River-Crossing and Arrival
Probably because he wanted Lorist to leave his dominion as soon as possible, Viscount Kermas didn't cut any corners on the items he promised to deliver, much to Shadekampf's delight. The 7 carriages of food and 3 carriages of textiles had all been brought over in one go and the 10 carriages that came along was also given to them as a gift, causing Shadekampf to be relieved as he didn't manage to procure as many carriages as he had hoped.
Now with 10 extra carriages in hand, Shadekampf wouldn't have to worry about not having enough to transport all the goods. After another night of checking and finalizing, Lorist's group finally departed Fenyata Town on the 11th day of the 2nd month.
Three days later, Lorist's convoy arrived at the border between the Andinaq Kingdom and the Madras Duchy and rested for one day at the Nadgas Border City around the area before entering the duchy a day later.
Compared to the Andinaq Kingdom, the Madras Duchy seemed to fare much better after the conflict in terms of both civilian standard of living as well as order and security. This was much in part of Duke Madras's efforts who had taken a defensive stance during the civil war within the empire and only defended himself against invaders without lashing out at anyone else, allowing for his duchy to be in better shape in comparison to the lands of other powers. He paid meticulous attention to the borders as well, earning him the title of 'The Hedgehog Duke'.
Lorist's convoy traveled along the duchy's border from the south to the north for a distance of around 650 kilometers and only encountered two groups of mountain bandits and another cavalry bandit group within 7 days. Naturally, these ignorant fools soon regretted their decision to prey on the convoy and by the time it arrived at the border between the Madras Duchy and the Northern Highlands, the Metropoulos River, the number of carriages filled with resources and loot had already increased by 6 with another 70 or so prisoners.
"Milord, after crossing Metropoulos River, we will arrive at the outer regions of the Northlands and will only have around 350 kilometers left to travel. We no longer have to travel at night anymore as we will be able to reach the family dominion well before the third month if we travel for 50 kilometers a day," said Shadekampf as he breathed a sigh of relief at the fact that his decision to bring along so much resources had not delayed Lorist's arrival at the dominion before the inheritance ceremony.
The Metropoulos River was calm and tranquil as the clear water quietly flowed downstream.
Beyond that river, elevated lands could be seen in the far distance with a number of lush-green mountains filling out their field of view.
This was the Northlands, the homeland of the original owner of Lorist's body.
Lorist looked towards the distance and thought, so this is my homeland...
"I recall that ten years ago when I left the dominion with the merchant convoy, there was a bridge somewhere here and the stream under it was rather turbulent unlike how calm it is now."
"Milord, I believe the bridge you are talking about is the Hendliff Suspension Bridge which is located upstream the Metropoulos River around 50 kilometers from where we are. The Freist Castle, which is one of the territories of the Duke of the Northlands, Duke Loggins, is just beyond that bridge. Because you said that you didn't wish to deal with the duke before we embarked on our journey, I have decided to cross the river over here instead. This place is one of the two crossings to the Northlands from the Metropoulos River. After we cross it, we will arrive at the dominion after passing through 7 territories of other nobles," explained Shadekampf.
"Where is the crossing then?" Lorist asked.
"It's just a little further up ahead. That is the territory of Baron Silas. I'm sure he would earn quite a bit from the toll we have to pay given the size of our convoy," said Shadekampf.
"Well, we have to pay what we ought to. Let's go. After we cross the river, we'll set up camp to rest for another day," said Lorist.
As a noble, one would normally be entitled to cross another noble's territory at no cost whatsoever. In normal circumstances, Lorist only had to use his badge to demonstrate that his convoy wasn't a merchant convoy to be allowed to cross the territories of other nobles without having to pay a fee. However, when it came to crossing rivers, it was different as the fees for the ferry service had to be paid regardless.
Baron Silas's harbor wasn't large and only held two boats. A plaque was erected near the harbor that indicated the pricing for crossing the river: it would cost 1 imperial silver for a person, 10 imperial silvers for a horse, 1 imperial old head gold coin for a carriage filled with goods, etc. Even if one was a noble, the price would still remain the same with the only benefit of being allowed to cross ahead in line should there be others waiting to use the ferries as well.
What's the point of being allowed to cross earlier? It's not like there's anyone else waiting here... According to that old guy who's repairing the oars, the boatmen are also away as well...
The arrival of the convoy had turned the once serene surroundings to be filled with merry chattering that even caused the baron to personally bring a squad of garrison troops over to calculate the total cost for all the people, horses and carriages of the convoy. When he received the bag full of gold coins from Lorist as payment, he smiled so hard he couldn't shut his mouth for quite a while. The baron who was in a cheerful mood even especially asked his servants to bring some bottles of wine from his precious collection back at the castle and treated Lorist to a drink.
However, Lorist felt quite troubled at that moment as one boat could only ferry 4 carriages and a few people at once and each trip across the river easily took up to one hour. His convoy had near 100 carriages, 600 horses and many more people. How much time would he need for the convoy to be completely brought over to the other side of the river? There were only 8 boatmen after all and they needed to eat and sleep as well. Lorist estimated that it would probably take seven or eight more days before it could all be completed.
Baron Silas apologized deeply for the inconvenience given the amount of payment he had received for the convoy's crossing and said that it couldn't be helped as he only had two boats with eight boatmen.
Lorist then asked, "Do you happen to have any rope?"
Baron Silas nodded and said, "Yes, of course we do. Due to the fact that my dominion is near the river, we are easily able to harvest the reed that grows at the banks which we will then make into ropes. This can be considered one of the unique local products my dominion has to offer."
Lorist then asked Baron Silas to procure a lot of rope for him which he connected one end to another and linked them to the front and back of each boat. He then tasked his men on both sides on the river to make large pulleys which can be used to guide and pull the boats to and fro the riverbanks. That way, not only could the boatmen save much more energy for each trip, the stability of the boats when it neared the shores could be better managed, thus shortening the time for each trip from one hour to only thirty minutes.
Even with the increased efficiency, it was already evening of the second day when Lorist got onto the last boat. Looking at Baron Silas who was seeing Lorist away and waving nonstop from the other side of the bank, Shadekampf said in a dissatisfied tone, "That baron actually got 150 imperial gold coins from us as toll... It's no wonder he's so eager to come over to see you off even though it's already getting this late."
Lorist waved back to the baron on the riverbank and recalled the night before when he brought Ovidis along with him to the baron's castle after having been invited there as a guest, much to the full-bearded former bandit's surprise. The reason Lorist brought him along was because Josk and Patt were busy managing the matters of the camp on the other side of the river, leaving only Reidy and Ovidis together with Lorist. After receiving the invitation, he instructed Reidy to monitor the proceedings of the crossing and was only left with Ovidis to bring along to the banquet.
At that night, Lorist presented Baron Silas with an upper body plate armor that was decorated with golden engravings which was part of the loot he got from the bandits they encountered along the way. Lorist didn't know which unfortunate noble the bandit stole it from, but due to it being too eye-catching on the battlefield, the bandit leader who was wearing it got shot in the throat by Josk at the start of the battle.
As it had no noble family insignia on it, it was the perfect gift to present to someone. Lorist reasoned that the armor was probably order-made by someone as a gift for some young noble's ceremony of coming of age. Lorist himself didn't take a fancy for that flashy armor as wearing it was just like saying to one's enemies, 'Hey, I'm here, quick, shoot me!' That kind of suicidal thing was definitely not what Lorist wanted to do.
However, the baron absolutely loved Lorist's gift to the point that he wasn't willing to let it go. After the banquet, the full-bearded Ovidis excused himself and returned to help Reidy organize the crossing as he felt a little out of place. Baron Silas on the other hand invited Lorist to go sample even more well-aged wines from his precious collection.
When they were in his study, the baron thanked Lorist once again and said that even though there were many merchant convoys of the northern nobles wishing to cross the river, due to the lack of manpower and boats, the convoys usually didn't want to wait and went straight to the Hendliff Suspension Bridge to make their crossing, causing him to lose quite a bit of potential revenue. Now that Lorist had improved the system they had at his crossing and greatly increased its efficiency, he believed that it would spur many of the convoys to choose to cross the river at his dominion instead.
Lorist felt weird at the fact there were convoys that would even think of crossing the river at Baron Silas's dominion to begin with. In the first place, Lorist's convoy only traveled to the baron's territory because he wanted to avoid dealing with Duke Loggins. But, why would the other convoys go out of their way to try to avoid using the Hendliff Suspension Bridge?
"Isn't the toll for crossing the Hendliff Suspension Bridge half as cheap as using your ferry service? Why would the convoys even want to cross the river at your dominion?" Lorist asked.
Baron Silas laughed out and said, "Duke Loggins of the Northlands is quite famed for his immense greed. Even though the fees paid to cross Hendliff Bridge is half of what I charge here, they would end up at Freist Castle the moment they cross the river. The duke has set up a strict customs in that area. Even though nobles would usually be allowed to pass without paying a fee, if the duke discovered anything he liked in any of their convoys, he would forcefully purchase it at half of the market price. If one is fortunate, one would only lose one or two carriages to the duke. The ones who have it worse could lose up to half of their convoy. That caused the nobles of the Northlands to complain to no end and choose to cross at my place instead."
Lorist stood atop the boat and felt refreshed by the chilling gust that just blew by. Thinking back at what the baron had said the day before, even though the Northlands was huge and had the Metropoulos River as a natural border, there were only two places where one could enter or leave it. The first place was the Hendliff Suspension Bridge, however, that place was under the duke's control. The second place would be Baron Silas's ferry crossing, but due to the large width of the river at that part, it was difficult to construct a bridge there and crossing with boats took far too much time.
The main reason why the Metropoulos River was considered a border for the Northlands was this: aside from Baron Silas's crossing, the river mainly flowed through high cliffs or rugged terrain where the current was far too turbulent to allow for any crossing with boats to be done.
Lorist suspected that the population of the Northlands was so sparse because the main locations of entering and leaving it was under private control of people like Duke Loggins and Baron Silas and served as their main source of income.
Even if Charade and the rest of the convoy managed to make their way back to the Northlands, with the entrances being under the control of others, the family could easily be locked at the Northlands without being able to do anything about it thus limiting its development. There was a saying Lorist had heard of in his past life, 'Building the road is the first step to becoming rich'. But with the main paths of entry to the Northlands beyond his control, how would he be able to bring his dominion to prosperity?
I guess one of the first things on my agenda once I return to the dominion is to find a way to pave a new entry point so that I won't have to be at the whims of others. Sigh, I guess the day we will be able to do as we please is still far off. Lorist looked at the distant mountains and once again fell into deep thought.
Having been delayed for yet another day due to crossing the river, Lorist's convoy continued their journey on the 25th day of the 2nd month. He decided to cross the remaining 300-odd kilometers of distance during the next five days to reach his dominion by the 30th day of the 2nd month.
After setting his foot on the Northlands, Lorist noticed the reality of its war-torn state that was first brought up by Charade during the meeting they had some time ago.
After only passing through three dominions of other nobles, they have already witnessed 5 conflicts between the landed nobles in the area. Some older noble families acted against new ones while others called for their neighboring families to invade the territories of their enemies. There were even some who invaded others to settle old grudges with many others engaging in conflict over a myriad of reasons. Fights broke out everywhere and the sounds of killing and slaughter could be heard at every corner.
But perhaps due to the low population of the Northlands, the conflicts between the various nobles were only on the scale of skirmishes between different small villages. Usually, the forces of those nobles only numbered around hundreds of farmer soldiers with tens of garrison troops and less than five knights. The largest force Lorist had seen only consisted of four to five hundred farmers in tattered clothing.
The most laughable part was that one of the nobles actually had his eyes set on Lorist's convoy and demanded for half of everything they had to be given up as a toll. Given that an act like that violated the sacred right of nobles of being allowed to pass through each other's territories without any cost, Lorist mobilized his guard squad and completely crippled the opposing army without a single casualty, causing the ignorant and arrogant noble to prostrate before Lorist and pleading for his freedom while crying profusely. Lorist released him after receiving 50 Northlander Horses and 4 carriages' worth of food as ransom.
To prevent further incidents like that from happening again, Lorist instructed his guard squad to be fully-equipped at all times to escort the convoy in as high a profile as possible. As expected, nobody dared to cause the convoy any trouble in the following days with two warring nobles even stopping all activity to make way for the convoy to pass.
On the fifth day, the convoy arrived before an ancient, ever-reaching forest and a long-stretching mountain range.
Shadekampf and Patt cheered out loud before explaining, "Milord, we have arrived at the dominion of the family. That over there is the Black Forests and the mountains in the distance are known as the Magical Dragon Mountains. Beyond all that is where the Morgan Hills is located. From there, it would only take another day of traveling before we will be able to arrive at the family's bastide."
After another half day of travel, the convoy circled around the sides of the Black Forests and arrived at the Morgan Hills.
However, Shadekampf and Patt were stunned by the walls that could be seen blocking the pass through Morgan Hills. On top of it was a flag that didn't belong to the Norton Family but instead depicted three all-encompassing golden rings...