Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 567

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"What kind of person do you think he is?" Claude asked Borkal as he watched Count Mullids Jay Kreist, the corpsman of Farklin, ride off to the distance.

Borkal replied in a casual tone as he cleared up the documents they just signed, "What kind of person he is doesn't matter, so long as he has ambition. It's enough that he is willing to cooperate with us. As long as our forces can suppress his troops in might, there's no need to worry about him causing any trouble.

"Currently, if he wants to dominate, he wouldn't be able to do so without our aid. After all, he is all too aware that we will eventually leave. If he wants to spread his voice across Shiks, he would have to start expanding his power now. Whether he wants to found an independent nation in the future or not, he will have to rely on us to clear out the obstacles ahead of him."

The count was a really cautious man. The main factor that he was able to become a corpsman of one of the eight Shiksan standing corps was because his household had always chosen to side with the Shiksan royal family, being a staunch member of their faction. The count himself had graduated from the Shiksan Royal War College and rose up in his career smoothly. His promotions came steadily and without issue. By the time he was 45, he had become a major-general of the kingdom.

Among the Shiksan military, Mullids was considered to be a person of great luck. Due to having served as Majid III's guard leader for some time, he earned the king's deep trust. Some rumours say that he even had very close relations with a few of the king's concubines, which was the ultimate reason why he resigned as the leader of the king's personal guard.

Mullids was quite average when it came to military talent. Whether it be sandtable simulations or actual military drills, he didn't show great promise. As such, quite a number of his colleagues had misgivings about Majid III nominating him to become the corpsman of Farklin. Despite that, Majid III insisted on his nomination because of his confidence in his loyalty.

But now, it seemed that his loyalty to the Shiksan throne had been fake after all, as his corps, Farklin, was the only one of the eight Shiksan standing corps to take their initiative and surrender. While Dakhli had also surrendered, they were Bleyotteans, to begin with. It was only reasonable for them to want to return to their former nation. Farklin's performance, however, was disappointing, to say the least.

Even if Mullids didn't think a corps of mere 60 thousand troops wouldn't possibly be able to stand up against Thundercrash and surrendered because he wanted to avoid unnecessary bloodshed, giving up without even putting up a fight put a lot of stress on him. His allies and enemies both had differing opinions on him. The Shiksan public largely considered him to be a coward, whereas Claude and other high-ranking officers at the frontline saw him as a smart man.

Claude's meeting with the count was a rather pleasant one. Both sides knew what could be said and what should better be left unsaid. It was only after the welcome banquet that the two had a serious chat. Mullids had a clear mind and knew what he wanted, what he could get, what the region could provide him, and what they expected from him in return.

After a day and night of negotiations, Claude represented the autonomous region to sign an agreement with the count, titled 'The National Defence and Peace Agreement'. According to the agreement, Farklin would change its name to the National Defence Army and take over the five southern prefectures emptied by Thundercrash. Thundercrash would then attack the remaining three central prefectures and hand them over to the National Defence Army after three months.

After that, the ten prefectures would become the territory of the National Defence Army. They would be the first military force the autonomous region endorsed in Shiks. Claude and Mullids were quite satisfied with the win-win agreement. Claude was glad that he would no longer have to waste troops and manpower to hold the prefectures he defeated by handing them over to the National Defence Army. He also wouldn't have to deal with the insurgents with them taking over security.

Mullids was also quite satisfied. Unlike the allied noble army that would cross any kind of moral line without qualms, the two corps directly under the region's jurisdiction only plundered the nobles and the rich. They didn't offend or oppress the local populace unless they were trouble-causing insurgents.

After the National Defence Army took over those areas, they could continue to tax the populace to fund their military activities. As the local officials were completely swept away by the region, Mullids would not face any opposition in his administration of those areas. Like a blank canvas, he was free to paint it as he saw fit.

Mullids had a few reasons for requesting to be given the three central prefectures after the region attacked them. The first was most of the soldiers from Farklin were poor farmers from those three prefectures. Secondly, one of the prefectures was a core military-industrial area. Mullids wanted to ensure he had a stable supply of gear for his troops.

The third reason was obvious to many: there were a few noble houses in the three prefectures stronger than the count's, so he wanted to use them to get rid of his rivals before showing up to maintain order there like a saviour in perilous times.

Claude didn't mind letting Mullids take care of those three prefectures since the local nobles there formed many garrison forces and went around shouting slogans to recapture Saint Cyprean and driving the invaders away. Back then, Thundercrash and Typhoon were spread really thin to maintain the region's grasp over those areas. But with the National Defence Army coming into the picture, Thundercrash could finally turn its attention to attacking the three central prefectures to make another killing.

Borkal had wanted to get the National Defence Army to attack the three prefectures as well, but Claude was more than aware that they wouldn't be reliable at all. The troops of Farklin were already distressed enough to surrender without a fight, and sending them to attack their homes would definitely not bode well. Currently, however, the National Defence Army' duty was to maintain local order. If the region wanted to use them offensively, there had to be an even greater reason to fight for the region.

Mullids hoped that the region would first sweep the three central prefectures clean before handing them over to him. That way, he would be able to split the land of the nobles between his troops. He believed that only then could his troops' might and loyalty for him grow, as they wouldn't just be fighting for the noble house, but also their own property.

Claude quite admired the count's outlook on things and believed he made the right move. Apart from splitting the land among his men to win their hearts, the National Defence Army would be able to keep the order to allow the fishing and farming industries to continue production uninterrupted. That way, they would be able to trade with the region's troops in the royal territory while suppressing the insurgents.

Claude breathed a sigh of relief when he finally saw the count off. By the time Farklin was reorganised into the National Defence Army and sent to the five southern prefectures, Thundercrash would finally be able to leave their stations and rally together to become a mobile combat force once more. Initially, Claude had wanted to give up on those five prefectures instead like Dademoss before them.

But he noticed that wouldn't work. There were three port cities within the five prefectures, and leaving them unattended was inviting trouble. While Thundercrash cleared out the local officials, nobles, and rich elite in the area, flames could still easily be fanned among the common civilian. Their constant attacks on an occupying army would no doubt prove to be quite burdensome.

Additionally, after the three prefectures on Manori Plains were returned to Bleyotte, the three Bleyottean mountain corps had to return to their kingdom as well and could no longer remain in Shiksan territory to help the region defend those prefectures.

The first main reason for that was the allied noble army causing the region trouble. They were so used to pillaging and raiding in the three western prefectures that they did the same to a village in Bleyotte out of habit, resulting in a few hundred casualties.

Avitelli I fumed with rage over the matter, and the high-ranking officers of the region joined in. It finally came to light that their allies were complete imbeciles. Fortunately, the leaders of the army, Duke Reddragon and Marquis Griffon, still had clear heads on their shoulders and immediately captured those thousand offenders and beheaded them all as an apology to Bleyotte, providing a satisfactory resolution to the Bleyottean populace.

The ones who led the pillaging band were a viscount and two barons. They did so under the heavy influence of alcohol. As punishment for their transgressions, the royal capital revoked their family's noble Titles, beheaded the family heads, and sent their family members for ten years of hard labour. All their assets would be paid to Bleyotte to make up for their losses.

Even though the matter was resolved, that caused Avitelli I to feel that his nation was horribly undefended. Bleyotte only had four standing corps, and three of them were deployed to aid the region. Their casualties racked up to close to a corps eventually. While it was mostly in part due to their lacklustre performance on the battlefield, it was also a sign of Bleyotte's sincere desire to help the region as allies.

As such, Claude only assigned the Bleyotteans simple support tasks like watching the captives or transporting supplies. While Avitelli I managed to convince Dakhli to rejoin Bleyotte, he also needed troops stationed at the three prefectures on Manori Plains. Now that such an incident had happened within his kingdom's borders, the king had no choice but to recall his troops into his nation. He needed all the troops he could muster to close off the route from Mambamark to Shiks to prevent such an incident from ever happening again.

The other reason was after Claude promised to return the four eastern prefectures to Bleyotte, Avitelli I needed to go back to form new troops for that battle. After Thundercrash handed the three central prefectures to the National Defence Army, the attack on the four eastern prefectures would commence, so there were lots of preparations to be made.

After Claude gave Berklin and Dyavid the order to attack the three central prefectures, he ordered Thundercrash to rest and reorganise at Saint Cyprean. Once they reached the capital, Eiblont came to him to complain about Typhoon was always stationed in the same place whereas Thundercrash got to go all over the place.

Claude consoled him and said that after Thundercrash took the four eastern prefectures and completed the deal with Avitelli I, he would send Thundercrash back to Saint Cyprean to take Typhoon's place. When that happened, Eiblont would be able to attack the prefectures no others had touched yet.

In the heat of their discussion, Borkal came in with a secret message. Claude's expression grimmed instantly.

"What's going on? Is it bad news?" Eiblont asked.

Claude handed him the letter. "See for yourself. The allied noble army actually sold their captives to slave traders."

There were a number of nations on Freia that still practised slavery, chief among which were the seven Salkan nations in the centre of the continent. The terrain of Central Freia was mostly highlands and mountainous ravines, and the people of Eastern Freia, Southern Freia and Northern Freia saw Central Freia as a desolate wasteland. The seven Central Freian nations sat mostly in the mountains. Some accounts described them as barbarians, barely more than animals. While they still practised slavery, they were graced with deep pockets thanks to abundant gold and silver ores, so they had money to purchase slaves.

"Aren't these seven always fighting each other? Why would slave traders come to Shiks?" Eiblont asked.

"The slave traders from central Freia go wherever there is war. They usually avoid going to countries that don't like to deal with them, especially those that have abolished slavery. Stellin IX's put a number of slave traders to death and liberated their slaves during his reign. They've seldomly been seen in our part of the continent since.

"Shiks, on the other hand, has some relations with these slavers. While Shiks has also abolished slavery, their farm serfs and subjects are slaves of a kind. The nobles sometimes deal with the slavers in secret, especially if they feel they have too many people on their lands, or there is a growing number of malcontents.

"Not to mention, there's a great demand for slaves, especially artisans, whether gunsmiths or jewellers. As long as they have a skill, they go for a high price. Given how undeveloped the civilisation of central Freia is, artisans are usually treated very well after they are sold.

"Next on the list are young soldiers. The slavers usually have slave armies and often fight amongst themselves too. Next on their priority would be beautiful women, followed behind by strong youths fit for farming or mining. The allied noble army went a little far this time around and sold off almost everyone eligible in the three prefectures they occupied. Those who remain are all elderly or sick."

Eiblont seemed a little aloof. "That doesn't have anything to do with us. The Shiksans are the ones suffering at the end of the day. This is war, after all, and we can do nought but lament these tragic happenings. While the allied noble army is our ally, we can't stop them. Their actions are beyond our control."

"But their actions will greatly affect our reputation. The region was the one that started this war, after all. Without us, the allied noble army would never have been able to conquer the Shiksan borderlands. Consequently, their actions will now affect our reputation. Other nations might think that we're directing the allied noble army to do such things," Borkal angrily said. Even a merchant like him didn't see humans as products to be traded and sold.

"I will write to Duke Reddragon and Marquis Griffon to warn them on the matter. If they continue doing so, they will make enemies across all of the ten western prefectures and only find it harder and harder to proceed. There will be no more chance for the Shiksans to stop before fighting to their last breath. I really don't get it. Can't those two see something so simple? Why would they allow their subordinates to trade slaves?" Claude said with a grim look.

"Don't stress yourself out too much," Eiblont said with a smile, "You can't deny that it's a good way to deal with the captives. If the 100 plus thousand captives are sold to the slavers, Typhoon would have a much easier time. However, we can't do so as our baseline as soldiers wouldn't allow us to associate with the likes of slavers. It really is quite a shame, though."

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