and said, "Alright, I'll approve of your leave. Work hard and make your breakthrough soon. The sooner you become a gold rank, the sooner the house will have another gold-ranked knight in its ranks. I already have a manor at Redriver ready for you."
Upon mention of the manor, Lorist suddenly understood the reason for the sudden rush to take leaves by all the three star silver ranks among the household knights. With the eight manors at Salus already given to Potterfang, Loze and another six gold-ranked knights, and three manors at Redriver assigned to Senbaud, Jades and Messen who joined not too long ago, only five manors remained. All the three-star-silver-ranked knights were worried that they would be one step too late to claim a manor for themselves.
"Gosh, these bastards... Why are they all in such a hurry? It's not like the house is short on knight manors! There's no point in rushing to see who's first!" exclaimed Lorist. Despite that, he agreed to let those knights take their leaves since it did not seem that the house would be in any foreseeable conflict in the next two years. On the other hand, he opened a map of The Northlands and contemplated which part of it too develop next.
On the 23rd day of the 5th month, Lorist returned from his visit at the gunpowder research lab at Bladedge Mountains. Before a suitable metal alloy can be developed, there's no point in developing firearms. It seems like the age of firearms would not come anytime soon. All we are able to make now are bronze cannons; focusing too much effort on smaller firearms simply isn't beneficial in the long run. After all, Grindia is a world of battleforce, and cold weapons are far better than firearms for warfare.
Other things aside, the steel ballista developed by the Norton house could fire up to 300 meters away, whereas the firearms they made could only shoot up to 150 meters away. In a line firing formation, ballistae still far outperformed conventional guns.
Howard knocked on the door, entered, and said, "Milord, there's an urgent report from Northsea that states that the Flying Fish of Dawn has returned from Silowas with news of the latest war developments. The Forde Trade Union has already conquered Kanbona Province of the Redlis kingdom. The 170 thousand soldiers led by the second highness is trapped in the three provinces of the Redlis kingdom and has already lost contact with the Andinaq kingdom. Additionally, the first young master of the Chikdor Merchant Guild, Serihanem, has just arrived at Silowas, saying that he has come as an ambassador of peace and wishes to have an audience with you. Supervisor Hansk had him wait at Silowas and is awaiting your instructions on how to deal with this."
"What?!" exclaimed Lorist in surprise. During the 9th month of the previous year, the report he received about the second highness's campaign in the Redlis kingdom concerned his successive losses at Majik Province. However, at that time, he still had more than 200 thousand troops at his disposal, not including the 100 thousand he stationed at the Andinaq kingdom and the various provinces he conquered. Lorist thought that with the number of soldiers the second highness had, victory for him was only a matter of time.
Upon his return from the extermination of the Hanayabarta kingdom months ago, the first thing he heard about the second highness was how he was still entangled with the nobles of Majik Province. During that time, Second Highness Auguslo had sent his 100 thousand troops to the Handra and Farkel duchies with the demand for the four central duchies to relinquish their status as sovereign state and return under the jurisdiction of the empire. However, the four dukes refused that demand and formed an allied army to resist the force of the second highness and also gave the Majik nobles military support.
At that time, Lorist was more than glad that the second highness was finally suffering consequences for his own actions and understood that anything could happen from then on. Thinking back at their meeting back at the imperial capital some time ago, the second highness had announced that the dukes of the four central duchies were still loyal to the Krissen Empire and would soon join his ranks for the reunification effort.
But now, things started going south. While Lorist was part of the Andinaq kingdom faction, he understood that Second Highness Auguslo was more than wary of the military force of the House of Norton to the point that he had never summoned them to join the war effort. However, Lorist felt back then that the second highness would be able to hold on despite the odds and did not pay it too much heed either. After all, sending soldiers to meddle in the conflict without a formal summons from the second highness could be considered treason.
Given that he was under no obligation to send in any reinforcements, Lorist holed up in The Northlands once again. But little did he expect that with the passing of half a year, not only was the second highness's attempt at exterminating the forces of the Redlis nobles unsuccessful, he was also stabbed in the back by the Union and lost Kanbona Province and contact with the Andinaq kingdom as a result. Currently, Frederika, Anderwoff Province and Bodolger Province which he occupied was still within the territory of the Redlis kingdom. Coupled with the chaotic front at Majik Province, the second highness was in a precarious spot. Having lost his supply line, it was a huge uncertainty whether he would even be able to hold his ground at the frontlines.
"Weird, where did the Union get that kind of force to pull that off?" Lorist mumbled as he stood up. He turned to Howard and said, "Pass the order down that I intend to make a trip to Silowas."