Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 485

"Our region's been selling goods to the colonies along the western coast since the start of last year. Due to our competitive pricing and the convenience of shipping, the merchants there often order goods from us, but that came to the displeasure of the officials of those colonies. They've levied many tariffs on us as a result."

Skri was the one giving the report. Being in charge of the region's financial matters, he was giving a concluding report on the region's finances of Year 597.

Thanks to Claude's robbing of the mainland's industrial equipment, about a hundred factories were started in the region. They could produce anything the mainland could. After conquering the market in their own territories, they set their sights for the western coasts.

Usually, colonies of Freian nations on Nubissia had the same policies. They would produce ore and other resources as well as serve as a market for their nation's own products. However, the wide Tranquil Ocean separating the two continents made it so that only one to two trade voyages could be made each year. As a result, the demand for goods couldn't be met even after the prices have doubled or tripled.

Yet, the autonomous region could now produce their own goods. The smugglers were the ones who first discovered that business avenue and ordered large amounts of goods from the autonomous region to be resold in the colonies of the western coast, causing sales of the products from the colonies' nations to fall. In terms of price and ordering time, they weren't a match for the autonomous region's.

The governments of those colonies had no choice. Who would happily allow competing products from another nation eat into their profits? The local officials thus levied tariffs, though that didn't solve the root of the problem and instead led to a spike in smuggling. It didn't harm the autonomous region much at all.

The reason for that was the region itself wasn't in charge of the shipment of the goods. The merchants from the western coast themselves went to the region to make their orders and take them back to the western coast to sell themselves. As such, the tariffs only affected the merchants themselves rather than the region.

"Currently, our best-selling product is our smokes, followed by leather goods and gold and silverware. As for machines, smaller steam and air engines are rather popular. Since we categorised the goods under different brands, our products have exploded in popularity at the western coast and Freia," reported Skri. The audience cheered and applauded.

Claude didn't think the sales of cigars and cigarettes would be that impressive. They were produced and immediately shipped, never having to remain in warehouses. Now, Claude had no choice but to start another factory with the council members joining as shareholders and House Ferd owning the largest share of 15 percent to satisfy market demand.

That was the third large venture the council members invested themselves in. The past two were the overseas bank and the railroad company. Claude's personal tobacco factory only produced three brands. The first was the cigar brand, Moonshadow, the second was Herb for cigarettes targeted at women, and the last was a brand for luxury cigarettes, Flamedragon. The tobacco factories the investors were involved in produced lower-quality products. There were two brands, Pegasus and Seaman respectively.

Nowadays, Claude was far beyond the hopes his father Morssen had placed on him before his death. Morssen only wanted to gain some merit by starting a new trade route for an honorary baron Title so that he could further his career as a mayor and maybe become a member of the House of Dignitarians. That way, he could make the Ferd household be the most prestigious family in Whitestag.

But Claude now had the writ to command the troops of the autonomous region and was practically uncontested there. House Ferd was now the most influential and reputable households in the region. Guests flocked to Ferd Manor in Lanu to visit Claude or his mother. There were even some council members who wanted to come curry favour with Kefnie. Nowadays, Madam Ferd often lamented how proud Morssen would be had he still been alive.

"Our railroad company has completed work on a route linking Vebator at the north to Cromwell and Balingana. It's already in use and shows great promise. The railroad connecting the more southern states of Robisto, Anfiston, Mormaly, Tyrrsim and Aduras is also nearing completion. I believe we will start to make our investment back soon enough.

"In the coming two to three years, we still have to build another railroad to connect the region as a whole. The railroad will be laid along the coast. So far, the survey work has completed and work on it will begin soon. It will connect all coastal cities and towns to make transportation of goods in the region much faster," Bolonik reported. He was discussing their future development goals. The region planned to construct three railroads, and one of them had to be on the coastline to improve the speed of transporting ocean goods and mobilising troops.

Since the latter half of Year 596 to Year 597's end, development in the region went on the fast track. With the wars over and no more pressure and trouble from the mainland, the region enjoyed two years of peaceful development towards a prosperous future.

Currently, the four states that have populations above a million were Cromwell, Balingana, Anfiston and Tyrrsim. Among the other five, Loki Mountains had the smallest growth -- only around a town of 70 thousand where trade with the nikancha commenced. Among the 17 mines in the state, only three were being extracted. The miners were sourced from the captive labourers of the region, including the ambassadors and the marines captured in the past year.

Additionally, Aduras' population grew by around 100 thousand, while Vebator, Robisto and Mormaly's demographics didn't shift much. While the total population of the region encroached on seven million, there was still a great lack of manpower. That issue came up in council discussions more than once and they would send Claude to move another three million citizens from the mainland if they could.

Thankfully, they had near 500 thousand Shiksan captives that formed the backbone of the railroad's construction. Claude and Birkin promised to give them adequate food, clothing and residences if they worked hard and contributed to the region.

Not only could they get their fill of food with one meal each day containing meat, they would also be given a large pint of wheat ale if they finished their work quota and a monthly allowance. Basically, they were cheap labourers employed by the government. When they fell sick, they could take breaks and get treatment from apprentice herbalists. Some Shiksans were even considering living in the region after their labour terms ended.

The year-end briefing was held for two days. The first saw their mistakes and shortcomings discussed while the second went over possible future developments and evaluation of current project milestones. At night, they feasted before they went home to their families to start their 15-day-long break. They would only return to work on the 5th of the next year. Naturally, Claude still had to work in the military command centre and even check on his troops on new year's eve.

That year, the year-end briefing concluded like previous year's in the largest tavern in Lanu. The council went all out and reserved the tavern for three days. However, Bolonik wasn't too happy with the tavern and always felt annoyed attending the after-party at the tavern. So, he brought up building a large hall in a council meeting where functions of the council would be held. That way, they could hold their after-parties there and also have the privacy to discuss official matters away from prying ears.

The proposal was immediately approved unanimously and the budget that was given was double the initial amount. Some richer council members even wanted to donate more to make the hall even grander to make Bolonik's proposal worth remembering. They were even planning to name the hall Bolonik Hall.

Claude rode back to Ferd Manor with his escort and found the pregnant Kefnie talking to his pregnant sister. Kefnie was expecting her third child and Angelina had finally birthed her first after many years of marriage. She returned to Ferd Manor to let her pregnancy settle and left the research lab in Blackstone Arms Factory in the care of Sonia and her disciples.

The reason she decided to get pregnant at that time was her training in magic had reached the peak. She was now a peak five-ring rune magus. The only way for her to advance was to seek out ancient artifacts left behind from the lost magic civilisation. However, she was quite lukewarm about that prospect as she believed her current level of magic was more than enough. Searching for artifacts based on no real source but fairy tales was a huge waste of time.

Claude paled much in comparison to her. He was just barely at the edge of becoming a four-ring magus. He would still take a year or two before breaking through, and it was mostly thanks to him training on and off with no consistency. His high position drained most of his attention and energy, especially during wartime, so he had no mind to practice magic at all. Even Bloweyk's level was catching up to his.

In the past few days, there was some trouble at home and it concerned Bloweyk. Madam Ferd had spared no effort in coming up with fitting suitors for him, yet he didn't fancy even a single one of the ladies from affluent households of the council. Instead, he impregnated Adele, the boss girl of the orphans that lived in Anna Farmstead.

Adele was the daughter of an old soldier, Zoft, who died protecting Bloweyk on the battlefield in the war. Before his death, he asked Bloweyk to take care of his daughter, to which he agreed. After the war, Bloweyk went to seek Zoft's family out and found Adele and her siblings, who were living like street rats. To convince her to go along with him, he promised to take the other 20-odd war orphans with them. They finished the journey with an additional 40 or so.

Adele was only 14 when she was taken in. Nowadays, she was still the leader of the orphans in the farmstead and had grown to become 18. Angelina admired her toughness and capabilities and left most of the farmstead to her to manage. Only the heavens knew how Bloweyk managed to woo her, though. By the time her pregnancy started to show, the secret could no longer be kept. Only then did someone from the farmstead report to Madam Ferd about the matter.

She was, needless to say, fuming mad about the matter. She had spent so much effort introducing so many beautiful girls from affluent families to him, only for him to end up bedding a farm girl. Even if that girl's father saved his life, the Ferds had already more than made up for it by taking in his children. She forbade Bloweyk from taking such a lowly farm girl as his wife.

Claude didn't have much to comment about it. People changed, and so did his mother. Perhaps it was their current high standing that caused her to turn like that. Nowadays, she considered herself a noble lady after mingling with other members of high society and started to care more and more about their family reputation. Bloweyk was also the head of House Ferd in name, so she couldn't let him embarrass the whole family before members of high society.

As a result, she fell ill because of the matter. Bloweyk was even more stubborn and would rather stay in the farmstead to take care of Adele than return to Ferd Manor. Claude was quite frustrated himself. At home, he already had to care for two pregnant women, only for his brother to leave home and his mother to fall sick.

"Why aren't you two asleep yet? It's half till midnight, you know," Claude said as he removed his leather coat. Thankfully, the living room had central heating and wasn't that cold. The two women wouldn't be catching colds because of the weather.

"We slept too long in the afternoon and only woke up at five thirty. So, we can't sleep at all now," Kefnie said, "Want something to eat? I'll cook up something for you in the kitchen."

"No, thanks. I'm already full. I'll just go take a warm bath. By the way, is Mother getting better?"

"Same old. Don't go see her," Angelina snapped, "She's not sick at all. When you visit her, she'll sigh and moan like she's breathing her last breaths. But she's healthier than ever and can live easily for three more decades or so. When I brought dinner to her, she flipped out and blamed me for abruptly marrying Myjack and becoming a bad example for Blowk! She's driving me crazy... She's acting like House Ferd is some kind of ancient nobility when our grandfather was just a farmer-turned drunk alcoholic..."

Claude gave a resigned smile. "Let's not ruffle her feathers. You're pregnant now, so you might want to watch your mood. Mother's getting older and the years of being served and attended to caused her to let it get to her head. Even so, we're her children, so we can only tolerate her. If she's doing something inappropriate, there's nothing we can do but bear it. Don't take it to heart.

"I had told Blowk that he shouldn't care about what anyone says as long as he likes her. Just like shoes, you'll never know whether they're a good fit until you try them on, no matter how beautiful or expensive they are. Sometimes, they just don't fit no matter the price. As long as we are strong, there's no need to care about what others think. Perhaps Mother will change her mind when Adele finally gives birth..."

Claude sunk into his tub with a heavy heart and sigh. He saw the blue folder on his shelf and knew that it was the summary report Masonhughes had sent him. He didn't hand it in personally so as not to interrupt his meeting, so it appeared that it wasn't an urgent matter. It was still relatively peaceful.

Lazily, he picked up the folder and saw that it contained news from Whitestag about the royal capital. Nasri sent a few ambassadors to the royal capital to discuss the matter of the debt Aueras owed them. The late Stellin XI had taken three high-interest loans from Nasri and the due date for the payment was the 6th month of next year. The total sum amounted to eight million crowns.

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