Northbound Journey Strategy
Ever since Charade and Yuriy became Norton Family knights, Lorist suddenly realized that the current situation was more and more out of hand.
When Lorist brought up the resources that he would transport back to the homeland during the meeting with the other knights, Charade started to laugh out loud at the plan. Even though he was Lorist's knight, he didn't even bother to give Lorist any face. He grabbed the map of the Northlands from Lorist and said that his focus should be on cleaning up the mess the Norton Family was currently in and give them a chance to start afresh instead of sending them resources to merely help them survive.
According to Charade, a prosperous family with huge potential for development should have the ability to change and reform to adapt to whatever situation they may be in instead of holding onto old detrimental traditions and customs. The sad part of Lorist's current plan was that it focused only on sending resources back just to make do for the moment instead of considering how to develop the family further in the long run.
Lorist was a little embarrassed and even felt a little guilty as Charade had nailed his original intention: that was to return to Morante City after delivering the resources and live out the rest of his life without worries. However, given the situation now, there was no way he would dare to say something like that, otherwise Charade would instantly leap over and kill him for that. Imagine what the reaction of his friends who were willing to cast away their comfortable lives in Morante City to jump into the pit of fire that was the Norton Family's dominion when they hear that Lorist was planning to return to Morante City from the beginning...
Charade continued giving his opinion. He believed that the main reason that the Norton Family had fallen to such a predicament was the severe lack of manpower. As long as that problem was addressed, the Nortons would no doubt be able to rise again.
For example, when it came to the magical beast horde during the winter, it wouldn't be a problem for the family if they had the human resource to expand and fortify the defensive infrastructure of the dominion and could probably even profit from slaying the beasts and selling their meat and fur.
As for the mountain barbarians, Charade said that he has talked to Shadekampf about it before and he discovered something that had been overlooked by everyone else: ever since the first conflict between the Norton Family and the barbarians, the family has been on the defensive side and only retaliates when the barbarians invade without taking the initiative to wipe them out even once. If they could afford to start an expedition or two to annihilate the barbarian tribes, they wouldn't be constantly harassed by the barbarians for so long. That's why the main solution against the barbarian threat was to launch an attack on their home bases and kill all who resist while capturing the rest to use them for road building and developing the desolate lands. Charade was filled with bloodlust and excitement when he talked about that solution.
The other issue was the one regarding the garrison troops that many people working for the Norton Family had close relations with. This was a difficult and delicate situation to handle as the Nortons couldn't afford to wipe them out yet given that the territories of the former Krissen Empire had just emerged from the ashes of six years of civil war and the land was in peril with the citizens living harsh, tormenting lives and bandits popping out all over the place. During this northbound journey, it was imperative that the convoy destroyed bandits along the way as they raised and trained their own elite army. By the time they arrive at their destination, they would have an experienced elite fighting force that would no doubt be able to easily crush the rebellious garrison troops. The members of the army could also become citizens within the dominion, thus further boosting the available human resource of the Nortons.
Regarding the territorial squabble with the Kenmays, Charade didn't believe that to be a real problem as the Viscount would obediently give the mines back to the Nortons or be prepared to be completely annihilated by the army that was forged along the journey. Should that come to happen, the Nortons would have yet another piece of land they could rule over.
The real distressing problem was the presence of Duke Loggins, who was notorious for his avaricious nature that was obvious from his frequent schemes to swallow up the riches of the noble families under his rule. That person was like a blood-sucking leech to the Norton Family who could do nothing but endure as they had no ability to resist him at present. Charade said that it was up to Lorist how he wanted to handle this matter. He recommended that if their forces were strong enough by then, they should just crush the lord duke in one fell swoop. However, if they don't yet have the abliity, staying low and waiting for an opportunity to strike was the wiser move.
Taking a map of the territory of the former Krissen Empire, Charade pointed to it and said, "Everyone, look. The former Krissen Empire is currently divided into three kingdoms and seven duchies, among which, the Lormo Duchy neighboring the Falik Plains has already sided with the Forde Trade Union. The next one is the Redlis Kingdom, ruled by the First Prince of the former Krissen Empire, that occupies 7 of the 29 provinces that used to belong to the empire, making it the power with the most territory and might in the area. Next, we have the Farkel Duchy, Forund Duchy, Handra Duchy and the Shabaj Duchy that occupy the center and most prosperous area of the territory that used to belong to the empire. These four duchies even formed a military alliance and they are currently entangled in incessant conflict with the Redils Kingdom.
"The kingdom of the Third Prince of the former Krissen Empire, the Andinaq Kingdom, only has power over 3 provinces. However, the capital of the former empire is under his control and he is the officially sanctioned heir to the empire named by the former emperor himself, and his status is much higher than the other nobles because of that. Had it not been for the Forde Trade Union inciting the First and Second Prince to rebel, the Third Prince would have ascended to the imperial throne. Due to the constant pressuring of the trade union, the Andinaq Kingdom's power is currently the weakest among the rest and can't even compare to some of the other duchies. The Third Prince should be the ones the Norton Family should have good relations with, or even pay allegiance to, as he is the true heir to the Krissen Royal Family.
"Lastly, let's pay attention to the Second Prince's Iblia Kingdom which is situated near the territory of the Nortons. The Second Prince has always had a rather bad reputation among the nobles of the empire and he is often regarded as a cold, selfish, lustful, opportunistic schemer who doesn't have any outstanding achievements whether it be in governance or the military. In actuality, the nobles in service of the Second Prince are a divisive mess. They only pledge their allegiance to him in name and frequently fight among each other and even ignore his orders outright. If the Second Prince did not have the backing of his father-in-law, Duke Fisablen who rules over the northeastern grassy plains, there is no way the Second Prince would be able to found his own kingdom.
"Occupying the northeastern area of the former Krissen Empire, the Iblia Kingdom rules over 5 provinces including the Northern Highlands, as well as the Madras Duchy which is subordinate to the kingdom in name only. The current power the Iblia Kingdom is fighting against is the Melein Duchy, which is the loyal supporter of the Third Prince's Andinaq Kingdom and serves to defend the former royal capital from the Second Prince's forces. For the Second Prince to be able to conquer the royal capital, he would have to first find a way to handle the Melein Duchy. The problem is, Duke Melein used to be the commander in chief of the armies of the former empire and his troops are among the most experienced and skilled. The Second Prince has been quite unsuccessful in his attempts to defeat the duke's forces for the past two years.
"The nobles under the Second Prince include 2 dukes, 7 marquises, 19 counts, more than 40 viscounts as well as 100-odd barons, among which 90 nobles are newly-entitled by the Second Prince himself, essentially giving away titles for more funds, resulting in the hilarious situation of some counts having territories that are even smaller than the neighboring barons. One of the 2 dukes under his service is Duke Fisablen who used to be the general of the Border Defense Army of the empire that was mainly responsible for keeping the barbarians of the plains out of the nation. During the power struggle among the three princes, he supported his son-in-law the Second Prince and he's so influential that he can be even said to be responsible for the founding of the Iblia Kingdom by himself.
"The second duke under his service is Duke Loggins. Look at the map here, the Northern Highlands take up about half the area of the Iblia Kingdom's territory. The only thing about it is its relatively low population. Now, look at the Norton Family's dominion. It occupies a third of the Northlands that is mostly desolate and undeveloped. Duke Loggins's dominion is the most prosperous part at the south of the Northern Highlands, right across the Watar River. The duke actually has ambitions to make the whole of the Northlands his dominion to form his own duchy. But due to the lack of military force as well as the pressure from Duke Fisablen, he had no choice but to accept becoming a part of the Iblia Kingdom. Right now, he is occupied with the formation of his Northland Army so that he can have some leverage against Duke Fisablen's army that he will also use as his main force to form his own duchy in the future.
"During the formation of the Iblia Kingdom, the Second Prince has agreed to make Duke Loggins the overlord of the nobles of the Northern Highlands to gain his support. This is the main reason why the Norton Family is currently subordinate to the him. However, the Second Prince also granted more than 90 titles to some new nobles, among which more than 40 of them had been enfeoffed land in the Northern Highlands. Viscount Kenmays is also one such noble.
"The sudden entitlement of so many nobles was because the Second Prince had hoped that the Northern Highlands would develop faster with the new nobles in charge. But in actuality, it has caused quite a bit of trouble for Duke Loggins. After gaining their titles, the nobles have been involved in countless conflicts for territory and 3 newly-entitled noble families and 1 old noble family have already perished. The duke has since changed his plan on taking the whole of the Northlands by force and is instead secretly fanning the flames of war among the nobles to reduce their power and force them to rely on him. This is why the current situation of the Northlands is incredibly volatile and no noble is safe from it.
"That concludes the report on the political situation in the Northlands. It is currently the perfect chance to reap some profit over there. As long as we manage to raise a strong military force, the unification of the Northern Highlands is also achievable. This is why I believe that Lord Locke's plan of transporting resources over there is completely unviable. If anything, bringing too much resources with us would only make us a tempting target for bandits and even some local hegemons. If we raise an armed convoy, however, the local lords would instead worry about being attacked and think twice before acting. As for the bandits, they would serve as the perfect target to train our forces with. In fact, we should minimize their deaths and make the strong and able ones members of a suicide camp that we will later use when we lay siege. For those unfit for battle, we can even use them as a labor force to develop the Northlands with."
A loud applause erupted from the audience, and Lorist was no exception. Charade has always been a person who looked at the bigger picture. Lorist already noticed that back in the day when they took up mercenary missions together. Charade would never accept missions that was beyond their party's capability and his record of not having a single member in the group die on his watch was testament to his abilities.
Too bad Charade didn't know about Lorist's original intention to bail after transporting the resources to the Northlands. He must have been quite shocked by his father's lecture and is probably trying his best to secure a noble title in the Northlands.
Lorist raised a small objection and said that while Charade's strategy was praiseworthy, the cost of bringing refugees into the Northlands was too large, as they would cause quite a bit of issues there, mainly because of the lack of farmland in the dominion as well as the lack of food to sustain the refugees' livelihoods.
Charade merely snorted at that notion and said that it didn't make any sense, because Lorist's original plan involved transporting enough resources to last the people in the family for up to five years. Did he plan to have his family members stay in the comfort of their castle and never venture out? It would be much better to use the food they were transporting to tempt the refugees into joining and procure more food and provisions on the way. He believed that they would have enough food for up to 2 years by the time they reach the Northlands and they could use that timeframe to develop the land. Yuriy asked, "What if the locals don't intend to sell us any food? How would we sustain the refugees then?"
Charade replied, "Do you think we carry swords and spears for nothing? If they don't want to sell it willingly, we'll force them to! After all, we're just a group of traveling refugees and are not there to occupy their dominions. The nobles wouldn't bother to gather their armies to deal with us because even if they do, their own forces will be severely depleted and that would leave them vulnerable to the neighboring dominion lords. That's why the best thing they can do is to appease us and pray that we leave their dominions for the Northlands as soon as possible."
"What if there isn't enough farmland when we reach the Northlands, some of you might say? That is a non-issue, as we can have these refugees do other tasks like mining, building roads, constructing castles as well as hunt magical beasts. Given the size of the Norton Family dominion, are you worried that we'll run out of land to develop?" Charade also mentioned that there was a lot that could be removed from the list of items they would transport. For example, the ten carriages worth of iron ingots can be left out as they are heavy and difficult to transport. Instead of purchasing iron ingots, it would be better for them to recruit people who know how to scour the land for ore veins as well as metallurgists. Charade believed that the vast lands of the Norton dominion would definitely have resources waiting to be found.
He also asked Lorist how much money he intended to use to purchase the goods in his initial plan, to which he replied 10000 gold Fordes.
"What would you do with the remaining 20000? Leave them to rust? All of us here are prepared to go through thick and thin with you without a thought of coming back. We can't afford to skimp on the preparation! Hand me all your money and I'll use them to purchase the things we actually need."
Sol, this fatty knows my wallet like the back of his hand... His share of the profit that Els just sent him two days ago as well as the rest of his savings all went to Charade's hands just like that. Lorist accepted his current predicament and sighed, how would I be able to come back to Morante City and live out the rest of my life in leisure now that it's come to this?
Having gained the authority to manage the funds, Charade started discussing with the rest of the group about the resources they would need. Mainly, they required weapons and equipment, food and clothing as well as enough carriages to transport all that. However, that was secondary to building a formidable armed force they could rely on to escort their convoy. Charade thought that it wouldn't be good to rely fully on mercenaries as he understood their nature well: when the fight was to their advantage, they would give it their all, but when things start turning unfavorable, they were the first ones to flee.
"Here," said Potterfang as he pointed on a black spot on the map. He was pointing at Port Nupite.
Potterfang said, "The Hanayabarta Kingdom rules over this archipelago and the slave trade is not forbidden by their government. Port Nupite is the largest slave trading harbor on the Grindia Continent. We can go there to purchase some slaves to form an armed force with."
Charade replied, "Oh, I know of that place. But I've never went there myself so I do not know the finer details about the situation there. Though, I've heard that that place is extremely chaotic and lawless."
"One of the mercenary missions I have done involved escorting a group of slaves at the port. It is indeed rather chaotic but I've also met several close acquaintances whom I got to know back in the days I served in the army. Currently, they are working as guards for the port and I think I can get them to give us more information about the place. It would be best if we could wait a few days before doing so as I'm just about to break through to the Gold rank."
Breaking through Battle Force ranks wasn't inherently difficult. As long as Potterfang familiarized himself with the Battle Force circulation diagram and was able to circulate his Battle Force according to that route flawlessly, he would naturally be able to break through to the Gold rank.
Charade nodded and said, "Alright, then I'll be coming along with you by then. As for the things over here, I'll leave it for our lord to handle."
Potterfang suddenly had a question to ask, "Knight Charade, I know for a fact that you've never been to the Northlands before. How, then, are you so well-informed about the situation over there?"
"It's simple," Charade replied, "The ambassadors sent by the Forde Trade Union to mediate the conflict between the Third Prince and the other powers have just returned. I managed to get ahold of one of them through my contacts and used a high price to purchase a journal of what he had seen and experienced over there."
Potterfang lowered his head as a sign of respect, "Knight Charade, you truly have contributed a whole lot."
Charade returned the nod. "Don't be so polite. It's only natural to do that for the sake of the family."
At that moment, Yuriy made a suggestion. "Hey, since the academy has quite a number of old students, especially the ones in the Swordsmanship Society, shouldn't we go ask some of them if they want to join us on the journey? This way, it'll be much easier for us to form the armed force with their help."
"Great idea. Terman, you help Yuriy out with that matter. The only requirement is for them to have good attitudes and be at the Silver rank. Do tell them that this expedition will be dangerous and risky and that anyone who wishes to return after they reach the Northlands will also be given 20 gold Fordes. If there are any who are willing to join the Norton Family, tell them that Lord Locke will knight them when we finally reach our destination," said Charade.
He also asked Terman and Yuriy to try to seek out any professionals who wish to join the journey and help develop the Northlands. Anyone with some sort of skill or trade like herbalists and smiths were welcome. He mentioned that the development of the dominion cannot lack people with skills like those.
Potterfang nodded in agreement to that idea.
The knights then gave Lorist a salute before leaving after the meeting concluded. Potterfang quickly went back to continue his training while Terman and Yuriy started to handle the task Charade had given them. As for the fatty himself, he was quite busy haggling around with various merchants to get a good deal for the resources they would require for the northbound journey.
Sitting alone in his study, Lorist sat as his desk thinking before he finally realized something. It's over... Now I really have no choice but to go back and inherit the position of the dominion lord...