Here's the fifth chapter of the week! See you guys next week and have a happy new year!
Of The Northlands' four houses, the Nortons were the strongest in terms of might, the Kenmayses second, the Felims third, and the Shazins last. And in terms of how established a house was, in terms of legacy and inheritance, the name of the Roaring Raging Bear was well known across the former empire. The Felims were known as the House of the Pegasus. Next was House Shazin. While they used to be a vassal of the Duke of The Northlands and being only a small baron house, they had a three-generation heritage stretching back a century.
House Kenmays, on the other hand, was relatively new. They had emerged from a mercantile background just a couple of decades ago. It wasn't easy for them to gain the acknowledgment of the other nobles, especially not so given that their house had only for two half-generations. Kenmays was moved by the second highness' words for these reasons. House Kenmays had been in existence for far too short a time and the second prince, who was the one that had given the house their peerage, was a traitor who had already been put to death. Iblia was also on the brink of extinction, it was fated to be a short-lived dynasty. The moment the kingdom was wiped off the map, who knew if there would still be anyone that acknowledged the Kenmays name.
The second highness had adeptly noticed this weakness and was confident he could bring them under his grasp, as he put forward an opportunity that would make them legitimate landed nobles. Kenmays knew if the second highness rebuilt his army and swept across the empire, his house would have to face extermination. Demotion of rank was not even up for negotiation. The best he could do was to give out the wealth his house had gathered over the years in exchange for their lives. They would at best return to being commoners, and not even the wealthy commoners they had been previously.
The second highness may only be a former king at present who didn't even have soldiers to his name, with his throne occupied by his own niece, but he was still the rightful bearer of Krissen Empire's legacy. If House Kenmays pledged allegiance to the second highness, they would be able to receive the acknowledgement of the other landed nobles and the count would truly be accepted as a peer of the realm.
"Did you agree to his proposition?" asked Lorist, seated within the tub.
"Not yet. I postponed by saying it was a huge matter for the house that merited serious consideration. I'll give him an answer within the next two days. I came to look for you immediately after seeing him off," said Kenmays.
"Apart from your pledge of allegiance, what demands did he make of you in exchange for becoming a duke and being given a province?"
"He wanted me to encourage you guys to press the attack," Kenmays shrugged, "He'll make me a duke the moment the duchy ceases to exist. However, I did warn him that we wouldn't be able to exterminate the duchy without House Norton's aid. Given the combined might of House Kenmays and House Shazin, we would be able to defeat our enemies. But exterminating the whole duchy would be a rather big stretch."
Lorist furrowed his brow in thought while Kenmays stood near the tub, patiently waiting for a response.
As the water within the tub cooled, Lorist finally raised his head.
"Perhaps, this will be a great opportunity for all four houses. We can use this chance to swallow the whole Madras duchy. Here's what you have to do: put the second highness off for two days before you say this to him..."
During the past two days, Baron Shazin Hennard brought his troops to raid the nearby nobles' manors and returned with plentiful resources. Delamock still lived up to its name of being the largest food producer of the former empire. Hennard managed to raid four manors during the two days and gained enough food to feed the army's 100 thousand soldiers for the whole winter.
The second highness felt like he was on vacation. As Hennard had gone pillaging, or put more eloquently: 'gathering resources', the second highness wasn't able to work on his relationship with the baron. Kenmays didn't want to meet with him for some reason, so the second highness was unable to press him for a response. As for Lorist, he was busy fishing with his guards on the Metropoulos River as if he didn't care about the ongoing war at all.
Even though the second highness was well cared for in the camp, his freedom was severely restricted. Whenever he attempted to leave, there would be a really polite guard who would remind him of his status as an observing noble knight and of how he wasn't allowed to leave the campgrounds for no good reason to avoid causing trouble for its owners. The reasoning behind it was that even though the Northlander troops were only having a small skirmish with the Madras duchy's forces, if the second highness's presence was discovered, the consequences would be severe and the war would turn out really differently.
For the sake of his greater goals, the second highness resisted the urge to leave. He didn't want to be treated like an unwelcome personage by the army, especially during a time when he could take House Kenmays under his wing. So, he could only waltz around the camp with his attendants and drool at House Kenmays and House Shazin's pristine armor and fantasize about them destroying his enemies under his command.
There were roughly 36 thousand Shazin troops, 46 thousand Kenmays troops, and 12 thousand Norton troops in the camp, bringing the total near 100 thousand men. Apart from the raiding excursions Baron Shazin and his gold-ranked knight, Tabik, conducted, the rest of the troops that were not involved in patrolling or training were assigned miscellaneous tasks, such as chopping firewood, repairing the lodges to prepare for winter, fishing, hunting, and herding the livestock they had brought along.
The army looked completely unprofessional in the eyes of the second highness. He felt soldiers should only be concerned with war and spared the need to do the work of servants. If he had been in command, he would've swept half of Delamock already. And after gaining territory with such an elite force, he was confident he would be able to defeat Duke Madras. He would make sure the duke stayed cooped up in his lair in Sidgler while he made his way to the imperial capital.
The second highness's patience was finally rewarded when Count Kenmays showed up in front of him three days after the offer was made.
"Your Highness, House Kenmays is willing to pledge its allegiance to you and fight under your banner. We beseech the light of the mighty Wargod shine upon our kingdom and bring Your Highness endless victory," said Kenmays after he saluted respectfully.
The second highness was overjoyed when he heard the count's sincere reply. Now, he had yet another mighty noble house loyal to him alongside House Norton. It greatly increased his confidence in achieving his goals.
However, the second highness saw Kenmays's troubled look and asked out of curiosity, "What's wrong, count? Is there something troubling you?"
Kenmays replied with a bitter smile, "Your Highness, even though I and my house had pledged you our allegiance, we are unfortunately unable to fulfill your wishes. We won't be able to attack the duchy, nor were we able to convince our ally to resume the offensive."
"Why is that? My fine count, my word to you is no light matter. I make an oath on my status as the ruler to make you duke as long as you can exterminate the duchy. When I reunite the empire, you may freely pick a province as your dominion."
Kenmays shook his head.
"Your Highness, you've misunderstood. If you want the duchy exterminated, all four houses have to attack with full force. It is not possible to do so with only Baron Shazin's and my forces. Additionally, Baron Shazin has zero interest in pitting his men against the duchy's forces. As for our house, my father will definitely oppose the casualties likely to be incurred should we press on now."
The second highness asked with a trace of suspicion, "My Lord Count, I've seen your and Baron Shazon's troops; they are very formidable. The near 100 thousand troops you have here are more than enough to clear out Delamock. You stand a great chance at victory even if Duke Madras resists with all his might. Why do you say you're unable to take the duchy?"
"Your Highness, perhaps you are uninformed about the current state of the duchy's forces. Actually, a few years ago, after Duke Madras clashed with the second prince at Kobo, he armed his troops heavily. Apart from the 48 thousand men of the Seamountain Legion, which he has stationed in Sidgler, there are four defense legions that number up to 100 thousand men defending the seven citadels in Sanderson Hills. There are another 20 thousand men each at Nadegas, Kobo, and the river bank respectively. In total, they easily have over 150 thousand troops. If the private forces of the various nobles are factored in, there are another 60 thousand men at their disposal.
"If Baron Shazin and I press the attack with our two legions, we will quickly get entangled with the 100 plus thousand troops of the duke. If that happens, even if we end up victorious, our vitality will be horribly sapped. Even if we win, Duke Madras can continue to rest and recover given his dominion's abundant resources and population, while our houses will take up to ten years to recover.
"Your Highness, you should know that the Nortons have the most powerful military among our houses. Even if all through of our houses were to assault them at the same time, they would still win. There's also House Felim, which you might know as the House of the Pegasus. Baron Felim is the descendant of that house and his light cavalry legion has only recently shocked the world with their prowess. In contrast to those two houses, the troops of House Shazin are slow foot soldiers balanced in both attack and defense. House Kenmays's troops focus more on defense, with offense our weakness.
"Your Highness, I truly apologize for not being able to conquer the duchy. Our attack will do nothing but smash an egg against a rock. It is far from the rational thing to do. At present, the best I can do to show my loyalty is provide you some funds. I truly am unable to conquer the duchy, unless all four houses act in unison. Please forgive my incompetence," said Kenmays as he took out a thick stack of gold Forde bills that amounted to roughly 100 thousand gold Fordes and placed it carefully on the table.
The second highness seemed a little sour after hearing the response. What Count Kenmays said amounted to, 'I only pledged allegiance to you for the sake of officiating my house's title. If you want to use us to fight the duchy, we won't be able to help you. House Kenmays is willing to provide monetary support, but we definitely won't send our troops to the meat grinder for the sake of restoring your throne.' Naturally, the second highness was doubtful of what Kenmays said of the duchy's forces, but he was glad to have gleaned another piece of information that may prove useful to him.
"You mentioned the might of House Norton exceeds that of your three houses combined?" asked he.
"It does, Your Highness. The Nortons have two legions that number 120 thousand men. If you add their garrison soldiers to the figure, they have 150 thousand troops. Our own house only has 55 thousand in our legion, whereas House Felim's legion is made up of 46 thousand men, and House Shazin's numbers 42 thousand. The troops of the three houses combined don't even make up 150 thousand men. The Nortons are naturally the strongest," expounded Kenmays.
He intentionally understated the actual number of Norton troops by omitting the 25 local defense brigades in his count. As for three of the brigades that were present within the camp, he pretended to have not noticed them, since the second highness didn't really grasp the organization of the Norton forces anyway.
"Since that's the case, I have another question," the second highness began, "Since The Northlands is already the four houses' domain, they no longer have to defend against other neighboring dominion lords given how all four of your dominions are connected. If that's the case, why do they still maintain such a huge military outfit? What are they planning? Aren't the three other houses, including yours, worried about the Nortons' ambitions?"
Kenmays smiled when the second highness tried to put the Norton house in a bad light just like Lorist said he would. He was trying to fracture the relationship between the allies.
"Your Highness, do you know why the four houses formed an alliance in the first place?" Kenmays asked, "There are only two reasons. First, to set our sights on the Iblia kingdom. Second, to resist Duke Fisablen and his cavalry legions."
"Set your sights on the Iblia kingdom? I can understand being wary of Duke Fisablen, but aren't the other three houses nobles of the Iblia kingdom? Why would you target your own kingdom?" asked the second highness interestedly.
"Your Highness, actually, after House Norton sent their troops to Windbury to capture the second prince, we three noble houses have been isolated by the rest of the kingdom's nobles. It's more appropriate to consider us nobles of The Northlands. The reason we're targeting the Iblia kingdom is that we're doing it for Baron Felim. You should know the original dominion of the House of the Pegasus is in Southern, and it's his dream to reclaim his ancestral land.
"However, Southern has already been made a wasteland from the conflict, and we'll have to conquer Winston first to reach it. At present, Duke Fisablen's daughter, Iblia's queen, holds power within the province. We will definitely be pitted against the duke if we attack it. Duke Fisablen was renowned as one of the empire's three war gods and his Frontier Legion was one of the most impressive forces in The Northlands. The reason all four houses are expanding our military so fervently is so we are prepared for a conflict with the duke. It's also why House Norton maintains such a huge force."
"Ah, I see. Duke Fisablen, House of the Pegasus, and Baron Felim..." mumbled the second highness, before inspiration flashed across his eyes, "Count Kenmays, if I am willing to make Baron Felim a count and give Southern to him as a dominion, would he be willing to pledge allegiance to me as well?"
Kenmays wore a look of resentment as he thought, this second highness is shameless to the core! Even though he doesn't have troops or power, he treats the empire like he owns it and promises land he doesn't own to others! Hmph, it's easy for him to promise to make Baron Felim a count, but is Southern even his territory in the first place? If Baron Felim pledges allegiance to him, he'd have to send his troops to fight for Southern himself, with the only benefit being having a good excuse to do so, since the Andinaq kingdom is at war with the Iblia kingdom.
The second highness hurriedly realized what he just did when he saw Kenmays's expression. "Naturally, Lord Count, I won't forget your contributions as well. If you can convince Baron Felim to join my side, feel free to state what you require."
"Thank you, Your Highness," Kenmays said as he saluted, "I won't hold back either. If we can eliminate the duchy, I want Sidgler as the hereditary dominion of House Kenmays."