"Did you hear any news about Welikro in the royal capital?" Claude asked.
Welikro was among the closest friends Claude had in his childhood. He had moved to the royal capital and later joined the royal guard. They met once during the five-year war at the knighthood award ceremony. Just like Claude, Welikro was given the award for his excellent marksmanship and sniping of more than 200 enemies.
Borkal nodded, but then shook his head again. "I didn't meet Welikro, though I did hear about him. When I was at Baroness Maria's banquet, I got to know a logistics officer from the royal guard, Major Nickson. After talking for a bit, I found that he was Welikro's brother-in-law. Welikro managed to earn merit during the civil war and was promoted to the rank of lieutenant-colonel. He is now stationed at the prefecture of Limasosya.
"He got married five years ago to the second daughter of a hereditary count. As a result, he got a large manor in Limasosya. For that reason, he applied to be stationed in the prefecture. So far, he has a son and daughter and lives a blessed life. His father, Uncle Kubrik, is rather old and loves to drink, so his health isn't exactly in peak condition. He's now living in the manor as well."
"Time really flies. Back then, we were merely middle-schoolers in Whitestag, living carefree lives and doing nothing but fooling around. Yet, now we have our own children in the blink of an eye," Claude lamented as he went to the wine rack to get a bottle of fruit wine to pour for his guests. However, Rublier said he would continue drinking red tea as his age was catching up with him.
Borkal sighed as he reminisced about their happier days in Whitestag. After a solemn moment, he picked up the glass of wine Claude poured him and took a sip. He hesitated for a moment before he said, "Actually, I met Eriksson on the way back. He led the Blacksail pirates to raid our refugee ships..."
Claude looked at him and downed his glass of wine before pouring himself a second glass. "What did he say to you?"
"This... He wants a deal with the war theatre..."
Claude didn't ask what it was about. He furrowed his brow as he wracked his brains before saying, "Tell me about your meeting and conversation."
"I didn't recognise him at all at first. He looks completely different than he did and gave off a wild, domineering impression. His hair is so long that it almost reached his hips and he also has a large blade scar on his face. His eyes are sharp and he seems much tougher than before, though he's still the shortest among us four.
"When we ran into each other at sea, they sailed to us without hesitation after seeing that we have no escorts. I could only order my guards to hide in various spots of the ship so we can get the pirates' leader the moment he arrives.
"All my ship did was hang up the flag of parley. The pirates seemed rather disciplined and didn't board us after they surrounded us. Instead, they merely tried to intimidate us with their cannons and weapons raised. They tried to frighten the refugees with fierce words and expressions. Many of them broke down crying on the spot.
"Eriksson led his ship to mine. The closer he came, the more familiar he seemed. I tried calling his name out and only then did he recognise me thanks to my drastically different figure. After that, he ordered his men to look after us and sail together.
"However, he's really careful and didn't board my ship. Instead, he invited me and my father to meet him on his ship. It was a class-three long-distance warship, his current flagship, though heavily modified. The cannons on deck are decreased and replaced by two sails, stabilising the ship much more and allowing it to sail much faster.
"A few other pirates recognised us as well and were all too glad to see us. They called our names out excitedly. Though I don't really know them, my father later told me that they used to be citizens of Whitestag, sailors that used to serve on Captain Altroni's Shark of Red Sea. During Eriksson's mutiny, they took their families along to join him.
"Eriksson received us in his cabin and asked me what I wanted. I simply told him we needed some fresh meat since we only had bread for the fortnight we were at sea. I wanted meat so much I dreamt of it. He laughed and went on to ask me what that fleet of mine was about, so I told him what happened. He sighed when he heard about Whitestag's destruction before he instructed his cook to make us a sumptuous dinner.
"After our meal, he proposed to bring us to the place where his parents are living in seclusion. He was on his way to sail to meet them, after all. He said he joined Storm in the first place to search for his father. When he finally found him, he mutinied and took his mother and the families of the other sailors away to form Blacksail.
"His parents now live on an island somewhere deep in the Tranquil Ocean. There are three large islands and tens of smaller ones that form an archipelago there. The island his parents are on can support up to 30 thousand people. So far, all the families of the pirates live there. There are around six thousand of them. He also led his pirates to take over a few islands among the Nubari Islands and became one of the members of the pirates of the thousand islands.
"Every three months, he would sail to the island where their families lived once to bring them some of the goods they raided. When he offered to take the refugees along, I refused, telling him that it wasn't nearly that simple. We have around 60 thousand refugees, much more than the original inhabitants of the island. That's a dangerous demographic for an outgroup to have. Eriksson can't guarantee his ability to support feeding so many people either.
"I did give him a suggestion, however. If he needed immigrants, he could simply recruit the sailors of the kingdom who lost their jobs at the mainland and take their families to that island. Not only would he be able to increase the population of the island that way, he could ensure their loyalty. It's much better than taking our refugees in. He'll also be able to control the number of people he takes in, so he wouldn't have to worry about the sudden influx of new immigrants causing trouble for the island.
"He merely laughed and praised me for being much smarter than before. He then said he didn't necessarily have to take the refugees in and hoped that my family at least would be able to follow him. He said he wanted to found his island nation like the United Kingdom of Fochs one day, and by then he'd make me a hereditary duke. I refused him immediately, telling him that I had my duty to fulfil, and if our old relationship still meant anything to him, he should allow me to return to the war theatre.
"He merely sighed and stopped trying to ask me to come along. Since news flowed much faster around the Nubari Islands, he informed me of the news of our victory against Shiks. He also wants me to tell you he felt sorry about wronging you back then in Whitestag, since he didn't know that his father was a partner in your father's venture. He was under the impression that his father was only a hired captain and fell to a pirate attack because of your father's assignment.
"He knows quite a lot about our colonies, so I suspect he has some informants here too. He told me he knew you were one of the five greats here, so he forbade his men from raiding in your waters so as to not cause you trouble. But he had a request he wanted me to relay to you in the end.
"If our colonies can trade with his Blacksail Islands, he will guarantee that Blacksail will never go against the war theatre. We can even hire them to attack other pirates and Shiksan fleets that try to harass us in our waters. As for what we trade them, he wants cannon ammunition, some military equipment as well as food and daily supplies.
"I found it quite weird back then and asked him why he didn't have secure access to a market to trade. He immediately cursed and said there were smugglers among the Nubari Islands, but the price they offered was far too low, often being a third or a quarter of the market price.
"Most of the Blacksail pirates are Auerans, which makes it even worse for them. They always get the worst prices while trading with other nations' merchants. But if they don't rely on them, they won't be able to supply themselves, so they could only endure it and pretend to fall for the bad deal. That's why he wants me to ask whether you'd be willing to trade with them."
"So Eriksson let your fleet go and even provided you with food and fresh water?" Claude asked. Borkal immediately nodded.
Claude looked at Borkal's father, who had been sipping his tea quietly at the coach, and asked, "Uncle Rublier, what do you think about Eriksson?"
He looked up and said, "The way I see it, you few young ones have changed lots. Nowadays, you hold a high position and great reputation across the colonies and the western coast. The war theatre also bends to your word, allowing you to solve most issues with one word. Eriksson, on the other hand, changed almost as much as you have, but now he's a pirate boss while you're the kingdom's general.
"Despite being one of the five greats of the war theatre, you don't let it get to your head and consider everything properly before doing something so as to not let others get a grasp on your weakness. Eriksson, however, doesn't have that quality. He does things without much consideration. For instance, when we told him we were a fleet of refugees, his first thought was to ask us to go to his lair without considering whether it can even accommodate so many people.
"When he said he wanted to form a nation like the United Kingdom of Fochs and make Borkal a duke, I knew he had great ambition. He doesn't take the other nations seriously. Perhaps it's a result of living a life free of restrictions as a pirate. He thinks everything will go his way and nobody would foil him.
"As for the trade request, I would suggest against accepting it. He's trading to increase his power and expand the scale of Blacksail. Now, I regret letting Borkal give him the suggestion to recruit sailors from the mainland. Then again, he had to do it so that we'll be allowed to leave."
Claude looked down and slowly sipped at his fruit wine. Rublier's view on the matter was rather simple. He didn't care that Eriksson used to be a good friend of Claude and his son. He only expressed his opinions of his person alone. Naturally, his view as a merchant was definitely coloured by the bias of hating robbers and pirates who didn't work for their keep. They were completely incompatible.
However, there were a few points worth Claude's consideration. Rublier said Eriksson was an ambition-filled person who couldn't bear to be bogged down by rules or restrictions. In other words, he didn't see the arrangement between Eriksson and the war theatre working out. His bringing up of Claude's status and Eriksson's wild ambitions almost hinted that Eriksson wouldn't settle with his current position or accept Claude's orders.
Secondly, the moment Borkal suggested that Eriksson recruit more crew at the mainland, Eriksson gave up on the refugees. Obviously, he was going to follow the suggestion. Then, he went on with his grand speech about expanding Blacksail now that the kingdom was helpless to defend its coasts from them. They were free to raid as they pleased.
Thirdly, with manpower and wealth, Blacksail's expansion was inevitable. However, they would need large numbers of arms and gear, which simple raiding wouldn't get them. They also needed to ensure there were enough supplies to sustain those living in their lair, which Eriksson definitely wouldn't be able to purchase from the colonies of the western coasts. Even if he could, it wouldn't be worth transporting them so far away.
That was why their ideal trading partner was the war theatre. It was also the reason Rublier didn't want Claude to agree to that deal. They only managed to escape because of Borkal's suggestion. Not trading arms with Blacksail could also help limit the rate of their growth, and the war theatre wouldn't be considered their accomplices either.
What Rublier didn't understand, however, was that the war theatre needed time to make up for the deficits incurred during the war so that development may begin anew. That was a point Claude had taken into account. Refusing the trade with Eriksson was simple, but that would cause them to be one of Blacksail's targets.
During the colonial conflict, few pirates dared sailed to the war theatre's coasts, mainly because they were afraid of meeting their doom at the hands of the Shiksan fleets. Now that the conflict was over, the sea routes near the coasts would definitely grow more active. A trade route in a time of peace would no doubt attract all sorts of pirate factions' attention. Before the war theatre formed their own fleet, their coasts and waters were at risk of pirate attacks.
Eriksson had noticed that point and offered to deal with the other pirates. It was one of the ways he could establish his territory and force the war theatre to agree to his terms.
It seems that Uncle Rublier's right. Eriksson's ambition is huge, so there's no point in recruiting him to become the war theatre's admiral. It's too bad he is rather short sighted. Does he really think his descendants can continue his legacy of piracy?
Claude had never taken the pirates seriously, but now, he needed time. After the railway and trains were ready in the war theatre, the next step was to apply the steam engines to the ships. He would form an ironclad fleet powered by steam engines. By then, even the so-called invincible navies of the Freian nations would be no match for him, to say no more about Blacksail.
Blacksail's might was indeed formidable in the age of sail, but when the time of ironclad warships came, they would only be able to run and hide. Craftsmen and manpower could indeed construct sail-powered ships. But no pirate force would have the technological and financial capability to build ironclad vessels.
But before that could be realised, the war theatre still needed to form their own fleet using the warships of the Alliance's navy. They would have to train their navy and naval officers to set a firm foundation for the ironclad fleet as well as ensure the safety of the colonies' waters.
Claude rapped on the desk with his fingers. There were too many things to consider. Before he decided on whether to trade with Blacksail, the war theatre would still have to deal with the ambassadors from the royal capital. It had been nearly four months since Shiks' loss, so the royal capital must've received word of it by then. With the threat of war out of the way, the new nobility would be all too happy to sail to the colonies. Perhaps, in their eyes, the colonies were just a piece of juicy meat waiting to be bitten into.