It was a sunny day at the beach.
Lorist lied down lazily under a shade made of fine, gray linen cloth.
He watched as his wife and children played by the seaside. This is the life... Lorist breathed a long sigh and tried to forget everything unhappy and troubling that occurred in the imperial capital.
Kenmays came over with a small wooden bucket. Within it was ice made from saltpeter and two bottles of chilled fruit wine. After taking a seat beside Lorist, he took out two glasses from the bucket and opened one bottle. The amber-colored wine looked ever so mesmerizing through the transparent glass.
He gave one glass to Lorist before taking a swig from his own. "I really don't know how you always come up with these little ideas. You were actually able to make ice during a hot summer like this. Being able to enjoy chilled fruit wine during such weather is truly a luxury..."
Lorist didn't speak and finished the wine in his glass before filling it halfway and popping two ice chunks into his glass.
It was currently the beginning of the 9th month. After participating in the ceremony held in the imperial capital, they parted with Auguslo during the night banquet on unfriendly terms because of another argument. Lorist, Kenmays, Shazin and Felim left the imperial capital with their guards early the next morning without bidding their farewell to go to Silowas and reunite with their families.
They were at a beach near Seaview Manor. Compared to House Kenmays's Platinum Beach, this one was far smaller, but it was more than enough for the dukes and their families to have fun. Looking at the people playing about, Kenmays breathed a deep sigh. He had spent lots of money to invest in Platinum Beach to make it the best vacation spot in the kingdom and was going to go there every summer with lots of other nobles. But Auguslo came over and brought the nobles to war. After the three bloody years, all the nobles suffered heavy losses and were no longer in the mood to spend their vacation at Platinum Beach. They were busy licking each other's wounds at home.
"Don't worry. Just invite the nobles to go to Platinum Beach next year. It's been five years already and I bet they must've forgotten about it by now. The empire has already been restored and there shouldn't be any wars in the foreseeable future, so I believe that they'll regain the mood to have fun once their wallets fatten up again." Lorist knew what Kenmays was mulling over when he saw him gaze blankly at the beach.
"Ah, it's not that..." Kenmays snapped out of his stupor and said, "I'm not worried about that. I was wondering what His Majesty meant when he suggested us to demilitarize during the banquet that night."
After the grand ceremony, Auguslo held a large banquet and invited all the nobles of the empire and their family members there. Even though some rather sour things happened before the ceremony, thanks to Auguslo's efforts, the ceremony was wrapped up properly in the end. Satisfied with how everything went down, Auguslo announced the policies he would be implementing across the next three years. Not only would he turn his focus on the life of the people and increase the income of the empire to fill its treasury, he also encouraged the development of trade and mineable resources as well as a decrease in scale of the military.
Focus was placed on the last part. Auguslo believed that since the empire had been restored, he would bring back the three-army policy used back in imperial days. The royal army would defend the imperial capital, Whitelion legion would deal with external threats, and Fiercegale legion would deal with bandits and other threats within the empire. Additionally, territories under imperial family rule would form their own garrison forces. Auguslo was also planning to rebuild the order of imperial knights and recruit talented descendants of nobles to serve the empire.
Those were mostly policies that existed since the old days of the empire and nobody minded them. The royal army, Whitelion legion and Fiercegale legion were the three main legions of the former empire that were under direct imperial control. As long as Auguslo was capable of rebuilding them, nobody would have anything to say about it. As for the order of imperial knights, it offered a career path for the noble descendants who wouldn't be inheriting the household and helped prevent strife during a time of peace. Those descendants wouldn't be allowed to join their household forces to prevent them posing a threat to the legitimate heirs. For instance, Lorist's second uncle who died on the battlefield served as the sergeant colonel in the Krissen imperial knight order.
What the nobles didn't expect was that after announcing the military policies of the empire, Auguslo suggested the nobles to scale down on their own forces. He reasoned that since peace was upon them, the nobles of the empire shouldn't continue to expand their household forces and instead invest their funds in development. So, he suggested for each noble house to demilitarized to a limited degree and adhere to the limits and standards he would set.
Auguslo believed that an imperial baron could have around two or three hundred-man squads in the household forces, a viscount could have around 500 men, a count could have around a thousand, and a marquis three thousand at most. As for dukes, they could form a division of troops or a small legion. For instance, a large legion of 45 thousand men should be shrinked into having only four six-thousand-strong divisions and another logistics unit of a thousand men, making the total number of men in a legion around 25 thousand people.
Auguslo emphasized that he made the suggestions for the sakes of the nobles' own wealth. Maintaining a large force during peacetime wasn't only a waste, it was a huge burden. He believed that they should decrease military spending so that the nobles can continue to enjoy lives of luxury and develop their dominions properly. As for bandits and the like, the empire's Fiercegale legion would take care of it after it was formed and the nobles didn't have to worry about it.
Auguslo expressed with great grief that the nobles of the empire had suffered enough losses during the bloody three years on Falik Plains, so his plan to help the nobles decrease their military spending was a boon from the empire to the nobles. In the future, all military deployments would be taken care of by the three imperial legions and all the nobles had to do was defend their dominions well. Unless the empire was in danger of being wiped out completely, Auguslo wouldn't call for the nobles to take up arms and send them to the battlefield.
As for conflicts between nobles themselves, Auguslo expressed that he didn't wish to see wars break out between noble houses and encouraged the settlement of issues in a noble court. Inter-domain wars were not beneficial for anybody involved after all. Regardless of who the victor was, the three imperial legions could step in between those wars and eliminate conflict so that the noble court could give its verdict on the conflict.
Everyone participating in the banquet turned their eyes to Lorist, Fisablen, Kenmays, Felim and Shazin. They knew that House Norton's forces had already exceeded the forces commanded by Auguslo in terms of might. Even if he managed to form the three imperial legions, he would find it hard pressed to fight House Norton. If the other dukes of the allied houses joined forces together, they could easily sweep through the empire. Even if Fisablen joined forces with Auguslo and all the other nobles in the empire, they wouldn't be able to stop the joint forces of the four allied houses.
It was quite apparent that Auguslo was intentionally bringing the demilitarization plan out to deal with the four allied houses. To the other landed nobles, the plan didn't affect them much. Even Handra, Forund, and Shabaj were in agreement with that plan. As Auguslo had said, the decrease in the scale of household forces would decrease the burden they had to bear to maintain them. Even if they received a call to arms from Auguslo, they wouldn't have to send as many men to help out.
Perhaps because they had rehearsed it beforehand, Duke Fisablen stood up and said, "Your Majesty, House Fisablen is extremely supportive of this policy. I am willing to give command of my Frontier legion back to the empire to Your Majesty's control."
Cunning old man! cried the nobles in their minds. Everyone with half a brain understood that Duke Fisablen obviously got something out of it from being so obedient. Even though the Frontier legion wasn't traditionally one of the three imperial legions, it had a stellar reputation. It was originally formed to curb raids from the grassland barbarians in the great northeastern plains at the borders of the empire. It was considered more to be a local force than a nationwide one.
However, when they were wiping out the barbarians, Frontier legion fell into the hands of House Fisablen and came under the household name. Currently, there were two legions in Frontier, numbering up to 80 thousand men. It was the main force of House Fisablen and Lorist formed Jaeger and stationed it in Wild Husbandry precisely to defend against them.
Duke Fisablen's ceding of control of the legion back to the empire meant that only 45 thousand men, one full legion, of them would be given back to the empire. Since it used to be considered a local force, it would still roam in the northeastern provinces and wouldn't be House Fisablen's troops in name only. Even though it sounded pleasant to say that the legion would return to Auguslo's control, it was still practically under Duke Fisablen's command.
The old guy truly was sly... He gave away one legion and kept the other as his own household force. In other words, it was just a subtle name change. Both legions were still controlled by House Fisablen. Not only that, the house only had to pay for the maintenance of one legion and the one that was given away would be funded by the empire, greatly decreasing the burden on the house. They could use the extra resource of their main household legion and the reserve legion, which used the mercenary model and was comprised of mostly grassland barbarians.
Auguslo nodded with a smile. "Duke Fisablen, you are truly loyal to the empire and your actions are deserving of respect and praise. I recall that Frontier legion's funding and equipment were provided by Wild Husbandry, Winston and Southern. We'll follow old conventions then. Duke Fisablen, you shall make a yearly budget for the legion to claim the subsidies from these three provinces."
That was nothing short of a slight to the alliance of four houses! Winston, Wild Husbandry and Southern used to be heavily raided by the grassland barbarians and it was only because of their common enemy back then that the three provinces united to fund the Frontier legion to curb the grassland barbarians. But ever since Frontier legion became House Fisablen's to control, that agreement was annulled. The expansion into Eastwild also removed the threat from Winston and Southern. Frontier legion was funded and commanded completely by House Fisablen after that.
Currently, Southern was House Felim's dominion and Winston and Wild Husbandry had become territories under Norton control. Auguslo's suggestion for the three provinces to fund Frontier legion was a malicious move against the alliance of four houses to make them fund a rival's force. It really took some talent and thick skin for one to say what Auguslo casually did.
Duke Felim slammed the golden goblet in his hand onto the table and stood up angrily. "Impossible! Back then, Frontier legion was formed to deal with the grassland barbarian threat! But are they still a danger to us? Frontier legion is now under House Fisablen's control, so why should we pay for it?"
Lorist sighed and stood up to calm felim down. "Back then, Southern wasn't Duke Felim's household dominion, so it was reasonable for it to bear part of the cost. But now, Southern belongs to House Felim. It wouldn't be appropriate to ask Southern to bear the cost of funding Frontier legion. How about this, House Norton shall bear the cost of Frontier legion and promises to make sure it is adequately funded."
Overjoyed, Auguslo said, "Brother Locke is understanding as always and ever willing to help the nation out."
Duke Fisablen also happily said, "Do you mean it, Duke Norton? You can't go back on your words before so many nobles here."
"Of course," Lorist said with a nod, "Apart from the cost of supplies, House Norton is also willing to provide complete equipment for Frontier legion. However, the condition for that is for the legion to be reorganized by our house and be trained according to the equipment we provide. It is no surprise to anyone that the forces of our house are inferior to none. We will be willing to provide training and impart our experiences learned through battle to Frontier legion without any holds barred. We only need half a year's time to ensure that Frontier returns to His Majesty as an elite force."
Duke Fisablen paled immediately. If Frontier legion gets brought into the Norton dominion to be trained by them, would they still listen to my orders? They'll become the Nortons' men for life! Since they count on the Nortons for everything from food to equipment, it goes without saying whose orders they will take! Only a fool will send Frontier legion to be train in the Norton dominion...
Auguslo also understood that point. Lorist found a way out of trouble with but a few simple statements. "We'll discuss this another day since there's no rush. Also, Brother Locke, what are your thoughts about the demilitarization plan I proposed? The empire is at peace now and House Norton no longer needs to sustain such a large force. I think your house can decrease from four to two legions. Maybe even one legion is enough."
He went straight to the point. Lorist shook his head. "Your Majesty, regrettably, I cannot agree to this proposal because that will affect the house's plans for more military excursions."
"Military excursions?" Auguslo said, startled, "Where does House Norton intend to conquer next?"
"It's no conquest, Your Majesty, don't worry. My house plans to expand into Magical Dragon Mountains and the wildlands further north in our next phase. We want to pave a new province in the north and expand the empire's territory. We will be needing all four of our legions for that, one to be stationed at Wild Husbandry to defend against the grassland barbarians, and one back in The Northlands to defend our home. Actually, our forces are being drawn rather thin and we might even need the help of the other dukes' household forces."
Lorist was referring to Kenmays, Shazin and Felim. That was in direct opposition to Auguslo's plan to have their forces decrease in scale.
Auguslo's expression darkened. He thought that Lorist was just finding a random excuse to refuse his proposal. But he took a few deep breaths and forced himself to calm down. "Locke, since you're unwilling to shrink your forces, I won't force the matter. But don't you think you should change the name of your sentry legion? It means the same thing as our royal guard and it can be confusing."
Lorist smiled and said, "Alright, Your Majesty. I shall do as you wish. From this day henceforth, the sentry legion shall be named Ironguard."
Lorist didn't really care about what his legions were called. Since Auguslo had a problem with sentry legion, he'd just change it to Ironguard, one he thought was easy to remember. What he didn't expect was that Auguslo would erupt in anger right after that. He kicked the table in front of him and turned to leave the hall. The banquet was over just like that.
Even after he left the palace, Lorist was still oblivious to what happened and felt a little mad. Is Auguslo throwing a tantrum at me? How ridiculous!
Kenmays laughed heartily and said, "Locke, you're really something, you know that? Calling your legion Ironguard is worse than not changing the name. You're insulting His Majesty straight to his face."
"Wait, I still don't know why it can't be called Ironguard."
"Hahaha, did you forget? Back then, the force Duke Madras formed was called Ironguard legion. The eight thousand men of the legion defended Kobo. His Majesty's father, the late King Andinaq, brought the 60 thousand men of the royal guard to besiege Kobo for six whole months and returned in failure with only 20 thousand men remaining. That was what caused the great destabilization in the empire and subsequently, its collapse. Yet, you started calling your legion Ironguard just like that... Aren't you trying to piss him off intentionally? You're pitting it against his royal guard..."
Lorist only just realized it. He had offhandedly named it Ironguard, but Auguslo took it as an affront. The rift between them only grew deeper. However, Lorist didn't bother to explain his actions either and left the imperial capital the next day.
As he lay comfortably on the beach, he said, "His Majesty's proposal really put us in a pickle. He didn't really care about whether we would decrease our forces at all. He only wanted a clear record of their sizes. If we expand in the future, he can accuse us for having ulterior motives for doing so. We'll have no choice but to request help from his forces if we need more men and that will result in the three legions being involved in our internal affairs. At least that's what I think he's planning."
Kenmays finished the wine in his glass. "His Majesty truly has lots on his
"Of course." Lorist nodded. "Now that we no longer have external threats, the next biggest thing to worry about is our alliance. Maybe His Majesty sees us as even more threatening than the Trade Union. That's why we can't afford to demilitarize. We'll have to keep up the military drills to keep our forces trained to ensure the safety and longevity of our dominions and houses."