"Milord, the transportation of supplies from the Redriver Valley Bastide has been completed and that place has been burned to the ground. Here is the list of things we brought over from there," said Shadekampf while holding a thick stack of beastskin documents.
Lorist however was speechlessly staring at the carriages of the last convoy that was slowly entering from the gates at the walls that seemed to be carrying broken metal pots, dirty clay apparatus as well as some worn out old rugs, dismantled windowsills and broken mops...
"What are you collecting all these junk for?" Lorist asked
"Milord, even those worn out and old things can still be used as cleaning supplies..." said Shadekampf.
"Then what are those carriages over there carrying? The stuff looks rather heavy..." Lorist said as he pointed to a few carriages in the distance.
The last few carriages seemed to be far slower than the rest and appeared to be carrying things of substantial weight.
"Those, are tiles milord... I removed them from the main hall of the manor and thought that we could use them for our own castle when it is completed," said Shadekampf.
Lorist made a thumbs up and said, "I say, the next time you see Charade, you can proudly tell him that you've learned everything he has to teach and has graduated from being his disciple!!"
Seeing Lorist turn and leave, Shadekampf got hold of Reidy and asked, "What did milord mean by that? It's not like I took Sir Charade as my master... What did he mean by graduating?"
Reidy burst out in laughter instantly. Having been by Lorist's side for quite a long time, he wasn't a stranger to his complaints about Charade's petty and stingy attitude and understood Charade's personality very well. After giving it some thought, Reidy said seriously, "That is milord's way of praising you for being as calculative as Sir Charade and being a great supervisor..."
Lorist and Josk were currently within a large tent enjoying some steaming-hot macks. That was also something they had in abundance as the Redriver Valley Bastide had quite a huge supply of it. Apart from giving Telesti two large jars of it, Lorist claimed the rest for himself.
"During the past month, the 7 people I've caught nearby the Redriver Valley Bastide were all ambassadors of noble families from the surrounding area ranging from those who were interested in starting friendly relationships, those who wanted to engage in trade and some who came to request for help. there were even a couple of them who were there to request marriage alliances with the Kenmays Family. I locked them up and only released them before we set fire to the bastide," reported Josk.
"Weird, why hasn't the Kenmays Family sent any scouts yet? That really boggles my mind. Don't tell me that they still haven't received news of the Feathersoar Mercenary Crew's demise and still doesn't know that we've occupied the bastide? That can't be..." Lorist said as he scratched his head in confusion.
In actuality, Lorist was correct. The Kenmays Family did indeed not know about the bastide's occupation. Of the three unfortunate mercenaries that managed to get away, the one who got shot by Josk's arrow died moments later while the other two split up during their escape. One of those unlucky fellows actually somehow made his way into a warzone between two noble families. The soldiers who were hiding and preparing for an ambush thought that the mercenary was one of the enemy's men and ordered for the archers to turn him into swiss cheese.
The other mercenary traveled for a day and found a village where he could rest for a bit. It didn't take long for him to notice that there were only women, the elderly and children among the inhabitants of the village as most of the youths and men were forcefully conscripted into war. Taking advantage of the absence of men, the mercenary coerced the villagers to provide him with delicacies and women for his pleasure. To the Iron ranked mercenary, the people of the village were not his match and there wasn't anything he had to worry about.
What he did not know were the customs of the people of the Northlands. Northlanders were usually friendly and welcoming to guests and would offer them decent hospitality. But people who were less than welcome usually wouldn't be able to leave alive. While the mercenary thought that he was completely in control of the village and was flirting with two women after the hearty meal he had, one of the women got up and poured him a tea. Feeling quite burned from all the alcohol he had consumed but still not letting his guard down, he only drank the tea after seeing the woman drink some herself.
However, right after he finished his drink, he could see two cold smiles from the women's faces. Even though he understood that something was wrong, his arms and legs suddenly felt numb and wasn't able to exert much force. In the end, that mercenary was buried alive by the seemingly defenseless people of the village who even managed to profit a little from the weapons, armor, mount and other belongings he left behind.
That was how the famed Feathersoar Mercenary Crew of the Iblia Kingdom vanished without a trace. Under the impression that the crew was guarding the bastide, the viscount didn't feel worried at all about its safety and only focused his efforts on negotiating with Duke Loggins in hopes that his force of 2000 would be allowed into the Northlands.
If they split the force up into multiple smaller parts, they would've been able to enter the Northlands discreetly long ago. However, the Kenmays Family didn't do that because of the Second Prince's suggestion to use the presence of the force as a warning and obstacle to the duke's unification of the Northlands. The Kenmays Family also wanted their army to arrive at the Northlands glamorously to impress upon the other nobles the rise of the family so that they would no longer set their sights on taking advantage of the Kenmayses.
The greatest flaw of Duke Loggins was his indecisiveness. However, for some reason, this time he had stood firm on not letting the Kenmays Family's 2000-strong force enter the Northlands. Even though the duke's very own Northland Army had about 20000 soldiers and was easily ten times more numerous than that of the Kenmays Family, and not to mention that the Kenmays Family had always been on rather respectful terms with the duke given that the cousin sister of Viscount Kenmays was the duke's mistress, he was quite unyielding of his decision and the two parties had already been negotiating for more than three months.
Given that Viscount Kenmays was a busy man, he didn't have the time to pay any attention to the happenings within his own domain. For the past three months, he had been busy gifting valuables and women to the duke's subordinates so that they may help put in a good word for him. During his stay at the duke's mansion, he had also humbled himself to butter the duke up by doing menial chores such as pouring his tea. In the end, due to the pressure from the Second Prince and the Kenmays Family's efforts, the duke had finally signed the agreement to allow the Kenmayses' army to enter, with the condition that the army would listen to the duke's every command.
After receiving the permit, Viscount Kenmays sent it to his father who was residing in Windbury City so that their army may proceed to the Northlands as soon as possible. On the other hand, he instructed his attendants to send a message to his dominion to notify the head supervisor of Redriver Valley Bastide to make preparations to receive the force and its deployment to the Norton Family dominion to make them submit to him once and for all.
By the time the three of Viscount Kenmays's attendants arrived, all of them were stunned speechless upon seeing the burnt remains of what used to be the Kenmays Family's headquarters. Not a soul could be seen: even the immigrants living at the town nearby had all vanished. The attendants looked at each other before the eldest and most senior of them decided for one of the attendants to return and notify the viscount of the bad news and the other to check on the construction site to see if it was still under the control of the Kenmays Family while he himself would go investigate the surrounding area to find out who the perpetrator was.
"Milord, you no longer have to worry so much about the Kenmays Family. After all, we've already taken everything they have. Since news doesn't travel fast in the Northlands, it's far better to sit tight and wait to see how things turn out. What will come, will come. And if it doesn't, it's not like we have nothing better to do than wait aimlessly for it, right?" said Josk before he took a sip from his cup.
Lorist tapped on his thigh and said, "You're right, Joe. I'm just not used to this. Back in Morante City, I was able to know what happened around the continent clearly by reading the papers. But after returning to the dominion, it's like I've suddenly turned blind: other than the small piece of land around the area, I am not informed of anything going on outside it at all. It really isn't pleasant to sit and wait for the enemy to arrive. I really dislike this feeling of leaving everything to fate."
Josk placed the cup in his hand down and said, "Why don't we talk about something else? Milord, I've heard rumors that you've been courting Miss Telesti. Is that true?"
Seeming a little down upon hearing that, Lorist said, "Yes, but I failed. Telesti's dream is to be a venerable scholar and she has decided to remain single for the rest of her life to stay focused and doesn't want to have any children to take time away from her work..."
For the past month, Lorist had visited Telesti on multiple occasions in an effort to woo her. But Telesti was far from defenseless: she would always be with either her butler or her maidservant Vinny. Once when they were both alone, before Lorist was able to try anything, Telesti called Zanben into the room with them, much to Lorist's frustration. During that visit, Lorist brought the two jars of macks to Telesti's place. Determined to wait for Zanben to leave the room, he started making some macks for himself. In the end, after consuming so many cups that he had lost count, Lorist gave up and left because he could no longer hold his bladder. It was from that day onwards that the rumor of the dominion lord courting Telesti started to spread.
"Being single, huh... It sounds rather good. I want to be single for life as well..." mused Josk.
"Forget it, you better find a wife and form a family to pass down your legacy. I don't want the Divine Marksman to be history during the generation of my heir. Also, after I announce the freedom of the slave laborers, I want you to pick out a company's worth of men to be trained into longbowmen and crossbowmen. Currently, one of the most glaring weaknesses of our force is our underwhelming ranged attack capability. While many of our soldiers know some degree of archery, it is far from reliable to be employed on the battlefield. If we had a squad of longbowmen or crossbowmen back when we faced the Feathersoar Mercenary Crew, we would have had far fewer casualties," said Lorist in a serious tone.
Josk nodded and said, "Milord, I understand. However, most of the slave laborers are common folk who haven't awakened their Battle Force. I'm not sure my training regiment would suit them..."
"This is no issue. I will still stay here at Firmrock Castle for around 20 days. Even though the situation at Maplewoods Bastide is a little urgent, I can still afford to delay my return for a bit. I will use this time to teach the slave laborers to awaken their Battle Force. As they have been working rough labor for long periods of time, most of them have strong and healthy bodies. WIth a little more physical training, there is a good chance that a huge number of them will be able to awaken their Battle Force. You can then pick a couple of them from the ones who succeed to train. As for longbows and crossbows, I've already asked the father-son arbalists to prepare some. They promised to make me some simplified crossbows that can be used in training within a month. Proper crossbows would require more time to make and won't be ready until next year," Lorist said.
"Alright, simplified ones will do. Even though the range, power, durability and accuracy are considerably lower, it would be more than enough for its intended purpose. Milord, it's a shame that the main convoy still hasn't arrived yet. Otherwise we would have as many weapons as we need," Josk said as he sighed.
"That's right. I kind of miss them too. Darned fatty, I haven't received any news about the convoy for more than three months already. You'd think they would send someone to notify us about their status..." complained Lorist.
"Achoo! Achoo! Achoo!" Elsewhere, Charade let out three loud sneezes.
"Hehe, and you just said that fat people don't feel cold. You should wear some more clothing just in case you get sick," teased Els.
"I'm not cold at all. It's just that somehow my nose started to itch. Someone must be talking bad about me behind my back," said Charade as he took the blanket Els handed him to wipe off his snot.
"Good Sol! Fatty! Don't be so gross!" said Els as he snatched the blanket back from him and handed it to a guard who was passing by and said, "It's a reward for your hard work."
"We only have enough for one each person. Don't you go take one more after giving it away," said Charade while eyeing Els.
"I'll see if you dare to stop me. If you don't give me another one to replace the one you dirtied, I will even take your wife's," Els replied.
"..." Charade was troubled as he knew Els was definitely capable of doing what he just said. "Gosh, I give up. Go take another one then by the time we set up camp."
"But still... Those sneezes of mine were definitely not normal. Somebody must have been cursing me," said Charade, not willing to let the subject go.
Els laughed and said, "Why would you think that people wouldn't? During the three months we were at Geldos City, do you know the moniker the nobles gave you? Charade the Skinner. You won't believe how many of them were cursing you day and night for taking so much of their stuff that you're practically skinning their family alive. Do you recall the nobles who gathered up to send us off on that day that even hired drummers to make a grand spectacle? They weren't cheering for our safe journey but rather their salvation from a miserly demon like you..."
"Those nobles can say whatever they want. It's not like what they say or think will actually hurt me in any way. I am a knight of the Norton Family, it's only natural for me to put the family's interests first," Charade said righteously.
"Hey, do you think that the person who's talking behind your back might be Locke? It's already been three months and we're still wandering around the Redlis Kingdom. We've really took too much time to depart. Even though it's been a month since Potterfang conquered Benz Citadel with our army, it would still take us at least 20 days before the convoy will be able to reach there," Els complained.
Upon hearing Lorist being mentioned, Charade went silent for a while before saying, "We had no choice in that matter. After occupying Geldos City, the amount of supplies we have to manage has only increased. There was also the training of the newly-formed combat units and the reorganization of the convoy as well as the collaboration with Viscount Tim and the Peterson Merchant Guild to handle. We also had to deal with the conflicts between the various nobles..."
"That's right. And you managed to weasel some more stuff from them, right? Right now, apart from weapons and equipment, they are already on the brink of running out of food. I bet they were itching to fight each other for it the moment we left..." said Els sarcastically in an effort to ridicule Charade's methods.
"But if we didn't do that, would we have been able to sustain all 50000 people of the convoy? I'm sure that Locke would understand this as well as the delayed date of departure for the convoy considering its huge scale of over 4000 carriages," Charade said.
"Fatty, I miss Locke. I wonder if he's doing well right now. If we arrive at the Andinaq Kingdom without issues, do you think I can leave first and head to where Locke is?" asked Els.
Charade nodded and said, "I guess that would be fine. It is about time we sent someone to tell him that we're fine and the journey is progressing without problems..."
 Arbalists: Crossbow makers. See Chapter 86 for mention of the father-son ballista/crossbow craftsmen.
 Benz Citadel: See Chapter 57.