Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 526
Solidarity of Victors
Claude felt like the meeting was held in the wrong place. All the council members couldn't be more carefree. It was no different from going on a trip at the company's expense. It was a rare sightseeing trip overseas, so they naturally had to pay out of their own pockets for their entertainment. They were not there to party, after all. Rather than focusing on discussing how to get new fiefs, they were even more enthusiastic about meeting new friends and learning more about the state of trade in Northbay, as well as surveying other business opportunities.
Within three short days during the meeting that was held under the blue, cloudy skies of the beach, Claude found that his unmarried subordinates who were created honorary barons were busy settling their marriage to the daughters and siblings of the council members. Each of them were well raised and beautiful. They also came with a decent dowry, so marrying them was all profit and no loss.
On the official start date of the meeting on the 12th of the 9th month, Claude felt as if the grand meeting was nothing more than a joke. The council members merely spoke a few pleasantries while the honorary nobles did nothing but clap.
That was because the main agenda of the meeting was passed on the first day itself. The soldiers that were created honorary nobles would have their elevation fees sponsored by the region as gratitude for their service.
It was wonderful news for the soldiers and officers. Unlike the rich council members who could easily pay 400 thousand crowns, those soldiers didn't have much savings, being rather avid spenders themselves. Surprisingly, not many could take out ten thousand crowns despite the spoils having just been split.
The region's sponsorship was a godsend to them. Otherwise, they would have to go to the overseas bank for a loan to get their own fiefs. There was no guarantee they would be able to repay it with the yield generated from their fiefs either. They might even go bankrupt and lose their fief, on top of being debt ridden.
Naturally, there was one condition that came with it. The ones sponsored would have to take the side of the nobles in the negotiations. Either they all got hereditary fiefs or continued to live on as honorary nobles together. There would be no gathering funds personally to beg the kingdom to grant them a fief, and anyone that did would automatically be expelled from the region. All their property in the region would be confiscated and their family members would be exiled.
The soldiers immediately agreed to the condition and expressed their solidarity with the council members. Claude and Skri exchanged glances, balking at how easily the soldiers danced to the council's tune. It appeared their greatest fault was not being rich enough to decide their own futures, so they had to accept what they were given. While Claude, Skri, and a couple others were already hereditary nobles, they stood with the council.
The council wouldn't lose out on this deal. They had come to a decision to let the overseas bank pay for the soldier's promotions and other honorary nobles with the council members sharing half the cost. In other words, they wanted the king to first cut the price in half. The bank would then foot half of the rest of the cost, so the council members only really had to cover a quarter of the original fees.
The overseas bank would count the fees as part of the developmental funds for the region. Once the nobles and soldiers got their fiefs, they would hand it to the council for a decade or more of development and management. They would then receive benefits in the form of dividends.
Only when the region's nobles united could they stand a chance in negotiating with the king. If they were given a single, unified fief, they could standardise it to maximise their gains.
The council was planning to bind the fiefs together into a single administrative region. They would develop it like any other part of the region. Dividends would only be given up after investments and taxes to the kingdom were deducted. They didn't really care what the other members did in their fiefs as long as it didn't interfere with their administration and the economic output of the area.
"We will demand to be given Northbay. Everyone's fiefs will be here. Does anyone have an objection?" Bernard yelled as he slammed the desk loudly.
Nobody had an objection. They broke into loud cheers and applause.
The chairman of the mining association, Henderman, stood up and made the announcement in his cultured, refined voice.
"His Majesty will have to agree to our demands for the price cut. There is no way we'll give out the wealth we earned over half our lifetimes for a piece of grassland. Our efforts must be repaid with satisfactory rewards! Otherwise, we would rather not have anything to do with land on Freia."
Another round of applause and cheers, some even yelled their support for the chairman's decision. Even some council members passionately proclaimed that if the king didn't agree to the region's demands, they would willingly disavow their honorary Titles, since the position of council member of the region was far more prestigious.
"It really is a feverous atmosphere. The masses are so easily infected," Skri said calmly.
"We're not against it, are we?" Claude asked, "In fact, we're all too happy to see it go this way."
"Of course. Unlike the two-faced nobles, I much prefer the folk here. They at least keep their word, know their limits, like order, and lack excessive ambition. While they are a profit-loving bunch, they at least do things according to the rules, unlike the mainland nobles, who're too fond of throwing their weight around. They believe they're superior to everyone else and ignorant of their rotten hearts."
"You're as noble hating as always. Don't forget you're a noble now, as well," Claude nipped, "Your descendants might become the very kind of nobles you so love to hate now. I don't like nobles, but I don't particularly like these folks either. They're merchants, and merchants are the least deserving of trust. They'd sell even their parents for profit. If the reward is great enough, they'll no doubt find ways to get around regulations and go even further than traditional nobles. You just haven't seen that side of them yet."
"You're talking in extremes. Heartless, shameless people lacking morals are present in all social classes, but they're not the norm. If they were, the world would have fallen into ruin long ago," Skri argued, "As far as I'm concerned, I only have to be a little careful about my wallet around these folks. But when dealing with nobles, I have to watch for their poisoned daggers and arrows all the time. If His Majesty gave me a fief near the nobles', I would have to sleep with my eyes open. My safety and that of my family would always be threatened."
It was Count Godic, the chief supervisor of the overseas bank's turn to give a speech. His honorary viscount Title was finally elevated to honorary count after two decades, saving him at least 20 thousand crowns in fees.
"We brought 30 million crowns with us in 60 large chests. Each is so big it requires a firm four-wheeled carriage and four strong workhorses to move. We will ship the chests to the royal capital to be opened in front of the king and the ministers and dazzle them with the sheen of the golden crowns.
"Then, we'll tell them this is all the wealth the region has to offer. As long as they agree to our demands, we'll donate the 30 million crowns to the king and the court. If they refuse, we'll return to the region with all 60 chests and never ask for Titles or fiefs again."
"What if they hold us back to rob us of that money?" someone asked a rather childish question.
"Hahahaha!" many a council member broke out laughing.
"Good question..." Viscount Godic didn't laugh. He clapped his hands instead. "Instead, you should be asking why we dare to bring 30 million crowns to the court. It's simple. Our two corps, Thundercrash and Monolith, are the reason we're so daring. The king and ministers wouldn't dare to lust for it, for they know that they will be declaring war against the region if they dare snatch that money from us."
Godic pointed at the clapping soldiers and said, "With our brave warriors, we don't even have to worry about the safety of the money! Nobody can touch our money without paying a huge price, not even the king!"
The crowd went crazy as the soldiers stood up and slammed their chests passionately, showing their dedication to the cause and how they wouldn't let the trust of the region down. They swore they would defend the money to their deaths.
"I should get this guy to give pre-battle speeches instead," Claude mused, "I knew I shouldn't have shipped those reserves back to the region in that case. Isn't it pointless that you had to ship them back?"
"No, we didn't touch the ones you shipped back," Skri said, "We picked some rather fine specimens from the Canasian, Rimodran, Sidinsian and Nasrian coins as mementos. Those nations are gone now and their coins won't ever be minted again. We destroyed the casting moulds they used to mint them as well.
"The 30 million crowns we shipped here are fresh mints using the reserves in our bank. Initially, we planned to distribute them across the kingdom's markets for the dealings here in an effort to crush the monopolies of the old nobility. However, we're temporarily using them to pay for the elevation and fief-picking fees."
"Then how much money do we still have in the bank's reserves?"
"Don't worry. Coupled with the batch you shipped back, we have more than 20 million crowns in reserves. We even distributed three million crowns to the four shipyards in Port Patres for another four ironclad patrol ships, twelve ironclad destroyers and six ironclad transport ships to be built. We'll have a second ironclad fleet come next year," Skri said.
"I've decided to make another military reform next year," Claude revealed, "I need some funds to form experimental units and explore the effectiveness of untested tactics. The rifle-and-cannon combination of our forces is a little awkward. We're no longer using old musket squads any more, so there's no need to stick to traditional unit structures.
"Last year during our battles with the Union's army, I felt that using one folk against an enemy corps is a little too much, but using one line is far too little. Additionally, we also got so many new generals from the promotions. Apart from five or six who decided to retire, the rest are still young and strong. They need new positions, so--"
"It's fine as long as it's kept within a million crowns, unless you intend to form a whole new unit and recruit new troops," Skri interrupted.
"No, Thundercrash already has four folks of 150 thousand men. Don't you think our region is spending a little too much on the military? We'll be retiring some veterans during the latter half of this year and won't be drafting new recruits. I plan to form the experimental units from our existing pool of men. That way, we will be able to see good results within half a year.
"By the way, Monolith will be switching out with another folk that's stationed in the region now. We'll have to downsize and retire veterans as well. There's no need to keep it at three folks out of wartime. However, Birkin requested one of Monolith's folks to be changed into a light-cavalry folk. Now that we control the Great Plains of Canas, that shouldn't be hard to do."
Skri nodded. "Alright, got it. We'll go with your plans in military matters."
Currently, the council was discussing their second agenda: how the fiefs would be split in among the rest. It was rather simple. Apart from Claude and Bolonik, the rest could only elevate up to hereditary barons at most. They would be no different from Skri, Eiblont and Birkin, who were already hereditary barons.
As such, Claude's fief would be located in Canpast. As a hereditary count of the kingdom, he was befitting of such an honour. Bolonik's fief, on the other hand, would be situated in Beaumarisburg. A hereditary viscount like him was at least deserving of that. As for Eiblont and Birkin's fiefs, the two towns near the pier of Northbay were ideal. Skri was the most farsighted of them all and picked a town in Ligmada Hills that produced blackstone.
All the other council members and entitled soldiers were honorary nobles. The two hundred plus of them would have their fiefs situated in Canas' Northbay area. The lands between Beaumarisburg's agricultural area and Ligmada Hills' mining area were all split clean. They even encroached upon the Great Plains of Canas a little.
The method to pick the fiefs was rather fair. They would be drawing lots for them. With Claude and the other four not having to draw, they supervised the process to ensure fairness. It was all down to luck. Nobody really cared whether the land was good or not, anyway, since the region would be in charge of the uniform development of the area. There was no need to worry about administering the fiefs themselves.
Naturally, those dissatisfied with the fiefs they were assigned were free to trade with others. For instance, those who wished to run a farmstead but got fiefs in mountainous regions could swap out for fiefs on the plains. All they had to do after that was to remember the number of the mark of their fiefs to pick out the one they liked at the royal capital.
After a grand feast, they rested for a bit before resuming the meeting. There was only one thing left to discuss: the ones to represent them in the negotiations with the king and the court. Bolonik and Skri would be tagging along to represent the military and half the council would be going. Bernard, Godic and Henderman were also picked.
Weyblon was asked to remain as the temporary chairman of the council to make future developmental plans for the fiefs, such as a unified transportation system and how their investments would be distributed.
Claude, Eiblont and Birkin stayed behind to standby as well as to bury the mounted bandits that kept showing up on the Great Plains of Canas.