"Your Grace, Lord Malek and Lord Potterfang are waiting for you in the meeting room," hurried Jinolio.

"Alright, let's go. Anderbael, practice the basic sword moves a few more times before going to take a shower. Don't catch a cold now."

Lorist tapped Anderbael's head with a wooden sword before turning to leave.

Anderbael was getting more naughty than ever and didn't like academics. So, Lorist had no choice but to start teaching him swordsmanship to ensure that he had a good foundation. Surprisingly, the child showed great talent and keen interest and patience for martial arts. That attitude was a stark contrast to the one he had for studies; he would often slip away to play. Lorist spent only three days to teach him 28 basic sword moves, causing his pride to swell. He didn't think the bearish child would actually make him proud one day.

Potterfang and Malek had come to talk about the defense in Montside. The setting up of the defense lines around the borders of Magical Dragon Mountains and the wildlines was integral for the safety of the province, but due to the terranean restrictions, the survey team spent one year to discover that the complicated hilly and forested terrain made it really hard for the Norton forces to make a complete defense line to secure Montside's borders.

The border separating Montside from Magical Dragon Mountains and the wildlands stretched 236 kilometers long. Even though Firmrock had 45 thousand members, they wouldn't be able to spread themselves across the whole border. They would only be able to station a hundred-man unit for each half kilometer and not only would they lose the initiative to act, they would also have to rely on others behind them for logistics support.

Lorist wouldn't allow a main open-field battle legion to be stationed at the border either. But having only 45 thousand men securing the border to defend the new citizens of the province was not feasible. The thin defenses only invited attack and the slightest push would cause the defense line to lose all effect. While the trenches and sentry towers could hold the barbarians off, they might not be able to fend off magic beast attacks.

"Your Grace, those involved in the survey had a month-long discussion and concluded that if we want to satisfy Your Grace's wish to hold the defense line for the long term without using too many soldiers, the best solution is to dig a manmade river to stop the magic beasts from crossing. It'll also prove to be a good obstacle for the barbarians trying to attack. We'll have enough time to sound the alert and come up with a countermeasure as they cross the river," reported Malek.

The map of Montside was laid on the table and a thick, red line could be seen drawn across it.

"A man-made river?" Lorist mused with intrigue, "Tell me more about the plan."

"Understood, Your Grace. This river starts north from Azure River and will flow along the border of Montside all the way to Lake Tarinloz in the Black Forests, stretching for about 250 kilometers. We planned for the river to have a width of around 50 meters and a depth of ten. After some surveying by the Ministry of War, we confirmed that the area in the vicinity is suitable to be turned into a man-made river like that."

Lorist felt a headache coming. He thought they were only going to dig a river around ten meters wide and six meters deep, but he didn't think those of the ministry actually planned to make it 50 meters wide and ten meters deep. Can this still be considered a river? It's a whole water highway...

Malek's voice also sounded a little deep. The scale of the construction was a little too large. It meant that the house would have to invest large amounts of funding to complete. Even Lorist couldn't ensure whether the house could finish the project. Malek took out a few designs and showed them to Lorist.

"Those sent to survey the land and the designers of the engineering department made an estimation and found that only a river this wide can properly prevent the magic beasts from attempting to cross the river and wipe out any ambitions the barbarians have. Given the technical prowess of the barbarian military, it would take them at least three hours to send a thousand men over a 50-meter-wide river. That's enough time for our forces to call for reinforcements."

Malek pointed at the design and said, "The designers intend to use the mud unearthed from the construction to make mud bricks, which can be stacked up to form a stair-like embankment, on which sentry and alert towers can be built. That way, we would only require a small number of personnel to keep watch of the border. Both magic beast and barbarian would definitely be noticed if they approach the river. The guards can then warn the others with smoke signals and start attacking the incoming threats from the sentry towers while they waited for reinforcements to arrive."

The headache Lorist felt grew more intense. This is not even a water highway... It's the great wall... He could see countless gold Fordes grow wings and fly away as well as Spiel's angered expression. The proposal, however, did seem to be one of the most reliable methods to rid the province of the threat from the barbarians in the Magical Dragon Mountains and the magic beasts in the wildlands for good.

If there were no natural barriers, they could always build one. That was the train of thought of the designers in the engineering department and the surveyors of the Ministry of War. Fortunately, the river and wall stretched only 250 plus kilometers long. Lorist believed that the house would be able to barely afford such an undertaking instead of going bankrupt because of it.

After the construction of the embankment and river was completed, it would bring Montside and the house much benefit. Other things aside, Firmrock could be released from guard duty and taken back to become a main fighting force of the house. Not only that, Montside would be spared from the barbarian and magic beast threat and could even use the river as a transportation facility. That could allow the new desolate province to be developed into a thriving settlement.

"Pog, do you really think there's a need for such a large project like this?" asked Lorist to the quiet Potterfang.

"Your Grace, I really don't know what to say," Potterfang spoke with an awkward chuckle, "Theoretically, I should be against the project because this project will decrease the morale of our forces as it makes us out to be a turtle shirking back into our shell we built for ourselves instead of being courageous enough to face the threat of the barbarians and beasts directly. As it stands, we're going to be passively defending instead of launching counterattacks.

"But in fact, I can't wait to see this project completed. Though Firmrock will only have to be stationed here for another year, the casualties we suffered reached more than 1200 men. These casualties weren't incurred in battles or skirmishes, but rather guerilla attacks by the barbarian hunters or carnivorous beasts during patrols.

"And due to the complex terrain, and the lack of experience fighting in the mountains, we aren't able to properly face off against our foes. It's not that our equipment aren't good enough or we lack the will to fight our enemies, but among the seven hundred or so sacrificed troops, less than 200 died from an actual fight. Most of them lost their lives to poisoned arrows, traps, and encounters with magic beasts. When a squad calls for reinforcements, the enemy will be long gone by the time any arrives.

"The morale of Firmrock is a little on the low lately. Our troops are used to facing enemies head-on and won't even fear when they are outnumbered. What the troops aren't used to is the elusive enemy and the high rate of accidents and injuries from patrols. To the troops of Firmrock, digging the river and building a wall or embankment is a thing that'll raise their spirits."

Lorist slapped his forehead. He stationed Firmrock at the border of Montside because of their reputation for great defense, but he had forgotten that the enemies the legion wasn't wasn't tens of thousands of enemy troops. Instead, they had to man the 250-kilometer-long defense line of Montside and navigate the complex terrain, which weren't easy tasks for them. Had it not been for Potterfang's report, Lorist would still be unaware of what sort of trouble Firmrock ran into.

Looks like this project must be undertaken. Lorist turned to ask Malek, "Since the project has been planned, what is the budget and time it will take to complete it? Tell me how many gold Fordes I'll have to spend."

Malek, looking a little embarrassed, said, "Your Grace, this project to build the river and embankment is estimated to require 100 thousand laborers. At a rate of 50 kilometers per year, it would take five years at least. The initial budget is estimated to be around two million gold Fordes each year."

House Norton's frequent undertaking of huge development projects made them rather good at estimating costs. Without captives, they would have to recruit laborers from the dominion, and each youth could earn up to eight gold Fordes per year, meaning that 100 thousand of them would require around 800 thousand. Their food, drink and other bonuses would have to provided as well, not to mention the tools required for the project, vehicles, tents for accommodation and so on. Two million each year was a reasonable amount.

"However, given that the construction site is near Magical Dragon Mountains and the wildlands, we will need to mobilize our forces to keep the project safe. The house needs to deploy around three main legions to push the border 15 kilometers further and hold absolute control in that area. Only then can we ensure absolute safety for the construction site. The Ministry of War estimated the costs for each legion to be deployed would require an additional one million gold Fordes annually," said Malek as he closed the folder and concluded the report.

Lorist was quite satisfied with the ministry's effectiveness. They had a clear grasp on the spending required for such operations. That way, there would be a clear indication of how much they're expected to spend and the accounts wouldn't end up becoming a mess.

Deploying one main household legions for only an additional one million per year was already rather savvy. The bonuses given to the soldiers, repair and replenishment of used equipment, medical fees for injured soldiers and pension for dead soldiers all amounted to quite a large sum. That was why even though 100 thousand workers only had to be paid two million gold Fordes annually, a legion of 45 thousand men alone needed one million.

According to the proposal Malek brought out, the construction project would cost ten million gold Fordes and take five years and free Montside from the threat of barbarian and beast attacks. House Norton would gain a secure province to rule over, so the huge spending would be justified. The issue was that to ensure the safety of that project, three main household legions had to be deployed and would cost three million gold Fordes each year. Five years would bring that figure up to 15 million gold Fordes, so the total project would cost a staggering amount of 25 million gold Fordes.

The cost of deploying three legions and Northsea Fleet in the war with the Trade Union in Falik Plains cost the household an additional ten million gold Fordes. But House Norton didn't make a loss from that war and instead managed to establish a trade route to the south of the continent, took control of the sunshine seas and Golden Coast, and invest in the reborn market in Morante. The money earned far eclipsed money spent and it was definitely a profitable war and deal.

But the deployment of three legions to patrol the border and keep the project safe for the next five years added three million gold Fordes to the house's spending annually. The investing of 15 million gold Fordes for security wouldn't guarantee a return, and the cost might rise depending on how aggressive the conflicts with the mountain barbarians were.

As expected, the proposal for the project in Montside was greatly objected to among the house administration. Spiel was the strongest critic of the project, being the man who was stingy with military spending as always. He declared that he'd rather the house form two new legions to guard the border of Montside than to agree to go with the project for the province's defense.

Lorist had no choice but to hold a meeting among the top household officials to discuss the matter. This time around, one detailed analysis presented by Lorist changed Spiel's attitude towards the project completely. The staunchest objector became the strongest supporter right away. Lorist told him that if such a strong barrier was constructed, it could ensure the safety and stability of Montside for at least five decades. In other words, it could be considered an upfront payment for the defense of the province for the next fifty years, which would break down to about 500 thousand gold Fordes per year. Forming two new legions to defend Montside on the other hand not only increased the budget by one million gold Fordes on a yearly basis, additional costs would be incurred in the event of large conflicts with the mountain barbarians. The spending in five decades would definitely soar above 50 million gold Fordes.

After converting Spiel, the other officials soon achieved a consensus and decided to go forward with the undertaking of titanic proportions. The project was to be presided over by Malek. As such, Lorist jokingly suggested for the defense line formed by the river and the embankment to be known as the Malek Defense Line, but to his surprise, they actually adopted it as its proper name.