"Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in servant's garbs and looks like work." ~ Duke Kenmays on his decision to manage the salt merchant committee.
The blade cut as quickly as it fell. With but a few words, Lorist set the terms of the armistice in stone and left. All that was left was to negotiate the smaller details. Even if the alliance was the victor, the terms of House Fisablen's surrender couldn't cause them to lose sovereignty and be completely humiliated. The world of Grindia was unlike Lorist's previous one. The conditions he'd put forward were already rather excessive relatively speaking.
Normally, when two houses fought, the losing side would have to pay a large sum in wealth to end the war. If they didn't have money, they could cede part of their dominion, or pay regular tributes. Naturally, there would be additional interest if the price was paid in installments. Lorist didn't need House Fisablen's money, however. Now that they had cut off their trade routes, The house's wealth would be sucked out by the salt merchant committee sooner or later anyway. It was a longer term money-making solution.
Even after the armistice was signed, Lorist wouldn't let his guard down against House Fisablen. Only damned fools would think the war was over and everything was fine after the signing of an armistice. However, the most important conditions of the armistice were the retreat of House Fisablen's forces 50 kilometers away from the border and the ability to station troops in Wild Husbandry. At the very least, it would give Lorist more time to react to sudden changes as well as limit House Fisablen's ability to choose the battlefield.
Two days later, Kenmays brought the armistice's draft to Lorist to look over. Apart from the perfunctory explanation that the conflict between the two houses started because of a misunderstanding, the clauses on the retreat of House Fisablen's troops and the necessity to notify the four houses' garrison forces about any military movements were included. Similarly, any military mobilization of the four houses' garrison had to be announced beforehand to prevent any misunderstanding.
"These conditions don't apply to the assault legions stationed at the border of the two sides, only the garrison forces. Why so?" asked Lorist.
Kenmays hurriedly explained.
"Supervisor Aridok and the other envoy insisted on fair treatment. They mentioned that even after House Fisablen's forces retreat 50 kilometers behind their borders, the presence of Firmrock Legion at the borders of Southern and Eastwild unnerves them. They requested that only garrison forces would be allowed to be stationed at the borders. No offensive military force of any kind may be stationed at the border. Since we already ceased hostilities, I thought it didn't really matter, so I agreed."
"Sheesh, you're always giving me more trouble," Lorist said as he glared at Kenmays with a smile, before he instructed, "Jinolio, after this, have a copy of this ceasefire agreement made for Potterfang. Tell him tomorrow to change the name of Firmrock into Firmrock Garrison and call it a sentry legion. Don't make any changes beyond that. Also, send this fellow here a bill for the costs of changing the legion's banners."
"Come on, you're being far too petty. You can't even pay a hundred-odd gold Fordes out of your own pocket?"
Lorist ignored him and continued reading the document. What followed were the stipulations of trade. In actuality, after the signing of the agreement, all things in which House Fisablen wanted to trade, ranging from the smallest piece of paper or salt crystal to things like cows and horses had to go through the salt merchant committee. For example, the things they purchased from the committee just recently was actually worth not more than 600 thousand gold Fordes. A few years earlier, they could have purchased it for around 800 thousand gold Fordes. But now, the hiked prices pushed it as high as two million. It was no wonder Kenmays proclaimed so gleefully that Felim and Shazin could get up to 400 thousand gold Fordes in dividends.
In matters of trade, Kenmays was still reliable. The fellow loved being the middleman and would be more than happy to take in goods with his left and sell them with his right. At most, he had to coordinate their transport. He was completely unlike Lorist, who liked to develop his dominion. According to Kenmays's own words, not only did developing means of production contain great risk, the value of the good would depreciate if they couldn't be traded. If the cost of production is high, the product would also lose its edge against its competitors. From time to time, funds would also have to be provided to develop new or improved versions of the products. All of it was rather troublesome and far more stressful than merely reselling goods like he did.
After reading the last clause, Lorist expressed his dissatisfaction.
"What's this? House Fisablen refused to recognize our occupation of the whole of Wild Husbandry?"
"I had no choice. I said all I could, they were only willing to compromise up to Soxius. We can occupy everything North of it, but everything south of it is still theirs, effectively splitting Wild Husbandry in two. They said occupying half of Wild Husbandry would be enough to ensure The Northlands' safety. I've tried my best, but I couldn't convince them otherwise. So I had no choice but to bring it to you as it is now," said Kenmays as he made a helpless expression
The territory did include a good portion of Wild Husbandry, two-thirds of it, in fact. But much of it was raided by Jaeger quite early on in the war. It was desolate and ruined. House Fisablen's Fourth Frontier suffered defeat after defeat following the ambush, causing what remained of their forces to escape to Soxius and stand guard there. It wasn't until Duke Fisbablen's arrival and ambush with 100 thousand barbarian cavalrymen that Wild Husbandry was reclaimed. The armistice would recognize the Nortons' occupation of the land already conquered by Jaeger.
It seemed this was the duke's baseline. Since the part of Wild Husbandry to the north of Soxius was ruined, it'd be better to let the Nortons have it as a show of sincerity. After a moment of silence, Lorist decided.
"Then let's leave it as is. Have them sign."
"There's another question we need to settle," Kenmays said, "How long do you want the armistice to last?"
Armistices, and their associated conditions, had limited terms. It was a sacred agreement in the Wargod's name that the sides involved would not take hostile military action against one another for the time the agreement was valid. When the armistice expired, however, the two sides could continue the war or negotiate an extension. If both sides reconciled during that time, however, a peace treaty could be signed and neither side would treat the other as an enemy any longer. Trade would resume and borders would reopen. The number of troops stationed at the borders would also be decreased to save on military costs.
"Let the two envoys go back to the duke and decide this for themselves. They're free to choose how long they want, be it one or three years. We don't need to bother ourselves with what House Fisablen believes, even if they think they can recover and get back at us. The moment they strike, we will give them an even harsher lesson. Maybe, we can inflict so much pain on them they'd rather die instead. This is the extent of our might."
Kenmays was completely stoked after hearing what Lorist had said and could feel his blood boiling.
"Alright. I'll tell them, word for word. They'll be allowed to consult the duke and are free to choose how long they want the armistice to last. We couldn't be bothered to care. But the next time they dare to attack us again, the price of our products will no longer be as low as they are now... We'll double them at the very least..."
After saying that, Kenmays marched out of the door arrogantly. But just as he exited, he suddenly stopped in his tracks and walked back in.
"Um, Locke... I'd like to ask you something. Baron Charade mentioned that you're going to sell a large number of LLDAM-class vessels approximately 70 percent complete. Is that true?"
Sheesh, can't you discuss private matters after finishing the official ones first?
Lorist nodded, nonetheless.
"Yes. The house is cutting Oceanic, so we have a lot of large and small ships we aren't going to use."
"Are you going to sell them all?"
"No. I will announce this during the year-end celebration, as well as the development of Northsea, Bullhorn Bay, and Silowas. The rest of the boats will be auctioned off to the nobles and merchants so they form their own guilds to start trading and fishing."
"Oh, so that's it..." Kenmays said with a dismayed expression, "I thought you would simply sell the ships instead of holding an auction. I didn't think you were planning to do that."
"Haha," Lorist laughed loudly, "Do you wanna bet for how much these ships will sell? Here I am worried that I don't have enough to meet demand, and you want to buy them cheap? That's not good, you know. Then again, I suppose you can invest in the guilds. Maybe, you can even form a guild yourself."
"I won't form a guild since trading at sea is not my specialty. It doesn't feel nearly as safe as relying on you anyway. So, that's out of the question. The salt merchant committee already tires me out enough as it is. Also, the committee has the ability to trade at sea. The order our house made at your shipyard was so we could form our own merchant fleet. But the house's will also have to go through the salt merchant committee to get goods to trade. At most, I'll give them some small benefits, nothing huge," said Kenmays gleefully.
Lorist was completely speechless looking at Kenmays, who was even prepared to profit at his father's expense. However, he couldn't help but admit that Kenmays was an incredibly intelligent man who understood the true extent of the benefits of cozying up to a huge backer. The salt merchant committee was Kenmays's self-run business. He had a five-tenths share of the company and also took half of the profits it generated. The other half was split between Felim, Shazin, and Lorist. Lorist owned only a tenth of the committee whereas Shazin and Felim each owned two-tenths. At first, the three houses, save for the Nortons, each owned three-tenths. But Felim and Shazin felt bad for profiting off it for doing nothing, so they each gave a tenth to Kenmays and left him completely in charge.
The committee was originally formed as a joke, they didn't think Kenmays would grow it into the largest merchant guild in the eastern area of The Northlands. It traded in goods to upwards of 300 thousand gold Fordes annually. It became an essential source of income for the four houses. To Felim and Shazin, who couldn't manage finances well, the committee's dividends were a great help. Kenmays himself also got quite a lot of benefits, so many that he could take out nearly a million gold Fordes' in wealth and supplies to aid House Shazin and House Felim during their dominion's relocation.
On one occasion, a conversation between Kenmays and his father spread to Lorist's ears through Furybear's agents. Kenmays's father said he shouldn't give up on the family business for the sake of running the salt merchant committee. But, when Kenmays brought out the committee's accounts, the color drained from his father's face almost immediately. Kenmays's intentions were clear: the committee's turnover had long exceeded that of the house's business. Kenmays mentioned that he was already used to trading in excess of millions of gold Fordes, and that the house's entire business wouldn't even amount to one million -- not worth mentioning at all.
Enraged, his father said that no matter how small the house's business was, it was still something their house owned. He mentioned that Kenmays running the salt merchant committee so successfully was a waste of his talents since half of the profit was earned by others, and that Kenmays had to occasionally take a smaller cut to help Felim and Shazin out by rounding up their dividends. His father also complained about how Kenmays didn't allow his house to gain any benefits as seen with his punishment of one member that faked accounts to get some benefits in the committee. Apart from firing him, a large number of people from House Kenmays were kicked out as well.
Kenmays merely laughed and called his father old for not being able to see the situation clearly. The four houses had already united in alliance, and House Kenmays had the weakest military of the four. They couldn't even compare with House Norton when it came to funds. He was thankful that the three were even willing to form an alliance with his house, and the reason he focused so much of his effort on running the committee was that he wanted to do his best to contribute to the alliance. If the three other houses were really interested in going all out in business, they would've hired their own men to run the committee and kick House Kenmays out. That way, they would earn even more.
Since they had placed their trust in him, he wouldn't let them down. He mentioned that even if House Kenmays's own business got a large deal, apart from having to take care of the capital themselves, they would even have to bow their head to the other nobles and bribe them for their favor. Even if the deal got 300 thousand in profit, less than 100 thousand of it would be left for them. If they were unlucky, their efforts would probably end up wasted and they would only have themselves to blame.
But the committee had House Norton, House Felim and House Shazin backing it. With that much might behind them, they didn't have to bow down like House Kenmays's own business. They could reach anywhere within the four houses' sphere of influence. In fact, he was confident that as the influence of the four expanded, the committee could even connect to thus far uncharted territories and perhaps develop into a body not inferior to the Union's big-seven guilds.
Kenmays told his father the reason he worked so hard to manage the committee was his determination to make the alliance last as long as possible. Whether it be providing huge financial support to House Felim or rounding up the dividend of Count Shazin, it was all for the sake of the alliance's longevity. House Kenmays's position among the four houses could only grow more and more secure this way. And with the four's development, the house would truly be included in the ranks of the traditional peerage instead of being considered as an outlier commoner who happened to be rich.
After hearing what Kenmays had to say, his father thought silently for a long time before he finally sighed. Soon after he called a household meeting where he abdicated and gave his son his position. He made it clear that he would only manage the household business in the future. All household affairs would be managed how Kenmays saw it without question.
That was the real reason Lorist trusted Kenmays so much. Only when the alliance had members who were aware of their position could the alliance last and develop in the long term.
"Alright, stop showing off," Lorist said as he tapped on Kenmays's shoulder.
"Since you're prepared to take the committee to the seas, hear a bit of my advice. You may purchase a fleet for the committee, but don't form a large one just yet. Test the waters first, if you will. As for the safety at sea, it's nothing about which you have to worry. House Norton's Northsea will protect the vessels. However, it's on you to establish the market. As the old saying goes, 'the man who leaves sooner than others picks the best apples.'"
"I know. After sending the two envoys off, I'll go look for Baron Charade," said Kenmays as he left joyfully.