"Perhaps the war has already ended, considering how long the news took to get to us," Skri said with a look of resignation.
"There's no way they'll have settled this so quickly," Claude said, "Prince Hansbach is very cunning and experienced, whereas Prince Wedrick is alert to the point of paranoia and would run the moment something is off by the slightest. As long as none of them fall prey to anything else, the war in the kingdom will still be ongoing."
The captain said he had departed from Northbay around late 5th month to transport some cargo to the Duchy of Reliaro before receiving another assignment there to transport some arms to Nubissia's western coast. They remained there for about a month and started their return to Nasri with another ship. However, their luck ran out and they encountered a pirate attack near the Nubari Islands. Using the mortars they were transporting, they managed to drive off two pirate ships that had attempted to dock them and broke out of heavy encirclement to reach Port Vebator.
In other words, the captain only knew up to what happened at the end of the 5th month, and that was because he paid attention to the news. The rest of his crew wasn't remotely interested in the matters of nations, so their testimonies only contained regurgitated rumours and hearsay among the common folk or from taverns.
The office door opened and Bolonik entered. He was quite happy to see Claude there. "I heard those from headquarters say you're here, so I came to see you. You've read the testimonies of the smuggling ship's crew, right? I finally know why the smuggling ships we sent didn't return."
Bolonik walked to the wall and pointed at a large map of Nubissia. "Civil war is still rife in our kingdom and Whitestag is under Prince Hansbach's control. It is very likely that the two smuggling ships we sent out have been held up there. After all, we are nothing but traitors to the first prince, so after he cut off trade between the two continents. He strictly regulates all ships coming from Nubissia, be they smuggling ships or merchant ships."
Claude agreed. Hansbach had used a sea route to circumvent the defences at Audin Mountain Range to launch a surprise attack on the royal capital. With such a precedent in mind, he would naturally be really wary of the route he himself had used and be far more cautious regarding threats from the ocean. Thus why he would capture all the ships that came from Nubissia, where the traitors lived.
Whitestag was a strategic location in the southwestern area and the ocean routes were in Storm's control. If Prince Hansbach's campaign didn't fare well, he could still retreat to the three southwestern prefectures. As long as he kept Whitestag defended, he would have the options of attacking, defending or retreating. Stellin IX back then had used the power of the three southwestern prefectures in his rise to power and the throne, after all. Perhaps Hansbach was going to mimic his grandfather's exploits. Additionally, if he couldn't hold on any longer, he could still send his troops to Whitestag for Storm to ferry away to new territories he could conquer by sea.
Since the war theatre in Nubissia had turned against Hansbach, he would have to be wary against them as well lest they send two corps to attack Whitestag out of nowhere. Once Whitestag was conquered, the first prince would have nowhere to escape to. Unlike Wedrick, who didn't care much about the colonies, Hansbach was far more aware of the strengths of Thundercrash and Monolith.
"It's obvious that we are afraid the first prince's Storm will come to attack our colonies, and the first prince fears an attack by us as well," Bolonik said with a resigned laugh. Generals who caught Miselk's eye were definitely no simple-minded folk. It didn't take long for them to divine the truth based only on the testimony of the captain and their two missing smuggling ships.
Bolonik crossed out the blue line linking Whitestag to Tyrrsim with a pencil. "As long as Prince Hansbach controls Whitestag, this sea route is out of commission. Without Fearless, only Storm protects our kingdom's waters. No matter how many private or smuggling ships we send, they'll all fall into their hands. It'll be the same if we send them to other ports than Whitestag. The coastal towns are all in Storm's control."
"What about the eastern route?" Skri asked. He wondered whether they could use the route from the east of the colonies to reach the Freian continent like Fearless had always done back then to get news updates and reestablish contact with the kingdom.
Bolonik still shook his head. "It's pointless. I've sent three long-distance smuggling ships on the eastern route and they didn't return either. The main reason for that is here -- the Nubari Islands. That's a haven for pirates. There are near a thousand islands varying in size and uncountable pirates. It's an incredibly chaotic region. If we start sailing from the western coast, on the other hand, we'll have to pass through the islands too. If we're unlucky, we'll end up the targets of innumerable pirates.
"Back when Fearless escorted ships to the colonies, the Nubari Islands was the most dangerous parts they had to pass through. They would come under pirate attack almost every single time and their largest loss numbered up to 52 ships, 14 of which were warships and 38 trading vessels. However, the pirates also suffered quite a bit during that battle. It's said that more than a hundred of their ships were sunk, causing them to only be able to mount minor skirmishes in the coming four to five years without being able to mobilise tens of ships to attack trading fleets like before."
Claude furrowed his brows. "Are the pirates there working as a cohesive whole or doing their own thing?"
"I'm not sure. I had a college mate who was transferred to the ministry of the navy and he was the one who told me about the pirates there. Actually, the bloody battle of Nubari Islands was one of the main factors that sparked the five-year war. The kingdom sent people to infiltrate the islands to get more information about the pirates.
"It's said that the trading vessels Fearless had been escorting were actually pirates hired by the Alliance of Five Nations. The attack was actually coordinated among all the pirates operating in that area. However, they didn't think their losses would be that huge. A few famous pirate crews suffered heavy losses and casualties, and once they got back, the pirates fed the ambassadors from the Alliance to the sharks.
"Once the informants returned with word of that, the kingdom sent ambassadors to demand the Alliance for compensation, but they all refused the demand and insisted they didn't know about the attack at all. It was then when relations between Aueras and the Alliance grew tense. After that, the kingdom established a new trade route from Whitestag to Tyrrsim and never used the eastern route again, making it so that the Alliance was no longer able to use the eastern route to threaten the kingdom. That forced their navy to invade our kingdom's waters, which eventually escalated the whole ordeal into a war with the Alliance."
Claude stood up and went to the map to give it a close look. The eight colonies of the kingdom were located near the southwestern part of Nubissia. The southernmost colony, Aduras, was known as the Primal Forests, and further south to that was the large swamp area known as Fog Swamps. There would be no threat to the colonies coming from the south of the continent.
However, north of the colony of Vebator was a coastal mountainous area where the independent nikancha nation stood. That area was even larger than the colony of Balingana and the part that stretched deep into the ocean was the famous Cape Moroks. Further north of the coastal mountains was the western coast of Nubissia. There was a large flatland area far beyond the war theatre, which was where the colonies of the seven coastal nations of Southern Freia were located.
Back when Stellin X decided on a large-scale expansion policy in Nubissia, the western coast was already off limits. However, the kingdom had built Port Patres at the entry of Dorinibla River and discovered large amounts of mineable resources in Anfiston's Mosraka Mountains, so they decided to continue expanding the colonies there. In nearly two decades, seven Aueran colonies were formed. But by then, Port Vebator had fallen under Nasrian control. The kingdom was one step too late to stop the colonial war from even happening in the first place.
Claude tapped on the western coast. "How do the colonies here contact Freia?"
Bolonik said, "Every half year, they form a large trading fleet and rally the navies of a few nations to escort them through Nubari Islands. The pirates, having learned their lesson from the harsh battle with our kingdom's Fearless, no longer dares to take on large-scale fleets like that."
Claude nodded. "Since that's the case, we don't need to send any smuggling ships to Freia anymore. Instead, we should send them to the western coast to listen for news of the mainland. I trust that the battle between the two princes is something many nations are concerned about. It's very likely that we can get word of it from the west coast.
"Naturally, the news will have been a few months old by then, but it's still better than not knowing anything. At least, we'd have a frame of reference for what we will be facing eventually. Additionally, we have to send some secret informants back to Freia through their large trading fleets to make sure they're safe."
Bolonik seemed rather distressed. "Claude, you're right. But the problem is we are no longer able to find a suitable candidate we can rely on here in the colonies. The kingdom had always been monopolising intercontinental trade and heavily works against smugglers in the first place. Since the war started, smugglers travelling in between the continents number even fewer now. The five smuggling ships we sent out were manned by the only five captains the war theatre trusts that can sail between the continents. I'm afraid nobody will accept our request now that they're gone for good."
Claude shook his head. "We can pick one of the captains that sail in the near waters and provide them with long-distance trading vessels. We can even form a small warship flotilla to patrol the western coast. The nations there aren't our enemies and we can use resupply as a reason to dock there. Perhaps we can even forge a new trade route our war theatre can use. The western coast is also really big. There are colonies of seven nations there and I trust they have many things we need. We will definitely have goods they need as well. Trade doesn't have to necessarily be intercontinental, after all."
Skri nodded his agreement. The various prefectures on the mainland had regular trading arrangements, so did the colonies. Claude's idea to forge a trade route to the west coast was a reasonable one.
"Is there anyone suitable we can get to execute this plan?" Bolonik asked.
"Ummm..." Claude gave it some thought and helplessly gave his nomination. "Have the intelligence department's Colonel Borkal do it. I trust that he can perform even more swimmingly at the western coast since he could even handle the nikancha. However, we have to assign a few aides and guards to him to ensure his safety. He's our only contact with the nikancha, after all."
Ever since he returned to headquarters, Claude spent a few days with his wife, children and mother at Weyblon Manor. He met up with Skri once more to discuss the matter of elevating Lanu to city status. According to the expansion plans, the city of Lanu would be three times the size of the town. More than half of Lake Lanu would be included in the new area, which was a great deal larger than the small area of the lake the town of Lanu claimed.
According to the plans, Claude, being one of the five heads of the war theatre, could have a piece of land in the new villa area of the city for his own manor to be built. Once that was done, he would no longer have to rent Weyblon Manor. That was among the first public construction projects after the formation of the overseas bank. They would use the expanded Lanu to settle down even more settlers in Anfiston and afford them work opportunities, spearheading the economic development of the war theatre.
During the 9th month, Claude returned to Wickhamsburg. Before he left, he participated in another meeting. Bolonik believed that the civil war in the kingdom wouldn't end in the short term based on news he got from the smugglers at the western coast. It would be a great chance for the war theatre to consolidate its forces and develop its internal economy.
What they had to be wary of now was the Shiksans. There had been no news about Shiks for quite a while and there wasn't even a single attempt to attack the colonies' coastal ports. That put the war theatre on a constant edge. It was as if they had been blindfolded. So, Bolonik hoped that Thundercrash could complete the training of their various forces so that they wouldn't be taken unprepared by a surprise Shiksan attack.
Borkal was sent to the western coast to collect information. At the end of the 8th month, he boarded a ship at Port Vebator. The war theatre had supplied three light-class long-distance warships for a small patrol flotilla to sail to the western coast. They were estimated to return around the middle of the 10th month.
Before two days even passed after Claude's arrival in Wickhamsburg, he received a letter from Liboyd containing good news. The construction of the arms factory in Vebator was complete and he was invited to check it out. There was also a personal letter from Sonia. She asked Claude what the first product of the arms factory would be, and whether it could be her Sonia 591.