Claude closed Borkal's report. He was utterly speechless for a long time. He didn't think Aueras, once the hegemon of Eastern Freia, would fall so far because of a civil war. The new king was an unwise ruler and the kingdom had even more obstacles ahead of it in the future.
Eiblont slammed the desk, the report flopping onto the desk in front of him.
"I knew it would end like this... I knew it!" Eiblont muttered furiously.
Claude could only shake his head helplessly.
"Eilon, we have no choice. I know what you want to say, but the theatre has no option. Neither Prince Hansbach nor Prince Wedrick are people we should follow. We had to pledge allegiance to the most threatening one last time. It had won us the war with Shiks, so we didn't come out at a loss.
"As for how the kingdom will handle us... We can only watch and wait. News of our victory should spread all over Freia over the next three months. No doubt the ambassadors will be darting over in no time."
"Claude's right," Bolonik chimed, "If we had joined Hansbach, we would've become traitors. We had no choice but to pledge to Wedrick even though we knew he wasn't a worthy successor. We have to firm our footing while we wait for the ambassador. No matter what, we haven't let Lord Militant Miselk down. We have held onto the colonies. I know I did nothing wrong as a soldier."
After leaving headquarters, Claude turned to Masonhughes.
"Take two people and go look for Colonel Borkal. Tell him I'll be hosting a banquet at my home tomorrow to welcome him back."
When Lanu was being attacked, the high-class villa area Ferd Manor was located in was among the few areas not to be involved in the fighting, so Claude could still host his guests and friends there. But ever since his mother returned from evacuating to the mountains and saw the trash heap of a city, she was a little taken aback and began muttering about going back to the mainland to live peacefully in Whitestag.
Claude couldn't bear to tell her the truth. But after Borkal came tomorrow, his mother would find out what true peace and true suffering was.
To reward Borkal for his trip back to the mainland, Bolonik gave him a large plot of land in the centre of the rebuilt city for his family business. He also gave him an interest-free loan of 30 thousand crowns through the overseas bank to reward the generosity of him and his family for helping bring back the 60 thousand refugees from the kingdom.
At six in the evening on the next day, the carriage Claude sent to pick up Borkal and his family returned. It was the first time he met Borkal's father, the most famous merchant of Whitestag, Rublier, in many years. Borkal's wife was a woman of petite stature and they had two sons, ten years old and seven years old respectively.
Claude's mother was the happiest among them for the reunion. However, she was quite surprised to see Rublier age so much. His hair had mostly whitened and he had a bald patch in the middle of his head. He no longer looked like the spirited merchant he used to be.
During the banquet, Madam Ferd asked questions nonstop. After hearing Rublier's explanation, she was finally made aware of the kind of harm that came to Whitestag, her hometown. The whole city had been reduced to rubble. Men from ages 15 to 45 were forcefully conscripted and never returned. Rublier's business was raided clean by the soldiers and he had no choice but to escape to the prefecture of Simlock.
But with the three sisters under the first prince's control, they wouldn't be able to avoid constant taxation and expropriation no matter where they went. Despite Prince Hansbach's final retreat from Whitestag and the reclamation of the three sister prefectures, what came wasn't peace and prosperity, but rather, punishments and fines. The companies that did business with the first prince's forces were raided by the kingdom's forces on the charge of supporting a traitor faction. They would only be spared after paying loads in reparations.
Rublier had almost seemed to have forgotten how he managed to last through those years. He didn't care how much his family savings were lost, so long as his family, relatives and employees were safe. He had seen the horrible fates countless households had been subjected to for not paying up and he wouldn't wish that on those he cared for.
Fortunately, he had built up quite an extensive network in the three sisters throughout the many years of his business there, so he always managed to avoid the insidious plots and traps against him. It was around that time when Borkal finally returned. That was why he was willing to have his entire household and employees leave with Borkal and the rest to the colonies without ever returning.
Madam Ferd immediately dropped all notion of returning to the mainland. She warmly welcomed Rublier and the rest to stay within Ferd Manor before the new houses in Lanu were completed. For her, apart from her still-missing eldest son, her three other children were within the colonies and she had two grandchildren to boast of, so she wasn't really that stubborn about going back to Whitestag.
After dinner, Claude, Borkal and Rublier went to the study on the first floor. Borkal left out a lot in his reports, things which were better kept secret.
"Prince Wedrick won't last long on the throne," Borkal said on the onset, "Many nobles in the royal capital are not happy with his reign, especially the old nobility. They think him incompetent, corrupt, spineless and despotic. In time, the kingdom would be reduced to nothing. Many nobles are conspiring to overthrow him."
"How laughable. They were the ones who opposed the first prince from taking the throne in the first place because they were worried he would keep on fighting wars nonstop to bankrupt the kingdom. Now, they've managed to push Prince Wedrick to the throne and left the kingdom in shambles. Despite getting their wish, they immediately regret it and think the current king isn't fit for the throne. Which one of them would be fit, then?" Claude mocked.
Borkal shook his head. "No, Claude, you're wrong. The ones that supported the ascension of Prince Wedrick are the new nobility. The old nobility have always maintained a neutral stance, well, maybe they were a little biased towards Prince Wedrick. That's mainly because Prince Hansbach has always seen them as sworn enemies and sought to rid the old nobility's influence from the military as best he could. He was the one who ruffled their feathers. For the sake of their own interests, they had no choice but to stand against the first prince.
"But after Prince Wesrick ascended, the old nobility found that their interests were being harmed far more. The new king favoured the new nobility, as they were able to bring him wealth and pleasure to fuel his life of decadence. The old nobility, on the other hand, hopes the king can quickly calm down instead of being in a constant flux of debauchery.
"The ones who lost the most in the civil war are the new nobility. While they claim to push for free trade in the kingdom, they're only merely fighting the old nobility for influence. What they truly want is a monopoly over the kingdom's economy and trade, so they're the natural enemies of the old nobility.
"On the mainland, the old nobility have a monopoly on the military industries and have their influence spread throughout the military. The passing of some two hundred years has allowed their hands to reach deep into the various prefectures of the kingdom to tap into their wealth. The new nobility wants to break these local monopolies, but ran into obstacles nonstop.
"That's why the new territories gained after the five-year war were handed over to them. I believe the former king, Stellin X, wanted to give them a hand to raise them into a faction to counteract the old nobility. That way, the royal family can reap even more profit due to their conflicts and decrease their reliance on the old nobility.
"That's also the main reason behind the first prince's constant push to remove the old nobility's influence in the military. It's too bad Stellin X wasn't able to hold on and passed away too early. The new nobility also weren't satisfied with the small profits gained in the new territories and spurred Prince Wedrick into joining the fight for the throne, forcing the first prince to leave and take over the new territories.
"It was only after that that the new nobility realised they were suffering the consequences of their own actions. All the effort they put into developing the new territories was vaporised by the forces of the first prince. They couldn't even break even. But Prince Wedrick's father-in-law and corpsman of Reddragon, Lord Militant Siegfeld, was a member of the old nobility. So, he had no choice but to support Prince Wedrick, finally giving him a fighting chance against the first prince.
"The civil war became the true battlefield between the old nobility and the first prince's forces. Nobody expected the war to tear through the kingdom's own realm. When word came about the assassination attempt on the first prince after his retreat from Whitestag, Prince Wedrick gladly ascended to the throne, thinking that there was nobody that could challenge him for it any longer. He began to do things at his sole discretion without listening to anybody's advice and scoured the kingdom for more wealth through the new nobility.
"Do you know why the kingdom still hasn't stabilised after all this time? Claude, it's all the fault of the new nobility. What I saw during my journey and in the royal capital is proof of the new nobility's crimes. The kingdom's civil unrest, bandit and refugee problems are all caused by them.
"They were the ones that Prince Wedrick, or should I say, Stellin XI, to which our allegiance is owed, appointed to become inquisitors of his rule. The new nobility now roam the kingdom unhindered and label all civilians that supported the first prince during the civil war as traitors, whether they were forced to help or not. Even those that were forcefully conscripted faced the same fate and lost all their wealth before being sent to the labour camps. Most of the folk in the kingdom became refugees and vagrants.
"The new nobility are doing so to make up for the losses they suffered in the new territories and to sate the endless desire for wealth of Stellin XI. They also want to cut off all influence of the old nobility on the populace to prepare themselves to control the economy and trade of the kingdom completely. The old and new nobility are completely at odds with each other--"
"Are these your thoughts or observations somebody else told you about?" Claude interrupted.
"Ummm... Some of them were revealed to me in conversations with others, and others were products of my own observations. Most of it is the conclusions I've come to after seeing all I have."
Claude nodded. Borkal must've come to the conclusions himself instead of being played like a pawn by others.
"Who do you think will become king once Prince Wedrick steps down?"
"It will definitely be the fourth prince, His Highness Fredrey," Borkal replied with absolute certainty.
"Why?" Claude asked, intrigued, "Of Stellin X's five royal children, the first prince was said to be reliable, the second prince frivolous, the third princess haughty, the fourth prince cowardly and the fifth princess greedy. Now that the reliable first prince is gone and the frivolous second prince will step down soon, only the other three stand a chance. No matter how it seems, the third and fifth princesses seem to stand a much better chance. A haughty one and a greedy one will surely have more fight in them than the cowardly fourth prince."
"The third princess is definitely out of the question. She married Marquis Ruhrheim, the new nobility's representative. The old nobility will never let Princess Adelina ascend after Prince Wedrick steps down. It wouldn't make much of a difference that way.
"Prince Fredrey, however, doesn't have that problem. His wife is the daughter of Baroness Maria, whom you've asked me to visit. Baroness Maria is married to Viscount Kartoff, the vice corpsman of the royal guard corps and lieutenant-general of the kingdom. He can be considered a member of the old nobility. The fourth prince also has a peace-loving personality and dislikes war. His ascension will definitely stabilise the kingdom's state and push for development in the prefectures and the restoration of civilian life.
"When I first visited Baroness Maria's manor, she and Viscount Kartoff came to discuss really odd topics with me. The baroness asked about how you and your sister Anna were doing, whereas Viscount Kartoff was more concerned about the might shown by Monolith and Thundercrash in the colonial wars. He wants to know about the battles in detail and also deeply apologised for being helpless to offer support to the colonies.
"But on my second visit, they held a banquet that was attended by field officers and above of the royal guard. I saw Prince Frederey there with his wife, the baroness' daughter, Princess Christie dancing in the lead.
"Viscount Kartoff introduced me to the fourth prince. The prince was filled with admiration for our theatre's constant stream of victories, but lamented at being helpless to offer us help due to his empty title. He said he would usually stay at home to write, since he didn't have much of a say before his elder brother anyway. Prince Wedrick quite disliked this little brother of his.
"When I was about to leave, the viscount really subtly hinted that a grave and abrupt change would occur in the kingdom soon, and said it was a shame our two corps were too far away. Otherwise, he would leave the fourth prince and his daughter in our care for their safety.
"I thought he was just joking at first and told him he could definitely let Prince Fredrey and Princess Christie return to the colonies with us for our protection. Viscount Kartoff merely smiled without saying anything. It's only when I suddenly recalled those words on the way back to the three sisters that I understood he wasn't really trying to hand his daughter and son-in-law to us. Instead, he's trying to gauge whether we would support Prince Fredrey in his ascension to the throne..."
Claude smiled in resignation. There was no point in asking for the theatre's approval, since there was no way they could just fly across the Tranquil Ocean. Viscount Kartoff wasn't really seeking their approval. He was only reminding the theatre that they were still part of the kingdom and hinting that they should not cause more trouble.
With Prince Hansbach's actions helping the kingdom lose both of its fleets, the kingdom had no way of establishing contact with the colonies on a large scale. Even if the theatre supported Prince Fredrey's ascension, they wouldn't be able to deploy troops on the mainland unless they got the fleet they captured from the Alliance in order first.