Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 543

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"From the city of silver, Moknad, in Vebator, to the nikancha nation, there's a path near the border wide enough for four-wheeled carriages. It took nikancha four years to build it. They've been using it to get their minerals to us.

"We can use it to get to the interior of the continent. Once you get to the Lomonkdor Mountains, however, the rest of the way can only handle workhorses. The road's too narrow and the turns too tight for wagon or carriages. And don't count on the nikancha for help. They'd rather rob you than help you. You could try to expand the road yourself if you want, but you'd have to take the labour force with you yourself as the nikancha aren't interested.

"If you wait on us to get the job done, it'll be two decades before you get to travel the path. As for the toll, we've agreed with the nikancha to pay one one-thousandth of the value of the goods."

Master of Intelligence, Major-General Fodres, took over from there. He was currently introducing the secret path in detail. It wasn't that the region didn't want to control the path; they didn't have the budget to do the expansion work. Not to mention, using workhorses to ship goods was too costly. Feed wasn't cheap.

There was little choice, however, so the best way was to split the costs with a partner. Anderclost seemed the logical decision. Fortunately, he immediately understood the profits potential and agreed even before hearing the details.

He knew it would be a hefty investment to finish the roadworks, but the potential profits more than made up for it.

Since the sea wouldn't work, they would go by land. With the western colonies pumping all their attention onto the coast, they were sure to neglect their landward borders. Anderclost believed that as long as he could get his goods, and the army's supplies, over the mountains undetected, he was home free.

He left the headquarters skipping more than walking and immediately started making the necessary arrangements.

Claude held another meeting to discuss their next moves. They originally had 22 lines in garrisons across the region. But eight had been moved to Freia.

Myjack was put in charge of this mission. He was to source the men he needed from various departments and reorganise the garrisons into 3500-man lines and bring them into line with the new doctrines. The reduction in size by 2000 men would cut each line's operating costs in half.

It would be a little less because they had to bring the number of lines back up to 20, but it was a good start. They would not touch the lines on the mainland. A reorganisation on this scale was difficult enough without having to deal with a time lag of months between message and reply.

Luckily many of the lines had fallen short on manpower as people retired and headquarters had not bothered to fill the positions, so there weren't 2000 men to discharge in every unit. Claude decided to move the surplus to Lanu. They'd be forged into six temporary folks, and the leftovers would be merged into Monolith's 3rd Folk. The temporary folks would be sent off to the secret path to guard it.

The headquarters was really teeming like a kicked anthill for the next two months. They were still short on men even after using up all their garrisoneers, and so recruited from their Shiksan captives.

Anderclost joined forces with several councillors and two-dozen merchants to create his new smuggling ring. They overpaid 60 thousand labourers to work on the worst parts of the path. Their convoy itself would be ten thousand strong.

The 300-odd baseline officers who were picked had also left with the workhorse convoy for the colony to meet up with Borkal for the formation of the pamigar liberation forces. It was said that over 20 thousand pamigar youths had been recruited and were given training. However, they were still unarmed and awaiting the weapons and ammunition shipment from the region.

Meanwhile, Weyblon developed a new musket in the factory that was about as capable as the Aubass Mark 3. An improvement made to the design was breechloading. It also used a composite paper-brass cartridge. The paper part could be set alight directly by the slow match to trigger the shot, saving them much time from having to prime the flash pan and greatly simplifying the reloading process.

The only shame was that it had been developed at the wrong time. With the invention of the new rifles, these new muskets were inferior and uninteresting. Weyblon said that the gunsmiths had been influenced by the new rifles in their new musket design. Since they were on par with the Aubass Mark 3, Claude decided that both the voluntary Shiksan folk and the pamigars would use this new musket. It was named the Weyblon Type-02 Matchlock.

Claude was very busy for the next two months. He'd finally gotten rid of his family-shaped headache just a couple days before he heard from Svenson and his headache was back again, stronger than ever. Svenson had sent word. They'd only barely set foot off the boat in Whitestag when Claude's wife and mother sued the queen.

House Ferd had two assets in Whitestag: the red-bricked mansion, and the 823 acres of woodland Angelina had bought decades earlier. Claude had seen the mansion's destruction when he'd last passed through the town. He'd not bothered with it, however. It was no longer their home, nor was it valuable enough to be worth his time. The mansion's ruin had been one reason he'd not wanted the two women to go back to Whitestag.

Claude didn't care much about the woodland, either. It was worthless compared to his assets in the region. His wife and mother had now sued the queen over that land, however, because she'd absorbed the land into Normanley Wood in the family's absence.

The royal couple had lived in the wood's mansion during the war with the Union. The queen had taken the chance to declare the Ferd woodlands part of her family estate.

The records and deeds of the town had been destroyed along with the town hall during the war, so there had been no record to stand in her way, and the officials at the time were all too happy to comply to curry favour with her, so they quickly drafted up the documents and deeds declaring the land the queen's.

Most people would have just accepted the loss and only asked for some compensation from the local government, but the two Ferd women were too proud, arrogant, and stubborn to let dying dogs lie. They took out the family copies of the deeds and demanded the land be returned to them. Unfortunately, their demands fell on deaf ears. A count's family they might be, but nobody was going to side with them against the queen.

That said, nobody was willing to openly side against the Ferd women, either. Lord Militant Claude was a national legend, and few people with a functioning brain and ears underestimated his immense power and influence in the kingdom. Those with contacts in government, or in government themselves, knew all too well how close he'd come to wiping the Stellin dynasty from the history books. He was not a man to antagonise. If not for how far away he was from the kingdom, he would be an even greater threat than the king.

While the legitimacy of the Ferd deeds could not be questioned, there were very good excuses for how this situation had come to be, namely the destruction of the town's copy of the records. Nobody knew the land was owned by the Ferds when the deeds were drafted for the queen.

This left them at an impasse. Both sets of deeds were completely legal and valid. What could they do? Normally the government would summon the two landowners to negotiate a solution and rewrite the deeds, but who dared summon the queen?

Some suggested they give the Ferds different land of equivalent size, but Claude's mother was nothing if not damned stubborn, especially not where the family's pride was concerned. She would give way for no one, not even for the queen. She would have the family's rightful land and not a pebble from elsewhere.

There was no civil solution to be found, so the two Ferd women took the queen to constabulary court.

The constabulary court was set up by Prime Minister Blancarte to enforce land ownership laws and judge local officials for their crimes so the people had an outlet to make their complaints heard.

It just so happened that the court of the three southwestern prefectures was in Whitestag, so Kefnie and her mother-in-law went there to complain. The town's officials were relieved to have the problem passed off to some other poor sod.

The judges were also taken aback when they learnt the queen and Lord Militant were involved. They regretted having moved back to Whitestag. But since the case had been submitted, they had to hear it. They decided to submit the case to the royal court, however, which meant the royal couple would hear the case.

A messenger arrived from the capital a fortnight later. He was an old acquaintance of Claude, Viscount Donbajlo Ey Davlid. He brought the two women many gifts from the royal couple and a personal letter from the king.

Fredrey I wrote that it was due to the queen's ignorance of the borders of Normanley Wood that they were caused so much trouble. For that, he was very sorry. He had sent Viscount Davlid to handle the mediation. They would hand back the woodland per Madam Ferd's wishes and redraft the official deeds.

However, the king also had another suggestion. He believed that the illustrious House Ferd shouldn't remain in a small city in the three southwestern prefectures. While their ancestor Habis had been a farmer, he had fought bravely for Stellin IX in the Reformation War and earned House Ferd's first property.

Then came Morssen who worked as an admirable official for Stellin X for decades and made many contributions, chiefly among them being the investment he embarked on to discover a new trade route to Nubissia. That alone should have qualified him to be created a noble of the kingdom. It was too bad that the officials of the time were envious of his deeds and used luring the pirates in as an excuse to punish him, causing him to sacrifice himself for his family in the end.

He said he had always been impressed by Morssen's unrewarded deeds. It was a shame he was too young and lacked influence when Morssen's case had come up in court. He'd been unable to speak up on his behalf.

But now he was king, and Lord Militant Claude, one of House Ferd's third generation, was a pillar supporting the kingdom. Given his elimination of the Union's forces and extermination of enemy nations, he ought to make it up to House Ferd for their contributions.

So, he decided he would hire the best workers to rebuild a grand mansion on the ruins of the red-bricked mansion, paid in full by the royal family. At the same time, they would erect a bronze statue at Morssen's grave to immortalise his deeds.

Not to mention, he was willing to trade around 500 acres of the royal family's land in exchange for House Ferd's woodland in Whitestag as well as award them a mansion in the royal capital as reward for Morssen's contributions. They would also posthumously create Morssen to be an honorary viscount of the kingdom.

Should Madam Ferd be willing, Viscount Daklid could bring the two of them to the royal capital to handle all those procedures.

Svenson wrote that Madam Ferd cried as she read the letter, fully grateful for the king's appreciation of their household. She was willing to follow the king's plans for them. During the time of writing of Svenson's letter, the two women were already packing up and preparing to head to the royal capital.

Claude didn't know how to react. He admitted he was the greatest thorn in the region. If the king and court nobles wanted to deal with it, they had to get rid of Claude first. The question was whether his mother was worth the same attention. They even went out of their way to bring his dead father back on the table by building him a statue, posthumously making him a noble and giving them a mansion in the capital.

Had they known the current state of affairs between him and his mother, they wouldn't have done any of that. He decided to ignore everything and just see how things would unfold. He was quite relieved, however, since his family would be safe in the capital. After all, he was the big boss of the region the kingdom couldn't afford to offend.

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