Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 574

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A month later, as Typhoon was sweeping through the four remaining central prefectures, Reddragon objected strongly. They demanded one of the central prefectures be left to them. A prefecture would be able to net them two to three million crowns of profit. Once they were done raiding it, they would be free to go back. Having not suffered that many casualties in the Shiksan invasion and returning with close to ten million crowns would make their campaign extremely successful.

However, Claude didn't satisfy their desire to raid. He merely told them it was their own fault for moving so slowly. Typhoon would definitely not give away what they already had in their hands. Just as they were still fussing about the matter with Reddragon, Claude received a reply from the two dukes.

Duke Feriot's reply was simple: as long as the region's troops didn't enter the eleven northern prefectures, he wouldn't budge, as his sole mission was to defend them. However, he did criticise the troops of the region for raiding the Shiksan prefectures and sent a list of around a thousand names along with the letter.

"This is the list of nobles that have something to do with House Feriot and their relatives. Duke Feriot hopes that we will hand those people to him," Borkal explained, "I ran a check and found that most of them are in our captive camps. Only a little more than ten are unaccounted for."

"Then we'll hand them over. We'd be feeding them for free otherwise anyway, and we don't have any use for them. Release those that want to tag along too. We already have more than 200 thousand captives, so losing a few thousand wouldn't be a big deal. Since the Duke of the Northlands gave us that least, we ought to oblige him and show that we aren't intent on opposing him, nor do we hope he would attack us. Our goal has been achieved," Claude decided.

"Alright, I'll send them to the northern highlands tomorrow."

"What about the Duke of Sunset River's letter?" Claude asked.

Borkal shook his head. "The reply isn't with me. The duke sent a messenger with the letter, and he said he wants to meet you."

"Alright. I'll give that messenger half an hour at ten tomorrow morning. You've seen the messenger, right? Do you have a hint on his intentions?"

"He looks a little hesitant. The conditions you offered the duke sound too good to be true, after all. I believe anyone would think your offer through twice," Borkal said with a smile. He didn't have a good feeling that the duke would do as Claude wished.

"Well, we'll see him first before we decide on anything. Since the duke is willing to send a messenger here, that means he is moved by the offer. The issue is he isn't able to make sure whether we're trying to trick him. Or, the messenger was sent with another goal in mind. Maybe they're trying to check our forces out."

Claude met the messenger the next morning. The man was in his sixties and had a long beard. It was apparent that the old man took great care of his facial hair. At the very least, his beard smelled of fragrant oil and looked far better cared for than his head of balding hair.

"Lord Militant Claude, my master, Duke of Sunset River, Nirtoz Surt Shiks, sends his greetings," said the old man with an on-point bow.

"Sit as you please," Claude said, waving the pleasantries away. "What's your name? By the way, do you want red tea or fruit wine?"

"Oh, thank you. Red tea would do." The old man remained respectfully standing. "Lord Militant, I am Kazik Biphanc, a butler of my master's household."

"Captain Fachselin, pour him some red tea. Since you're the duke's butler, that must mean he trusts you greatly. It's no wonder he had you send the letter."

"The letter is here. Please take a look." The old man respectfully put the letter on Claude's desk.

"Take a seat. We'll resume after I read it." Claude inspected the wax seal before opening it.

The duke's letter didn't strike Claude as any bit surprising. Half of the first page was full of praises for Claude, while the rest detailed the troubles the duke was facing, such as how oppressed he felt being suppressed in his fief by the Duke of the Northlands. The main point only started at the last page. The duke said he was interested in Claude's proposition, but wanted proof that it wasn't a trap.

"Hehehe..." Claude chuckled and turned to the old man, sitting gingerly at the sofa. "How does your master want me to prove that this isn't a trap? To be honest, I can't prove it. Your master is officially an enemy of our region. I merely brought up that proposition. Since your master isn't willing to trust my words, there's no need for me to fuss over it. You can return. Tell your master he has a little more than a month. Ask him to enjoy some good food and fine women in that time, because the next time we meet, our troops in Typhoon will be sweeping through the six western prefectures you occupy."

"Oh, no..." The old man immediately jumped. "Lord Militant, please give us a little more time. I am sure that if you were in my master's shoes, you would doubt this proposition just as he does. We need more of your time and patience to establish trust and understanding."

"You're a good talker, I'll give you that. But we don't have any more time to give. Everything we do goes according to our plan. Let's frame it this way. Your master was the one spreading the slogan of driving us invaders out of Shiks in the first place. I don't really mind that, but you have to understand that we fully intend to eliminate any threats to our rear.

"I didn't write to your master and offered him Saint Cyprean and the royal territory because I was afraid of him. It isn't a whim either. I merely noticed that someone like him is what we need. It doesn't matter if you don't understand. Just tell your master to look at the current faction map of Shiks. To be frank, there's not much development potential in the six western prefectures he occupies.

"Not only are we going to send troops to attack the territories your master currently occupies, the neighbouring nations in the west like Monatro, Tumak and Isabra also have their sights on the western prefectures, which used to be theirs in the first place. It would be a great chance to reclaim lost territory for them.

"If your master doesn't listen to our proposition and remains there, not only will you be wiped out by our troops, you'll have to defend against the invasion of the three neighbouring nations. Even though your master has rallied lots of men, they are merely a disorganised mob of a few hundred thousand men. It isn't enough to secure a stable future for your master. Not to mention, the Duke of the Northlands wouldn't tolerate having such a large, threatening faction to remain near him.

"Hence my advice to your master to accept our proposition. I can only promise you that we don't hold any malicious intentions towards him, but we aren't able to prove it in the way he expects. This will be a huge gamble for your master, so it's up to him whether he wants to raise the stakes. You may return. Tell your master what I said and we'll see which decision he makes."

Claude pointed at the old man, signalling Fachselin to send him off. Fachselin hurried to the man's side and gestured respectfully for him to leave. The old man wiped off some sweat from his forehead and bowed at Claude before leaving with Fachselin.

Borkal came in right after the old man left.

"Have you dealt with it already?" Claude asked.

Borkal nodded. "I handed the list of prisoners to Colonel Myhardt. He will hand us the people in that list, but needs three days to do so. It's far too inefficient."

"I just met with the Duke of Sunset River's messenger. The duke actually wanted us to prove to him that our proposition isn't a trap," Claude mocked, "I really don't know where he gets that confidence. Does he think he is worth us going through all that trouble? I told the messenger that if he doesn't believe us, that's the end of it. It's not like he really matters anyway. I only picked him because he seemed to be ambitious and more capable than the National Preservation Front you suggested in the first place."

Borkal picked up the letter and gave it a read. "The duke probably wants you to send them a few hostages to ensure he wouldn't be plotted against."

"I know what he wants," Claude said nonchalantly, "But I don't want to go along with it. If he doesn't believe us, he's free to perish. We'll pick someone more suitable among our captives."

Upon the mention of captives, Borkal recalled something. "By the way, Colonel Myhardt at the captive camp asked whether we can release some of the standing corps troops and garrison troops we captured. Their family members come to the camp to visit them almost daily and makes the whole place really chaotic. The colonel thinks those soldiers aren't a huge threat to us, so releasing them will save us from wasting food and drink on them."

Claude scratched his head in a little embarrassment. "I think I've seen a report from the captive camp about the same thing, but I seem to have misplaced it. I think I already wrote a reply. Did I forget to send it out? Oh, it's in that folder. There's a dark-red leather folder..."

Borkal searched Claude's desk for a long while and finally located the folder. He opened it and saw the report handed in by the captive camp.

There were three categories of captives in the camp. The ones of high status were the Shiskan nobles. Captives with even higher status had been sent to the capital. The second category was the rich local tycoons they captured, the local officials and military officers. The lowest category was made up of normal garrison soldiers.

Skri had requested 50 thousand captives each to serve labour in Bleyotte and Northbay, but those 100 thousand captives were members of the Shiksan standing corps and insurgent fighters. Their transfer lightened the burden of the captive camp considerably. But as Thundercrash swept through the nine eastern prefectures while Typhoon was busy in four other central prefectures, they got another 100 thousand plus captives.

The one in charge of the captive camp, Myhardt, was not wrong in saying that the captives didn't pose much of a threat to the region, as most of the local garrison troops captured were conscripted farmers, factory workers, fishermen, small tradesman, and so on. Some captives who lived near the royal territory had their families come to the camp visit them. The family members were always gathered around teary-eyed, seeming really pitiful all the time.

Myhardt's report stated that the conscripted men were the only breadwinners of their households, so not having them around was a disaster for the whole family. Since the region didn't intend to occupy Shiksan territory, it would be better to just release the captives instead of letting them be a drain on the supplies. At worst, they could do what they did to release captives that one time by making a cut on their thigh as a marker for them to be shot dead immediately if they were captured again.

The camp with 200 thousand captives took two homecoming Shiksan folks to manage, not to mention the huge food costs it incurred. If they could decrease the number of captives by two-thirds, their burden would be greatly lightened. The region was now faced with two huge drains on their resources: the captives and the family members of the homecoming Shiksans, who weren't productive for the food they consumed. Thankfully, the wealth of Shiks meant that they got much food and supplies as spoils, which was enough to keep the freeloaders fed.

Claude had signed that he had read the document long ago. Borkal glanced at him and said, "It's no wonder Colonel Myhardt had me come ask why he didn't get a reply. What's the point of acknowledging that you've read it? They need your decision to proceed. Instead, they thought you were still considering the matter and left the document here the whole time."

"It's my bad for misplacing this document," Claude said awkwardly, though he would never shy from admitting a mistake. He signed a proper approval on the document, before something else occurred to him.

"Wait, has the military administration dealt with the proposal concerning the ten central prefectures?"

It was a proposal Claude submitted to the military administration a month ago when he came up with the idea of handing over Saint Cyprean and the royal territory to the Duke of Sunset River. As the collaborator-filled National Preservation Front didn't seem to be reliable, Claude decided that they should pick ten heads to take over each of the ten central prefectures. The National Preservation Front would be split into ten separate bodies and control each of the central prefectures, which seemed more likely to succeed.

Once the region retreated from Shiks, the ten central prefectures would be left alone. It would be fine no matter whether they chose to fight each other or form an alliance. Eventually, the strongest among them would emerge the powerful victor. Claude believed it would be a good way to whip the National Preservation Front into shape.

"It's already underway," Borkal said, "But Reddragon and Typhoon are still sweeping five central prefectures, so the National Preservation Front is split and assigned those territories, but are still waiting for the transfer."

Claude quickly drafted another reply. "Take this to them and let them have the split bodies recruit from the captive camp until each of them have something of a garrison line. Arm them with the Shiksan gear we got as spoils. Make sure they prioritise the locals of each prefecture for the recruitment. Only then can control be maintained. As for the other captives, make a cut on their thighs as Colonel Myhardt had suggested. The next time we catch them, we'll shoot them dead."

"Understood. I'll get to it immediately."

"Wait, there's something else. Go to the messenger of the Duke of Sunset River again. There are some things I am not fit to say, but you can. Tell him our plan, that is, the region plans to splinter Shiks into a balance of many powers, and tell him it would be the best opportunity for his master to control the royal capital.

"I can't give him proof, but his master can send his personal force into the nearest prefecture neighbouring the royal territory before we leave. I'll send a folk there to monitor them just in case. When we finally leave, he'll be able to enter Saint Cyprean and the royal territory earlier than anyone else and we'll even leave some arms in the city for him."

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