"Your Grace, even though I'm a Forund blademaster, I'm not too informed about the specifics of this matter. We were led by our little prince to reinforce the front at Frederika in the later stages of the battle. As Count Chujway was also present during the campaign, I'm sure he's the one that has the best grasp of the situation. I think we should have him tell us about it instead," said Blademaster Rimad.
Duke Fisablen nodded as he turned to Count Chujway.
"Lord Count, could you tell us about the battle? As a military man myself, I'm really curious how the surprising result came about. When I heard that the second highness occupied Frederika, I thought his victory was already set in stone. I didn't expect the tables would turn completely only two short years later. It is truly shocking. I'm sure you have lots to say as someone who was there."
Count Chujway had not expected to become the centre of attention. He cursed Rimad under his breath before standing up and giving Lorist a glance, only to see his curious expression, much to his relief.
"Your Grace. We did indeed take part in the conflict but it was only because the four central duchies had no choice but to resist the second highness's advances. We did so only in self-defense originally. The later developments are far from what we desired. They forced us to fight."
Nobody expected the count to speak of the battle in such a way. Little Prince Doke, who had little to do with the battle, only humphed with dissatisfaction as if he was displeased with the count's apparently self-praising words. Rimad and the gold-ranked knight were even more surprised. Count Dalek remained seated with a melancholic look.
Count Chujway took a deep breath before he continued.
"As everyone knows, the four central duchies have always been the main load-bearing pillar of the empire. Of the 29 provinces that comprised the empire, the eight that make up the four central duchies occupy 45 percent of the empire's territory. In the days of the empire, whether it was conflicts with external forces or internal revolts, the dukes have always been the ones to lead the effort to defend the empire's interests and contributed to the empire. Even during the 170 plus years of conflict with the Union, the four central duchies contributed the most.
"During the civil war, when the three princes fought for the throne, we four dukes had no choice but to protect the prosperity of our territories by forming our own armies. Even during such a straining time, we still offered a lot of help to the third prince because we respected his imperial heritage. However, following Duke Madras' revolt, things started going down a path no one expected. The empire eventually split into the three kingdoms and seven duchies.
"Even though we declared our independence, we didn't fail to unite against the first prince's threat. Two years of draining resistance against him finally lead to our victory. But right after we started recovering, the second highness sent his forces over and made unreasonable demands to say the least. We were once again forced to come together to face an external threat."
"Oh, what sort of demands did the second highness make?" asked Duke Fisablen, stroking his moustached chin curiously.
"He demanded we accept the relocation of our dominions and wanted our forces to attack the Madras duchy," replied Count Chujway.
Duke Fisablen pulled a few hairs off his moustache in shock.
"Was the second highness out of his mind? Wasn't he practically making enemies out of allies with demands like that?!" exclaimed he.
Count Chujway shrugged.
"Even I don't know what he was up to when he made those demands. Everyone knew they were unreasonable and that we would never accept. We have held these lands for almost three centuries. Much like what Duke Farkel had claimed, we had long deeply integrated with the lands over which we rule. Nobody can make us leave.
"When the second highness ascended to power in the Andinaq kingdom, we were even glad and rested our hopes for a reunified empire on him. To us, being nobles of the mighty Krissen Empire was a sign of pride. We have proclaimed that we are willing to relinquish our independence and reunite with the empire should it be required.
"We didn't expect the second highness would suddenly defeat the first prince, lead his forces to our doorstep, and make his ridiculous demands. He also intended to put the eight provinces under his royal family's direct control. Our peerage and fief would be decided by our contributions in the campaign against Madras.
"We finally understood that the second highness considered all of us traitors. Not only were we enraged, we were also incredibly disappointed. We sent a representative to voice our objections to the second highness, but nobody was able to see him. All we heard was that he had fallen incredibly ill. We thought it was an excuse for him to avoid seeing us. It made us boil with rage. We implored the four dukes to form a coalition army to resist the threat and support Redlisian nobles. We used them to push back against the second highness's forces.
"No one wanted to be a traitor, but the circumstances forced us to become the second highness's enemies. We didn't intend to push him all the way back at first. We only wanted to station our troops on the borders to discourage the second highness from taking action against us. We didn't think that the claim that he was really sick was actually true. Without him there, the army kept fighting losing battles with Redlis' nobles. 70 thousand men were even lured into a trap and washed away by flood waters at one point. The situation changed completely in a moment. The frontlines only stabilized once the second highness returned to the frontlines.
"To be honest, while our army didn't have any huge conflicts with the second highness, we did pay quite a price. The six years of peace allowed us to recover some of our vitality, but the second highness's army actually put quite a bit of pressure on us considering the threat we pose. Even though the second highness mobilized his troops to exterminate Redlis' army, nobody was quite sure when the axe the second highness was pointing at Farkel and Handra would fall.
"During the empire's most prosperous time, the eight central provinces' population was around three and a half million. It was the best place to be in the entire empire. Apart from the great Andalou Plains, where the imperial capital is situated, no other province could rival the central provinces' level of development. But the population has decreased to two point eight million since the civil war. Not long after the civil war, the first prince's forces invaded and caused lots of chaos. In his wake cam starvations, plague, and genocide. Our population fell even further, to around 2 million, in just two short years. We lost nearly half our population to the war and the invasion."
Count Chujway wore a tense expression.
"The four central duchies do not want war. We seek only peace. However, the second highness didn't come for peace, he wanted to force us to abide by his demands and put us on his bandwagon. He threatened to declare us traitors if we didn't obey. We had no choice but to form our own army as a failsafe. We stared each other down across our borders, but, after a year, we'd used up our resources. What's even worse is that we'd conscripted most of the young men, so there was no one to plant a new generation of crops. It seemed we'd face another food crisis for at least 2 years."
"I apologize for interrupting, Count Chujway, may I ask how the second highness was able to feed his army for that long, considering the fact that the four central duchies have a hard time feeding themselves?" interjected Lorist.
"Oh, according to my understanding, the second highness had about 270 thousand soldiers when he was in Redlis. He also had another 120 thousand former Redlis troops stationed at Kanbona. Originally, the second highness only brought the first local defense legion with him and had the surrendered soldiers launch an attack to the Redlisian nobles. It didn't end well. Most of the attacks were complete failures, and the war dragged on.
"When 70 thousand of his soldiers were washed away by the flood, the second highness lost all confidence in his indentured forces and transferred the third local defense legion from Andinaq to reinvigorate his campaign. The first legion would unite with the indentured forces and put pressure on us. There were 130 thousand men in total that threatened to attack us.
"When the second highness conquered Frederika, he also got hold of all the arms and resources the first prince had been gathering. We estimated it'd last eight months. We thought the war might end soon with his victory. We didn't expect the Redlisian nobles to continue to hold out. Even with his army 100 thousand men lighter, it seems the second highness still felt it was just too wasteful to feed all of them all through the winter.
"It was then when the second highness employed three methods to curb the consumption and raise the morale of the frontline troops. The first was his orders for food expropriation, where the army would extort all the food produced by the commoners of the Redlis kingdom and leave them with a small share cooked as porridge so that the frontlines could remain fed. After that order, the second highness was in direct opposition of the commoners of the Redlis kingdom and revolt after revolt had to be quelled.
"The second method was confiscating the wealth and resources of the noble houses of the Redlis kingdom and using the confiscated goods to reward the soldiers that survived the winning battle. With that, he was able to restore morale to his troops, but he pushed the neutral nobles to their tipping point and forced them to join the revolting nobles, hence their sudden surge in power and subsequent surf to multiple victories.
"The last method was to transport food from the Andinaq kingdom to solve the food crisis. However, given how far the journey would be and the frequent raids by the revolting nobles, only around 15 kilograms per 50 kilograms of food transported would arrive at the destination. So, the soldiers at the frontlines were only half-fed at most, with their stores frequently hitting the three-day-remaining mark.
"The four duchies' chief commander, Duke Farkel, aptly realized that there was an opportunity to be grabbed. Following the surprise occupation by the forces of the Union at Kanbona Province that cut off the logistics route from the Andinaq kingdom to the Redlis kingdom, Duke Farkel ordered for us to gather livestock and have them cooked into stew to solve the hunger problem we faced when standing off against the second highness's other forces."
"I have another question. Why were the nobles of the Redlis kingdom, meaning those of Anderwoff Province, resist the second highness so desperately? According to my knowledge, the nobles of Anderwoff Province don't get along with the first prince and even formed their own union to resist the first prince's infringement on their interests., The second highness, someone who has conquered the Redlis kingdom at that time, should know about this well, and that he would require the help of those nobles if he wanted to stabilize the Redlis kingdom. What happened to cause the second highness to become lifelong enemies with the nobles of Anderwoff Province? Do you know about that, Count Chujway?" asked Lorist again.
"Hmmm," the count murmured in thought, "I think I know part of the reason. I've met some nobles from Anderwoff Province before and they said that the second highness's conditions were for their titles to be downgraded and their fiefs to be moved. They were also asked to pay a tribute to make amends for following the first prince into rebellion, hence the crumbling in negotiations. The nobles there only wanted to not cooperate with the second highness because of that at first, but they didn't think that he would strike them first instead, causing a few noble houses there to be exterminated. So, they had no choice but to rebel."
Lorist smiled bitterly and thought, he really let all the power get to his head. The Second Highness actually thinks he can claim the realm with only a few hundred thousand soldiers. Even though he already suffered a loss from the nobles of Anderwoff Province, who would've thought that he'd repeat the same mistake with the four central duchies, forcing former allies to become enemies? He had all this coming for him.
While downgrading a peerage and relocating a fief was a decent method to decrease the power of a noble house, it could only be used in certain circumstances where one has complete control over the situation. The second highness had failed in that regard as he perceived himself to have the control he did not possess just because he had a decent number of soldiers with him.
"Oh, and Count Chujway, did you guys manage to find the second highness after conquering Frederika?" asked Count Kenmays.
"We didn't. Nobody was able to find out where he went. He disappeared without a trace just like the first prince. ACtually, the four central duchies intended to sit back and relax after we defeat the 100 thousand soldiers he stationed at the border and not engage in other conflicts with the second highness. However, he actually had Duke Melein's army backstab us from the Shabaj duchy, raiding and pillaging as they went across the weakly defended areas, killing thousands of women and children and incurring our wrath.
"It was at that time when the Union sent over their representative. In the end, the four dukes decided to attack Frederika, with each duchy supplying 20 thousand soldiers with the rest of their forces focusing to drive out that of the Melein duchy. On the 21st day of the 7th month, our army surrounded Frederika and requested for the surrender of the second highness and even guaranteed his life. But that proposition was refused by a gold-ranked female knight who was in charge of the city's defenses."
"A gold-ranked female knight?" asked Lorist, sitting straight up.
"Yes. The second highness has one female and five male gold-ranked generals, collectively known as the flower and five tigers, who are his most trusted subordinates. The female gold-ranked knight was called, Nor... Gl-Glacia..." In the midst of realization, Count Chujway slowly turned to peek at Lorist, feeling chills down his spine.