Various Preparations for the Journey
Lorist really required the help of Baron Miranda as without his permission, no matter how strong his army or how wealthy he was, he wouldn't be able to gain the support he needed from Armatrin Harbor in terms of human and material resources and that would have a huge effect on restarting the journey north with so many new people in their convoy.
Lorist, Charade and his other knights have carried out various discussions and came to the conclusion that the largest tribulation for the northbound journey was the 1000 km route they had to take through the Redlis Kingdom. If Lorist only crossed the kingdom with ten or so people, that wouldn't pose much of a problem. However, he now had 6000 plus people in his convoy as well as a huge amount of precious resources.
The Redlis Kingdom was founded by the former First Prince of the Krissen Empire. During the days when the empire still existed, the First Prince had already been known to be a violent, untrustworthy and avaricious person who has had his right to succeed the imperial throne revoked by the emperor himself and was relegated to the Bodolger Province which was very distant from the imperial capital. However, that seemed to work in the First Prince's favor as he quickly managed to gain control of the military forces of the province and plundered the citizens of their wealth in the masses to form his own personal army. Sometimes he even had his soldiers masquerade as bandits to rob traveling merchants, making him the prime suspect for the demise of the Norton Family's merchant convoy.
When the emperor passed away, the FIrst Prince was also the first one to fly the flag of rebellion and effectively plunged the empire into chaos and civil war. Currently, only one year and a half after the peace treaty was signed, the First Prince started to look for an excuse to start another conflict with the Forund Duchy as that used to be one of the wealthiest provinces during its days under imperial rule. Fortunately, the various powers in the central part of the former empire's territory, the Farkel Duchy, the Handra Duchy, the Forund Duchy and the Shabaj Duchy were aware of the First Prince's intentions and have since formed a military alliance to resist the Redlis Kingdom's invasion. Various skirmishes were already going on at the mid-southern area of the border between the four duchies and the Redlis Kingdom.
What Lorist and his knights were worried about was now that they were at Armatrin Harbor, which was a territory of the Lormo Duchy, they would have to enter the border of the Redlis Kingdom to be able to reach the Northlands. Given the amount of people and resources the convoy had, there was little doubt that they would become a target for the First Prince. Though, the First Prince didn't have it easy either as after he had plundered his own territory clean, bandits groups have mushroomed in response to the hard times the citizens were experiencing.
Additionally, with the incessant conflict between the Redlis Kingdom and the four duchies and the frequent plundering of the duchies' citizens by the First Prince's forces, not one of them did not hate the First Prince to the bone. That was why even if the First Prince were to retreat back into his own territory, the allied army wouldn't let him off that easily and would fight their way beyond the Redlis Kingdom's borders. There were even rumors that the First Prince was relying on loans to keep his army operational so that the front lines do not crumble.
Charade believed that if they were to take the main highway to the north, no matter how strong their army, they would no doubt be targeted by the First Prince's forces. Given that the First Prince had a grudge against the Nortons, he would probably want to use that opportunity to wipe the northbound convoy out and also take all the resources they had.
Potterfang and Charade both suggested that the convoy take a roundabout route to the northwest that was 150 km longer than the main route and pass through various other dominions of other noble families. The reason for that was because they would easily be able to suppress the various smaller nobles and force their way through with military might if necessary. The dominions were also plagued with bandits and that would serve as decent training for their soldiers as well as earn the favor of the nobles.
Potterfang also said that if they wanted to escape the fangs of the Redlis Kingdom, they would have to travel at a rate of 25 to 30 kilometers per day. That way, even if the First Prince were to receive word of their presence, his soldiers wouldn't be able to catch up to the convoy.
"If we manage to occupy this place, then we will no longer have anything to worry about," said Potterfang as he pointed to a spot on the map. That place, Benz Citadel, was at the border between the Third Prince's Andinaq Kingdom and the Redlis Kingdom. Potterfang was quite well-informed about that area because he used to participate in battles over there back in the days when he was in the Whitelion Legion. He mentioned that the Whitelion Legion had defeated the First Prince's army before at that place but due to the support in the form of resources the prince had from the Forde Trade Union, they managed to siege the place and wait until the Whitelion Legion ran out of provisions and had no choice but to retreat, causing the crucial citadel on the border to go to the hands of the First Prince.
Potterfang said that ever since that event, both nations couldn't afford to keep fighting and were forced to sign a peace treaty. The Whitelion Legion was subsequently disbanded. As the First Prince wanted to focus his forces on the central area of the former empire's territory, he only left 1000 or so troops to defend the citadel. Potterfang discovered half a year back when he was passing through the area with his two children on the way to Morante City that the security at there was extremely lax. If they could take advantage of that situation and attack the citadel, they will be able to easily conquer the place without sacrificing too many of their soldiers.
Lorist understood Potterfang's intentions: if they manage to conquer the citadel and hand it to the Third Prince, they would be able to gain his favor and will also be able to avoid pursuit from the First Prince's forces and continue their journey to the Northlands without worry.
After deciding on which route to take, the next issue was to think about how they would be able to let the convoy travel at least 25 kilometer each day. It seemed that they had no choice but to rely on carriages. Otherwise, the children and the elderly among the family members of the soldiers wouldn't be able to keep up with the speed. According to Charade's plan, they would group four to five families together and fill up each carriage with around 12 to 13 people each, totalling up to 250 carriages solely for the use of non-combatants. Including the carriages for the main convoy, Charade concluded that they would require at least 600 carriages before they would be able to start the journey.
During the course of their stay at the bastide, Charade utilized the manpower of the non-combatants to the maximum and categorized them according to their various skills to start building their own carriages. However, the most they could build within a month was estimated to be only 200. Including the ones they already had, they would only have 300 by the time they had to leave. The horses required to pull the carriages was also lacking. A four-wheeled carriage required two horses to pull, so 600 of them needed at least 1200. However, even after taking over the bastide, Lorist only had around 600 horses.
Lorist really didn't have much time to spare. He had to return to the Northlands to inherit the position and the title before the 3rd month of the following year. It was already the 11th month right now and he only had three months left to bring the whole convoy across a distance of over 2500 kilometers to reach the Northlands.
Even so, the decision to stay at the Sloph Bastide for another month was inevitable as they needed the extra time to prepare the rest of the carriages they needed before the start of the journey. As long as they manage to go through the Redlis Kingdom, the convoy would be able to proceed onward without any worries and Lorist can leave the convoy and bring a few others with him to go back to the dominion first to make it in time for the succession ceremony.
That was why Lorist really needed the aid of Baron Miranda. As long as the baron agreed to let the citizens within his dominion help out with the construction of the carriages, they would be able to leave on time within a month. Originally, Lorist was still troubled over thinking of a way to convince the baron to help. What he didn't expect was for Baron Miranda to offer aid of his own accord, much to Lorist's delight. The act of giving up the bastide for free as well as the families of the slavers to the baron was probably the main factor for his decision to help out.
During Baron Miranda's stay at the bastide, Lorist announced that he would rename the place into the Miranda Bastide much to the baron's delight. He then pledged that he would aid Lorist however he could and agreed to have his citizens help out with the carriage building and also provide up to 1000 horses for the convoy. Though, the main motivation behind the baron's actions might have been because he wanted the convoy to depart as early as possible so that he can truly take over the bastide.
The baron told Lorist candidly that he intended to make the Miranda Bastide his new home and headquarters of the dominion as its location was strategic and easy to defend, but incredibly hard for people to siege given the advantageous surrounding terrain as well as the defensive fortifications within. Secondly, he believed that his control over the Armatrin Harbor would be strengthened even further and expressed his intention to invest and develop the place further. He said that he could already smell all the coins that would be rolling into his pocket in the near future.
Lorist truly admired the baron's eye for business and thanked him for his kind favor of providing the carriages and horses for free. He presented the three ships that belonged to Sloph to the baron as a gift in return, thus fulfilling the baron's long dream of owning his very own small fleet. In actuality, the price of three hundred carriages as well as a thousand workhorses was about the same price as the barque that Sloph came in. But the nobles usually wouldn't engage in trading that straightforwardly like merchants would because it was considered uncouth. That was why the baron offered what he could for free and Lorist reciprocated by returning the favor.
As promised, three days after Baron Miranda left, he sent his main supervisor and almost a hundred servants to help out at the Miranda Bastide and specifically sent two young and beautiful maidens to serve Lorist personally. The supervisor even told him that the girls had already consumed the Mishla Elixir so he wouldn't have to worry about leaving behind any unintended offspring.
Naturally, Lorist quickly had his knights move out from the central building of the bastide to some of the other vacant houses so that the supervisor could start planning the renovations as that would be Baron Miranda's mansion in the near future.
Baron Miranda was quite impressed at Lorist's ability to read between the lines and thought that if Lorist didn't have to go back to his homeland to inherit the title, he would definitely love to have him as his subordinate.
Probably due to having gained quite a bit from ransacking the shops of Sloph's relatives, the baron also signed a contract with Charade during his stay. The clauses of the contract were as follows: First, Lorist will have to help Baron Miranda train a 720 men personal guard, a 120-strong heavy-armored soldier unit, 240 crossbowmen as well as 360 pikemen within a month.
Second, the personal guard will be assembled within three days and stationed at the former slavers' camp south to Armatrin Harbor and the equipment of which shall be provided by Lorist. The fee for the equipment and training of 20000 gold Fordes will be paid by Baron Miranda.
Third, Lorist will offer the extra weapons the convoy didn't need for sale at 60% of the market price to Baron Miranda.
Fourth, the baron will provide Lorist with 300 cows and 2000 sheep, the fees of which will be deducted from the sum he had to pay to Lorist.
After signing the agreement, the baron left the bastide to collect the funds and conscript people into his personal guard. Lorist and Charade called Els and Terman over and told them to head to Morante City right away to purchase all the worn out equipment from the other academies. Back then, Lorist only bought old equipment from 7 academies but there were a total of 28 academies within Morante City and there was still much profit to be made.
Charade then regretted that he didn't think about this ploy beforehand. If he had started to buy up all the used equipment and refurbished them for sale, he would already earned over 1 million gold coins! The armors that the heavy-armored soldiers only cost up to 10 gold coins each to buy and fix up. If he were to sell them at 40 gold coins each to the baron, he would turn a huge profit and the baron would still be under the impression that he got a good bargain.
Els and Terman then left for Morante City with 50000 gold Fordes to purchase not only the used equipment from the academies but also to order the axles needed for the construction of the carriages. Lorist also had them deliver a letter to request President Peterson to help them up with acquiring the axles.
Currently, the Miranda Bastide was bustling with activity. Lorist finally understood the true difficulties that came with managing a group of over 6000 people. In terms of clothing, Charade already had it covered as he had ordered quite a lot back in Morante City as well as confiscated quite an amount from the bastide's residents. They already had enough for the whole group.
As for food, it mainly concerned dry provisions that they could bring along on the journey. The whole group already consumed more than 5000 kilograms of food every day courtesy of Baron Miranda during their stay, along with quite an amount of treats like fruits, vegetables and meat, causing the supervisor of Baron Miranda to freak out and be forced to import more to curb the shortage.
Given that their needs were provided for by the baron during their stay, the food that they brought over could be saved up for the journey ahead. Charade decided to make black bread with the ingredients they had. Black bread was usually used to feed soldiers and it was different in that it was almost half a meter long and was thicker than Lorist's arm. Upon removing it from the oven, the bread cooled down and hardened quite a bit to a point where Lorist thought that it might even be harder than bricks.
Each black bread can last an adult ten whole days and the way one usually consumed it was different than that of normal bread. Should one attempt to bite it as it is, one's teeth would undoubtedly fall out. There were a few ways one could eat black bread. If there was ample time, it could be roasted over a fire and cut into half for meat to be sandwiched in between. If there wasn't enough time to roast it, the bread could be hammered into powder and cooked with water to make some gruel. It could also be consumed after simply softening it up with water and chewing it slowly before swallowing the clump.
It was relatively easy to prepare black bread. Using a mixture of rye, bran, salt and some optional additions, it only had to be allowed to ferment and baked. Potterfang said that during one food shortage, the Whitelion Legion even mixed sawdust and tree leaves into the mixture. Additionally, the bread wouldn't spoil for at least half a year. Charade planned to have 10000 long black breads made and have each soldier carry two and one for each family member. Lorist even joked that if a soldier's weapon were to break during a battle, he could still use the bread as a mace to hammer the enemy to death.
Other than black bread, Charade also planned to have the 300 cows and 2000 sheep given to them by Baron Miranda to be made into dried meat and jerky. He also ordered a large amount of pickled fruit and vegetables so that the convoy would have some snacks to spice up their meals.
When it came to shelter, there was only one solution. Tents. There was no way a group of 6000 people could stay within inns. Charade had considered the problem of accommodation quite extensively and had decided to allocate one tent for every carriage of people. The camp would then be set up in the center with the carriages forming a wall and surrounding it.
As for transport, they would primarily rely on four-wheeled carriages. However, the journey to the Northlands was unlike normal trips undertaken by normal convoys. Given the risks and dangers, the army that escorted the convoy would further complicate the process as the transportation of equipment, rations as well as the herbalist unit to go around to provide aid would need to be considered.
On the 23rd day of the 12th month, Els and Terman returned on a large ship of the Peterson Merchant Guild to Armatrin Harbor and brought back 700 sets of carriage axles with them. They reported that the President Peterson had his people buy up all the axles for sale in Morante City and even dismantled more than 100 of their own carriages to make up for the demand.
Aside from the axles, they also spent nearly 20000 gold Fordes and emptied eight other academies of their used equipment. They didn't approach every academy, however, as they were worried that they wouldn't have enough time and space to ship all those equipment back.
Els and Terman said that the amount of equipment was truly too much. When Charade asked the baron to fulfill his end of the bargain to purchase the equipment, he was instantly flabbergasted as he realized that all his money could only afford a third of the equipment, and that was already discounted at 60% of the market price.
He could only use 60000 gold coins to purchase a quarter of the equipment. However, he still managed to turn a profit in the end by selling them to the neighboring nobles at a higher price.
That prompted Charade to realize that the number of carriages needed for the convoy would have to grow again to 800 to accommodate the increased baggage of the equipment. Thus, he decided that he would offer the equipment up for sale to the other nobles on the way to the Northlands and use the profit they would earn for the development of the dominion in the future.
Time passed quickly and it was already the new year. All the preparations for the journey had already been completed and the convoy would depart within another three days.
To celebrate the coming of the new year, Lorist announced that he would give every soldier one gold Forde and every one of their family members one large silver. He also decided to organize a large festival, causing everyone of the convoy to cheer with excitement.
It was already getting late into the night and Lorist found it difficult for him to fall asleep. He took a walk outside the yard and looked towards the stars hanging high up in the heavens, subsequently losing himself in his thoughts. Now that the northbound journey is about to begin, I wonder how I will fare as a lord when I finally return to my homeland?