There was seemingly no good solution to Richard’s predicament. He wasn’t a particularly eloquent orator, and even if he was there wouldn’t be any real way to argue for a dukedom right now. The person who brought up the topic had caught the perfect timing; in only a few more months, the Archeron armies would be marching around Norland to expand the family’s territory.
Even after a long period of thought, the only reason Richard could come up with for the motion was to block him from getting a dukedom in the near future. As per tradition, it would be another year before he could call upon another vote to give himself a title, but that couldn’t be the end goal in and of itself. There was some reason for his title to be barred at this moment, but he couldn’t figure out what tangible benefits that would bring to anyone.
Dukes were the pinnacle of regular nobility in any of the three empires. The next higher status was that of a prince, although both titles were actually more on equal terms depending on the empire. Being a prince required royal blood, so the only way for a regular duke to advance was to become a grand duke who had completely independent control of his duchy. Dukes were especially powerful in the Sacred Alliance, acting as a check and balance for the royal family. If they united, they could even force the Emperor off his seat.
However, that was impossible. Emperor Philip was currently riding a wave of glory that would last decades if not longer; there was no way for anyone else in the Alliance to replace his position. In fact, becoming a duke right now was only a burden; Richard would be force to station a large number of troops with the royal family for the country’s defence, which was why it was low on his priority list.
Richard continued to read through literature on nobility in the Alliance, but no matter how he thought of it most of a duke’s powers came from their family’s strength. It didn’t matter to him whether he had a title or not; he could exert all of his influence regardless.
“Whatever, since when did we tackle situations normally?” he muttered to himself with a sneer, sitting down to meditate. If someone was jumping out to humiliate him, he would just crush them instead. The move had come from a certain Baron Canaan of the Silversword Family, the current patriarch of which was Earl Fenlier. Canaan obviously was just a puppet, but this family would be a good example. Even if he couldn’t absorb their territory, he would at least flatten everything like Alice once did to her distant enemies. The scorched earth policy was cruel, but it was effective.
The quickest way to gain land was war. However, the Sacred Alliance would only recognise war on external powers unless he could justify himself adequately; opening up the map of Norland, he marked off the north, south, and southeast. The Deepblue existed to the north, while the south held a tight border with the Millennial Empire. To the southeast was ocean, so west was the best direction to head in. Still, there were quite a few battlefields for him to choose from.
Adding more territory was something he had to get to sooner or later. While he didn’t care much about this symbolic value, his rune knights and other subordinates would. The lands he annexed would be theirs to govern in the future, a place where they could grow their own status from through their families. This was the force driving many of his knights into battle.
Richard looked around the map and shut it back down, taking a quick inventory of his resources to figure out how much he could support. The broodmother and now her clone were still his biggest strength, but there were only a little more than a hundred rune knights left that he could mobilise freely. Runes weren’t even the problem; he just didn’t have enough suitable candidates. Most families would consider a 500-knight reserve force more than enough, and there was fierce competition on which of them would become rune knights once more runes were available, but with him the problem was quite the opposite. Everyone capable of becoming a rune knight still had to be loyal to him, and while contracts helped they didn’t enforce unflinching obedience of his commands. He still had a few reserve knights and a number of independent warriors, but another blunder like the Forest Plane couldn’t be sustained.
It would soon become imperative to build a regular army that wasn’t solely made up of Archerons. This army would need more average combat effectiveness and loyalty, used as the first line to protect his core soldiers. There weren’t all that many Archerons in the world, and their numbers certainly couldn’t grow to a scale where they would be enough to support all of his military endeavours themselves.
Sighing, Richard turned to a small section of his map table that was constantly flickering between the maps of his private planes. Two of them were dark grey, implying that they weren’t under his control. One was the Boulder Highlands where Ward was located, and the other was the Goldflow Valley under Asiris and Cyrden.
One could say the Goldflow Valley was nominally under his control now, but Cyrden had never returned to Norland to pledge his allegiance. While Richard was aware that the situation in the plane was an issue as well, and Asiris had made himself available whenever needed, he still had no idea about the actual scenario there. He had sent nearly a million gold’s worth in all sorts of resources there, but there wasn’t any good news at all.
The biggest drain on his resources was actually the Resting Orchid Plane. Senma had to remain there to deal with Stardragon just in case he showed up, and he also had to keep fifty rune knights stationed there at all times to ensure that an ambush didn’t take out the portal. Faelor had been given a death sentence by Ferlyn herself, so all Richard truly had in hand right now was the Forest Plane.
Even in Norland, the territories were only calm on the surface. Richard had ignored the rebellions when he was away for the sake of consolidating his own power, but at least half of the vassals of the family had betrayed him. So long as he suffered serious losses, they would grow active once again.
There were other issues that required his attention as well. Marshal Rundstedt’s trial was still ongoing, but this time it had escalated from a mere insult into a real investigation. The Church had sent a representative to coordinate the proceedings, and the head of every one of the fourteen families would be expected to vote to decide on guilt. The families of the seventh level had one vote each, while those on the sixth had two. The Ironblood Duke had three to himself, a number shared with the royal family. The royal family could also veto any decision that didn’t reach three-quarters majority, which would start the voting process once more.
As a legendary powerhouse, Rundstedt was clearly enraged by his trial. His crimes were errors in command and violations of the Alliance’s regulations. Even if he was convicted, the maximum punishment was dismissal from his position and removal of his marquessate. He was undoubtedly guilty, but delivering such a verdict was a problem in its own right; who, then, would be sent to guard the City of the Unsetting Sun?
This was a difficult decision to make that would force him to choose sides. He certainly hated Rundstedt’s ways with all his heart, but that was a personal decision as a warrior of the Unsetting Sun. Now, he would be expected to make a decision on behalf of his entire family.
Unable to come up with immediate answers for any of his problems, he cleared them from his mind and rang the bell to summon the old butler, “How have our expenses been?”
“Just one moment, Master.” The old butler left and quickly returned with his book of accounts that detailed almost every major income and expenditure of the family. Faelor currently had a stable income of six million gold and growing, followed by the Forest Plane at two million of which a third was shared with Nyris and Agamemnon. Of course, this was old news; the total income from the plane was now three million gold a year.
All of his other planes still needed investment. While the Boulder Highlands hadn’t been touched, the Resting Orchid Plane and Goldflow Valley needed about a million each. Another expense came from his support of the Deepblue, which took two million gold coins for operational expenses and an equal amount for his research grants. With another million gold being paid to the antimages who were stationed there permanently, the academy was an enormous drain on his resources.
That amounted to seven million gold, but even that paled when compared to his military expenditure. He’d spent more than ten million gold on equipment alone, and just his followers commanded a total payment of two million gold a year. With the number of deaths amongst his forces recently, he needed to dole out compensatory pay of three million gold as well. And this didn’t even count the troops’ payments that were inflated by putting them in planes with accelerated time flow! Compared to all that, the 500,000 he needed for maintenance and construction on the island was nothing.
The numbers were almost frightening. His focus on runecrafting had been reduced in recent times in favour of combat, so most of his runes were higher grade and required a lot of time to make. Most of the normal stuff had been left to Rosie’s workshop, who could make eight Rose Knights a month while paying for themselves or ten if he gave them the resources. While he could technically make tens of millions of gold in a month if he cooped himself up crafting Lifesbanes, the market would quickly saturate and the rune would lose value. On the other hand, Mana Armament didn’t have much of a market in the first place and he had just crafted a large number for the Mage Association.
He looked at the butler who almost faded away into the background to give him space to think, “Do you have any ways of improving the family’s income?”
The old steward diligently stuck to his primary duties of taking care of trivial matters, but he still had decades of experience managing lands. He nodded at Richard’s question, “Master Gaton believed that managing expenses was much simpler than people made it out to be: throttle extra costs and find extra sources of revenue. In this regard, I believe there are three core issues: the Deepblue, the Goldflow Valley, and the Boulder Highlands.”Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Translated By: OMA
Edited By: Theo