"A smart thief steals in such a way his target doesn't know he's been robbed. A genius steals in such a way his target thanks him for taking the stuff off his hands."

Lorist got up after forcing Jinolio to sleep, took a bath, and filled his stomach before he started dealing with the food shortage, refreshed. He had predicted Morante would be short on food. That half the transport fleet was carrying food made it apparent.

The city housed a million people. Coupled with the 200 thousand laborers and poor folk outside the walls and the 400 thousand troops at the plains, it fed 1.7 million people a day. Falik Plains was a well-known agricultural region back in the day, but it now lay in ruin thanks to the war. It had supplied half of the Union's food. The other half came mostly from Callisto Hills, which was stressed to the breaking point.

Tarkel arrived and brought with him more bad news. Mass was supposed to be the region's granary, but it only had a day's worth of food.

The Union had betted on the shipment and carted most of their supplies to the front-lines. But now that food was Lorist's spoils. Lorist knew there would be a shortage, but this was far worse than he'd imagined. Their entire stores could only last 15 days, and all of it was rough, cheap foods like wheat and potatoes.

All the fleet's food had been sent to Cape Romani instead to feed the laborers working on the reef fortress. Howard had kept only what was necessary and sent the rest to Silowas.

Lorist had the ships to go get the food, but no one to man them. All the old crews were now laborers or captives somewhere else. Silowas had the food, but not the ships. He just had to make due without it. The few merchants who'd been in the city's harbor when he'd attacked, had fled already.

Senbaud's Blitz flotilla was heading to the bay to get the captured sailors' families and take them to Silowas. Everything would have been perfect if only the damned city had food!

When Senbaud arrived, he quickly loaded the families and left again. He would return with as much food as he could, but no sooner than 15 days. He would make it in time if nothing went wrong, but something always went wrong. And while the food would last 14-15 more days, the mere fact that the food was a danger.

Lorist expected the enemy to react in three or so days. If the enemy commanders were decisive, he'd be facing an army in ten days. The possibility of relief by their own side, coupled with knowledge that they didn't have much food left, might just be enough to push the 1.7 million people into a massive uprising.

Lorist had planned for the enemy's reaction and put Tigersoar and Jaeger on the front-lines to keep the enemy busy, but the Union had 400 thousand men. They could still send a massive force back compared to what he had in Morante.

His original plan had been to stand his ground in the city. He only needed to drag the fighting on for a week so Tigersoar and Jaeger could smash through the front-lines and march to the city. Or at least pressure them enough to threaten to do just that. The Union would crumble and surrender.

The city's lack of food made that plan nearly impossible. He could hold the enemy outside the city, but he couldn't fight the people inside it at the same time. Definitely not if a million rose up at the same time. They could crush his men under the weight of their corpses alone.

"How did the Union deal with this?" asked Lorist.

"They would supply some food every fortnight. Most would be coarse and every household could use their registered booklet to buy a set amount from the shops at a set price.

"Food aside, meat, wine, leather, even some other consumables were rationed. Any amount purchased within a set limit would cost little but they'd have to pay several times more for any more than the ration. A few of the ration ships are still open. Some even make a decent profit," said Tarkel.

Wait a second... Why does this sound familiar? This sounds just like planned allocation used during the time of the planned economy! My grandparents always took a large number of tickets with them for meat and cloth. I remember using a ticket to buy a piece of maltose candy only to be pummeled by my grandfather! He said he wasn't mad that I was eating candy, but that I took something without permission, I'd stolen.

I don't know what these Union merchants are thinking. They actually planned the whole economy.

"Weren't there objections? How are the shops managed?"

Tarkel shook his head.

"The people were easily swayed. The Union said everything was for the war effort. They said everything would return to normal once it ends. Everyone was willing to suffer to see the kingdom defeated.

"I sent men to investigate the outer city. Nothing seems out of order. The cheapest food right now is dried and salted fish, and potatoes. The potatoes come from Callisto Hills and the dried fish from the sea. The fish in particular is from an old stockpile. Nobody really ate it before so a large stockpile had built up.

"We've taken over the city, so Callisto Hills won't send anymore potatoes and the stockpiles are nearly completely dry. If we shrink the rations, we might be able to stretch it to 15 days.

"The guilds handle the trade directly. Forde handled fine goods and meat, Peterson handled leather and cloth, as usual, Mayflower dealt with honey, spices, and other luxuries, Riwald the allocation of daily necessities, Chikdor seafood and other related goods, and Twinhead Dragon various precious ingredients -- mostly to nobles.

"The divide between rich and poor has become binary and extreme. The rich ate like there was no war going on at all until we barged in, while the poor were barely getting by. I've even heard a market for rat meat has sprung up and many people spend their days hunting the gutters and slums for rats.

"All the guild shops are now closed, of course. Luckily people mostly only buy when there's a sale and we haven't missed one yet. The next sale is four days. If we don't have food ready and shops open by then, however, people might start getting uppity."

Lorist stroked his chin as he paced around. Tarkel's report was grave. It was imperative that the people were placated soon. They could not afford to let them rise up. They already hated him and his men to the bone, and the slightest excuse would sweep them up into full revolt.

"Send for Torin, Belnick, and Jades. Also, tell Els and Ovidis to finish up quickly and come back."

The guards by the door saluted and dashed off.

"Tarkel, send an eagle to Camorra and Spiel. Tell them to prepare a convoy as quickly as they can. Send as much beast fur and food as they can. Have them send administrators as well."

"Understood, Your Grace."

Tarkel turned to leave.

"Wait. Invite the syndicates in the slums to a meeting tomorrow."

Torin was Tok's father, the second-in-command of Northsea. He was old, so he was put in charge of logistics. An exception had been made however, and he had been given the task of sealing Hidegold Bay. He had performed admirably.

Torin was the first to arrive, Jades and Belnick came soon after. Lorist briefed them quickly.

"Uncle Torin, go to the docks. Tell Pajik to leave some sailors behind. Also, have him leave a brigade as an escort. Take as many ships as you can and head for Silowas and bring back as much food as you can. You have to be back in 12 days.

"If you come across Senbaud, show them the parchment I'll give you later. Take them back to Silowas with you and use them as transports as well."

He regretted having Invincible's fourth flotilla sent to Silowas early. He should've waited. He could really have made good use of them now. The remaining sailors either didn't have family members or lost family during the fight. They were considered unreliable.

"Understood, Your Grace. I will be back as soon as I can," assured Torin. He bid his farewell and left for the docks immediately.

"Jades. seal off the commercial area and start searching the stores. Transport everything valuable to the inner city and make and inventory."

"Understood, Your Grace," Jades saluted.

"Belnick, take a brigade to Callisto Hills. Buy as much food as you can. Buy, you hear, not take. You can offer 1.5 times the market price if you need to. You can double the offer if the farmers can transport the food to the city immediately. You have three days."

"Yes, Milord."

Lorist met syndicate bosses the next morning. Among them he knew Jindoz, Els's old friend. The man had changed considerably, however. He was not friendly towards Lorist, at least. It was to be expected, however. Back then Lorist had been the friend of a friend, now he was a bloodsworn enemy. Lorist had also turned from a simple mercenary into one of only a handful of swordsaints on the continent and the ruler of what was a kingdom in all but name.

"Gentlemen, I have conquered Morante for the sake of peace. I am not here to deprive you of your riches," Lorist became shamelessly. He rattled off a speech about establishing lasting peace between the two countries. It took him twenty minutes to get to the point.

"I promise to not mistreat the people as long as they don't fight me. As I said before, I'm only here for the guilds who drag you into their war. We will take only their wealth.

"Quiet down. I know what you want to say. It's true that many of the supplies and daily necessities are in their hands. If we take it, you will starve. I have no intent of doing this. I will show my sincerity by keeping you all fed. I'm willing to sell the food we take from the guilds to you cheaply.

"Gentlemen, before, you were all in charge of your districts' security, hygiene, and taxation while the guild handled supplies. The guilds are gone, so you must step up. You will sell the food to the people instead."

Lorist's lips curved.

"I will give everyone free food in three days. Every household will get 5 kilograms of potatoes and half a kilogram of dried fish. We'll also have a sale on some of the stuff we took from the guilds."