Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 571

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Claude was impressed and disgusted by the transparent delusions of the ministers in the royal court. He immediately started a heated argument with Blancarte, completely refusing to even consider cooperating with any of those requests. He refused to send reinforcements, invest in the railway, and lease the kingdom's ports.

On the matter of sending reinforcements to Reddragon, Claude mocked the king and court for seeming like they want to occupy Shiks long term. If they really insist on sending reinforcements, the region wanted no part of it and Reddragon and those reinforcements would do better to wait for death in Shiks. With the land route shut and maritime route inaccessible from the central prefectures, what would be the point of occupying them? Were they trying to found an independent duchy?

The region attacked Shiks only to wipe out the largest threat to Aueras and the region. Currently, that goal was halfway complete. All that remained was a few central prefectures and six western prefectures to sweep through. As for the eleven northern prefectures, they could be left alone. Nobody would be willing to go to the highlands just to sacrifice themselves in vain.

For Reddragon to request reinforcements now with the intent of occupying long term was nothing if not being a burden to the region. Claude clearly told Blancarte that they were free to send reinforcements if they wanted, but they shouldn't blame the region for anything that happened after Thundercrash and Typhoon retreat. The war was only supposed to be a one-off money-making trip, so Reddragon should forgive the region if they didn't intend to stay for long.

Blancarte, however, seemed rather conflicted. According to the reports Reddragon sent the kingdom, the central prefectures in Shiks seemed to be rather developed areas with a high population and trade potential. If they could occupy the region long term, each prefecture would be able to provide the kingdom 200 thousand crowns yearly in tax contributions. The three prefectures Reddragon currently occupied would be able to pay for its operating costs.

Of the fifteen central prefectures, the National Defence Army held five and the region occupied the two on the way to the royal territory and Saint Cyprean. Of the remaining eight, Reddragon held three while the other five hadn't been touched. As such, Reddragon required the troops to conquer those five prefectures for a total of eight that would generate 1.6 million crowns in taxes annually, enough to sustain three standing corps with some left over.

There were virtually no downsides; not only would they be able to unload the burden of sustaining the corps with those prefectures, they would also be able to deprive the enemy of the same benefits. Yet, Claude coldly told Blancarte that if the kingdom wanted to occupy Shiks, they might as well send a few more corps over. That way, by the time the region's troops retreated, they could hand over Saint Cyprean and the royal territory to them and wish them the best of luck in staying there.

Blancarte, however, understood that without Thundercrash, Typhoon and the eight homecoming Shiksan folks, occupying Shiks would never fly. Even Bleyotte was the region's ally, not Aueras'. Bleyotte only let the kingdom's troops through its lands on account of the region.

The moment the region retreated, Bleyotte would immediately close off the land route. By then, the kingdom wouldn't be able to send reinforcements nor retreat without Bleyotte's say so. They would even have to pay a toll to ensure passage between Aueras and Shiks. Travelling by sea was the same. Of the five Shiksan ports, two belonged to Bleyotte now while three others were in the hands of the National Defence Army. Not to mention, the kingdom didn't nearly have a fleet large enough to transport that many men like the region did.

Reddragon was counting on the region to be able to occupy the remaining central prefectures, and their departure would leave Reddragon stranded in a foreign nation. Even a few extra standing corps as reinforcements wouldn't change a thing. They would only be an eyesore to the various Shiksan factions, who would no doubt not hesitate to attack the Aueran invaders to put their patriotism on full display.

Realistically, Reddragon would be blamed for the extermination of Shiks. As long as the region's troops left, the various new Shiksan factions that emerged would start pinning the blame on Reddragon. They couldn't deal with the region because they feared their might and power, but that didn't hold true for Reddragon. Perhaps the National Defence Army might even start fighting Reddragon for territory with just cause on their side.

Claude made sure to clearly convey to Blancarte that they would soon complete the operation to clear out the nine eastern prefectures and would return to Saint Cyprean two months later. Typhoon would switch out with Thundercrash to sweep the five untouched central prefectures.

As for the faction they were going to prop up, the region had decided they would hand the territories to the National Preservation Front after they were done with them. As such, it would be best for Reddragon to give up on their long-term occupation ambitions and give up on the three conquered prefectures to move on to the rest so they could make more money before retreating.

Naturally, if the royal capital insisted on going their own way and sending reinforcements, the region wouldn't be against it as long as the kingdom didn't regret their actions nor count on the region for further aid. As a transcript of the current conversation was being made, the kingdom wouldn't be able to push any blame to the region and ought to be accountable for their own actions, especially after how the region tried to advise them to retreat.

That was all Claude was willing to talk about sending reinforcements. On the matter of the railway, Claude didn't change his stance and refused to let the region invest in the railway spanning the rest of Eastern Freia.

Blancarte did all he could to persuade him to use the spoils the region got in the war to benefit the kingdom. He also highlighted the benefits and brought up how much the region profited after building their own railway, seeing as how the shares of the railway company grew severalfold.

Claude merely gave him a cold smirk and took out a map of Eastern Freia before asking Blancarte whether the kingdom itself invested a single crown in the rest of Eastern Freia. The simple fact was they didn't. They even left the security to the region's troops because they couldn't bear the costs themselves. Not to mention, those regions were ravaged by war and were suffering economically. Industry and trade seemed a far cry from growing prosperous and they could only barely rely on agriculture for basic income to keep public services running.

Since building a railway there had the strategic advantage to the kingdom in how it could make up for the locals' suffering throughout the war and increase the kingdom's influence in the area by building a united national identity, the kingdom should invest in it even if it faced economic difficulties. However, they shouldn't try to coax the region into investing on the promise of economic returns as the railway was completely meaningless to them.

Claude immediately made some bill calculations on the spot. If the region invested in the railway there, it would take at least three to five decades for them to break even. While Blancarte still wasn't satisfied, the numbers were what they were. The downtrodden economy in the area meant that it would take a long time before trade and industry could resume. Most of the towns were merely kept alive by small-time businesses. There were no large companies investing there and starting large factories.

Not to mention, the region already owned the whole coast of the eastern region and their expansive maritime routes already played the role of the railways. Furthermore, coastal sailing took even less time than trains would, given that the trains only had an average speed of around 16 kilometres an hour. So, the construction of the railway wasn't only a waste of effort, it would also not turn any profit.

When Blancarte commented on how stingy Claude was for not reinvesting one bit of the spoils into the kingdom, Claude made a pained smile and said the spoils didn't belong entirely to him or the region. They had to be distributed by the region's council and much of the spoils would be invested in Northbay.

Additionally, the region was short on funding, especially with how the liberation on the western front was ongoing. As the mastermind, the region had invested more than ten million crowns so far, and they would require another 30 million in the years to come. As for recouping those investments, that could only happen once the independent nations of the natives stabilised.

Since Claude had refused those two requests, he would naturally refuse the third. As expected, Claude mocked the court for being delusional enough to think that the region would lease away ports that were already in the region's jurisdiction.

What Blancarte didn't understand, however, was why Claude spent so much money on the lease with Bleyotte. When he got the news, he scrutinised the map and Port Patkara and collected all sorts of information he could, but didn't notice any significance or difference between it and other ports. Not to mention, the region did state it was going to have its troops retreat, so what was the point of having a military base there?

Claude got his red pen and drew a line across Port Patkara to Northbay. He told the prime minister that while the route didn't seem to have much military significance, it did have a lot of economic significance. Soon, it would be a route of gold.

Blancarte was no fool and immediately realised what the region planned to do with that route. It wasn't only a simple matter of maintaining the region's influence and presence on Shiksan lands. The region would also stand to profit off trading with the area, and the time the investment would be recouped wouldn't be that long either.

So, Blancarte carefully looked at the port cities in the eastern region in hopes that he could pick one to develop and enjoy a piece of the golden trade route.

Claude straightforwardly asked him to dream on. Without investing any bit of money into the eastern region's port cities, the kingdom would find it hard pressed to earn a single penny without waiting another two to three decades for the port cities to develop naturally before they could take a dip into the profits of the golden trade route.

"But isn't Port Floric a good place to develop?" Blancarte argued.

Claude chuckled. "Port Floric is the largest and most complete port city in Rimodra. It also used to be the naval base of the Alliance during the First Great Eastern Freian War. Later, when Prince Hansbach retreated from the civil war to conquer the eastern region, he also made that his base and ended up assassinated there.

"After we decided to join in the Second Great Eastern Freian War, Thundercrash conquered Port Floric and took the Union off guard and fought all our way to Polyvisia in Nasri to make that our foundational base in the war, allowing Aueras to turn the tables from certain defeat to victory. Now, Aueras is the hegemon of Eastern Freia.

"So, Port Floric became an important supply base for us in the eastern region and was renovated and maintained. That's the main reason it looks more developed than other port cities and has nothing to do with the royal capital at all, who had been ignoring it for the most part."

When Blancarte mentioned how well developed the port was, he gave Claude a perfect chance to humiliate him. "Lord Prime Minister, do you know the main reason Port Floric seems much more developed than other port cities along the eastern coast?

"That's because it has been the main supply base of our forces. Most of the crop harvests in Rimodra are congregated there for our fleet to purchase. We make our trades at the fair market rate and managed to inject some life into Port Floric.

"It's a shame that after so many years of effort, Port Floric remains a mere outlet for agricultural goods without growing to accommodate a much bigger market. Most Rimodran farmers trade their goods away there and return without buying much of the region's goods. The people in that region are far more used to living off the land and sustaining themselves."

That little lecture was the wake-up call Blancarte needed. Not only did Claude not accept any of his three requests, he even had a good laugh at his expense, much to Blancarte's distress. Though, there was nothing he could do about it, with Claude having stated the region's clear refusal to cooperate.

The kingdom would have to be responsible for their own reinforcements and wouldn't receive any investments from the region on the railway, given that would be introducing competition to their transport fleet in the first place. As for leasing ports, it was even more laughable. The region didn't have an eye on any of those abandoned port cities on the eastern coast.

"Do you have any methods we can use to gather funds for the railway?" Blancarte finally asked.

"Sell railroad bonds with high returns in the form of dividends. For instance, within a three-year or five-year period, the bond prices would increase by 1.25 to 1.5 times. Sell a set amount each year, five million crowns' worth for example. The railway needs a few years to complete anyways, so the funds can be slowly raised by selling bonds according to how much is needed. If the interest rate grows too high, sell even more bonds away. You can pay back the bonds once the railway starts generating profits."

"Then is there any of the kingdom's ports that the region is interested in leasing?"

"There is," Claude said, "Whitestag. If the kingdom is willing to lease Whitestag, we'd be willing to pay double the rent of Port Patkara. However, the lease must last a period of 99 years."

Blancarte immediately quieted down. The kingdom would definitely not agree to that demand. Whitestag was a central city in the three southwestern prefectures and central to intercontinental trade. Once developed, it would instantly turn Whitestag into a treasure trove.

Blancarte could do nothing but leave crestfallenly.

Claude turned to his adjutant, Fachselin, and asked, "Is my self-proclaimed elder brother Arbeit waiting in the meeting room? Have him come in. I'd like to hear what he has to say."

Soon, Arbeit reunited with Claude for the first time after some two decades of not meeting. Unlike what Claude imagined, the flirtatious, stingy, cowardly, pathetic excuse of an elder brother that hated his younger siblings had grown into a steady-looking, middle-aged gentleman. Graciously, he thanked Fachselin and greeted Claude with a smile. "Long time no see, Claude."

Claude looked back at him expressionlessly. "I'd like to know where that 'Sen' sobriquet in your name came from. I remember choosing 'Han' to be my sobriquet."

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