Claude was nowadays the male nanny of the house. Kefnie had finally given birth to a daughter in the 2nd month and Angelina delivered her and Myjack's son in the 3rd, adding two younglings to Ferd Manor. Swarms of people came to congratulate them, making Claude so busy he couldn't even catch a breath. Thankfully, Myjack was there to tend to Angelina and help to receive guests.
Claude hadn't been home for Tesoray and Beuergarcy's births. When his eldest son was born, he was being trained in the military college. During his second son's birth, he led Thundercrash in the fight against Shiks. In a rare exception, he was there during his daughter's birth and stayed by his wife's side the whole time. He was completely euphoric when he finally found that his child was a girl.
Madam Ferd also stopped feigning illness after the birth of the two children. She also let Bloweyk do whatever he wanted at Anna Farmstead. However, the estimated date of Adele's delivery was the end of the 6th month, some two months away. Bloweyk agreed to take half a year off from the military to spend time with Adele awaiting the birth of their lovechild.
The autonomous region was all too peaceful and quiet. It was the same with regards to news from the kingdom. Apart from the trouble with the three high-interest loans the kingdom owed Nasri, things were slowly turning better. In one sense, Claude moving 1.6 million refugees to the colonies was a huge help to Fredrey I in eliminating a huge element of instability from the kingdom.
Word was that after Aueras couldn't get a satisfying deal from Nasri, they stopped owning up to the debt racked up by Stellin XI altogether. Some even suggested for them to not acknowledge it completely. If Nasri wanted the money back, they were free to look for Stellin XI for it. Stellin XI was already long dead, after all, so they could pin it all on a dead person.
In contrast, however, Fredrey I was rather moderate and reserved. He had a clear mind and knew that Aueras was no longer the powerful nation that could dominate Eastern Freia from five years ago. He expressed his willingness to have a fair negotiation with Nasri's ambassador, and that the capital was willing to pay back the money owed at the normal interest rate, totaling up to 5.6 million crowns in total. After all, Stellin XI only got 4.8 million.
But the Nasrian ambassador weren't willing to compromise. He gave them two options. First, they were to pay back all eight million crowns before the deadline. Second, they could borrow another loan of eight million crowns for a three-year term to pay back old debts with new ones. However, they would have to pay back a total of 12 million crowns once the time comes.
The options were flat out rejected by Fredrey I and the ministers, causing the two sides to end up in a deadlock. However, the past three high-interest loans' term would end on the 8th month. The Nasrian ambassador even threatened to collect the debt with their army if they defaulted on their debt.
However, nobody took the threat seriously. Even if Nasri really sent two standing corps to the borders of the two nations, Fredrey I would only order Reddragon to increase their defence at the border. Even with the current sad state of Aueras, their army still didn't take the losers seriously. The threat of the Nasrian soldiers was nothing but a joke to them.
All was well and peaceful in the world. The current priority of the autonomous region was the construction of the second railway after the populace had experienced the convenience offered by the first. Travelling was much safer and easier nowadays and much time and manpower was saved when it came to the transportation of goods. It was as if the whole region's economy was being pulled behind a train car at high speeds. Anyone willing to work their fair share would be rewarded by a fulfilling job.
The region was still implementing all sorts of policies. During the former half of this year, the 150 thousand troops from both corps would be switching out their uniforms and other gear. They would all be armed with new rifles and dressed in revamped uniforms. Nowadays, both Thundercrash and Monolith had a new special-operations clan that reported only to corps command as well as a mobile-cavalry tribe. Each corps now had a total of 75 thousand people.
Soon, the region would work on arming the garrison lines with new rifles as well as preparing new light-infantry cannons for the two corps. The warships of the fleet would also be modified to use steam engines, making them sail-engine hybrids. A prototype of the new ironclad warship was also being built. It would be field tested in the ocean during the latter half of the year.
The southern train station in Lanu was one of the busiest areas of the autonomous region.
"Wow! Lanu is full of people everywhere!" the long-faced man exclaimed once he disembarked, "It looks like the capital. There are so many people and carriages and wide roads..."
The leader checked the map he got from a book store at the train station. "It states here that there are 400 thousand permanent residents in Lanu, the capital of the autonomous region. It's also the financial and administrative centre, so it's no surprise."
The round-faced man sighed. "If only the region's troops could help His Majesty during the civil war, His Majesty wouldn't have been assassinated and we wouldn't have fallen to this point. We used to think that this region was like the colonies on the western coast, but it seems we were wrong."
The leader's face grimmed.
"No matter how good they are running things, they are still traitors. Not only did they betray His Majesty, he also betrayed the vile villains at the mainland. Otherwise, they wouldn't have declared self-governance. Once we deal with that vile woman, we'll see if we have a chance to give these bumpkins a lesson. We'll show them that betraying His Majesty will not go unpunished... Alright, let's go find a place to stay in first before you go collect more information about her."
"Alright, Chief," the other two said.
"Hey, you there, stop." Two constables dressed in black uniform took note of the ten plus men there. "Where are you from? What are you doing here and do you have identification?"
The leader's face shifted into one full of smiles. "Nice to meet you. We are from Krusuya. This is the identification papers we got from the checkpoint."
The two constables read the registration form and put an official stamp on it, certifying that they've passed the test.
"You're here to buy goods, right? You should head to the western sector. That's the business sector of Lanu where most things are sold," the constable said with a joyful look. "You can live there as well. There are many large taverns and inns, as well as restaurants. Some don't even close down at night."
"Thank you, thank you... It's our first time here. Thankfully, you were here to guide us. We'd have to fumble around for the good part of the day had it not been for your help."
The other constable patted the round-faced man's large backpack, causing the leader to stiffen. "Since it's your first time here, let me remind you to not carry ranged weapons or firearms on the streets. Keep them in your quarters. If you run into trouble, look for constables. We will make sure you get fair treatment."
"Alright, thanks. We understand."
When they left, the round-faced man wiped the sweat off his forehead. "This station seems far stricter than other stations. We were immediately noticed when we disembarked."
The leader turned to look at the leaving constables and sighed. "This is the capital of the region, so it's a given that security will be tighter. Let's go and hail a carriage to the western sector first."
"What did you say?! The research lab at Blackstone has researched a rapid-fire rifle that can shoot 38 times nonstop?!" Claude looked at the messenger with shock. Sonia knew the importance of keeping it a secret, so she didn't use a carrier eagle and chose to send a personal messenger.
"Yes, General. I saw the rapid-fire rifle myself. After pulling the trigger, it fired 38 times and completely destroyed the targets," the messenger said.
"Good. Rest here for two days. We'll head to the factory together after that." Claude pulled the rope bell to call Masonhughes in to settle the messenger in. He also had a message sent to the railway station to reserve a carriage for his trip to Vebator two days later.
The five generals of the region enjoyed the special privilege of attaching one of their own carriages to the rear of the train. The carriage was armoured on the outside and would be able to block musket and cannon fire from close range. That would eliminate all safety concerns when they travelled.
Claude was wracking his mind over how Sonia came up with the machine gun. He had never told her how one should work or look like. Hadn't Liboyd gotten her to work on the heavy-class cannons meant to be used on ironclad warships once their light-infantry prototype was set? Since when did she change her focus to machine guns?`
Either way, he had to see it for himself.
Two days later, he took a band of guards to the train station. The readied train was still at the platform. The passengers were already boarded, watching Claude and his cohort disembarking from their carriages.
Claude entered the last carriage at the end of the train. It was equipped with its own mini toilet, kitchen, bedroom, lounge and a study. At the very front was the guard's room that was connected to the normal passenger and cargo carriages. They took the carriage next to the special carriage to take their 15 war horses along just in case they should need it due to some problem midway.
The stationmaster, a fat, middle-aged man, ran over and handed Claude all the newest newspapers he could find for him to kill time during his ride. Claude thanked him and soon, the train whistle blew to signal departure.
If they marched from Lanu to Dorinibla River on horseback, it would take a day and night if they were fast and another day more if they were slow. That was mainly because they had to care for their mounts and not ride them for longer than 40 minutes a time. Sometimes, riding on horseback was even worse than travelling by long-distance horse carriage. Workhorses could run for two hours a time with half-hour breaks in between, being much more endurant than war horses.
Yet, it now it only took a short six hours for them to travel the same distance. Once they disembarked and crossed the river, there was another train waiting. The current railway was split in half by the river. There were three states northside of the river and five south. As Loki Mountains was a mountainous state, there was difficulty building railroads there, so it was not included in the plans.
Claude picked up one of the papers by the name 'Lanu Daily'. The headline was about a murder where the culprit had escaped. It piqued his interest. Lanu's security was said to be improving. There had been no foul play since half a year back. How did one suddenly happen just two days after he stopped reading the papers?
He read it from beginning to end. Two non-local smugglers had been killed in the southwestern residential sector of Lanu. It was said that a female herbalist came here half a month ago and rented the house where the murder happened to sell her super-effective medicinal paste.
One of the two murdered smugglers was a Lesnian that came from the colony of Krusuya. There were 20 of them in total and they were probably there to stock up on goods. According to the investigations, the smugglers immediately poked around for the herbalist's whereabouts the moment they arrived in Ankanor, allegedly to ask about the medicinal paste they sold to a restaurant owner.
One of the smugglers was said to have a father that suffered from serious joint pain and couldn't get out of bed. That was why he was intent on looking for the herbalist to buy her ointment. But now, it appeared that the smugglers were trying to get the recipe for the ointment instead. After all, sailors eventually succumbed to joint pain and sensitivity. Managing to get that recipe was akin to finding a gold mine that could be passed down through the family for generations to come.
The constables had that suspicion because the two smugglers that died in the herbalist's quarters were fully armed with custom-made muskets, many poisoned arrows and crossbows. They approached the residence at midnight, obviously intent on causing trouble. Some neighbours said that they heard a few gunshots and the harsh bark of a dog.
Now, the whereabouts of the herbalist was unknown, whether she had managed to escape or she was captured by the accomplices of the two dead smugglers. The two smugglers also left their lodging, Mona Inn in the western sector, and were nowhere to be found. The constables noticed that they left in a hurry due to the amount of luggage they left behind, so they made an announcement throughout the region to keep an eye out for those smugglers.
Claude didn't really mind, since there were all too many smugglers from the western coast. The region only managed to sell the goods they produced to other colonies through them. Usually, as long as smugglers didn't infringe on the region's interests, the constables would turn a blind eye to their little conflicts. However, endangering the lives of other inhabitants was a different story.
The newspaper also reported that the herbalist was not a local. It was likely that the case would soon be buried under many others. While the newspaper reported that wanted notices were posted for those smugglers, Claude believed the constables of Lanu wouldn't do more than pasting a few notices at the train station and port before calling it a day. They wouldn't bother posting the notices in other towns.
At three in the afternoon, they arrived at the bank of Dorinibla River. There was a special floating bridge made for passengers of the train to cross. The small station was surrounded by tall fences and brick walls to prevent anyone outside from getting in. Once the passengers got off, they went to the next station on the other side of the bank for the next train that had the same number of carriages. The passengers would assume their same seats with the tickets they bought.
Claude waited for the passengers to cross before taking his guards along. There was also another additional carriage at the end of the train. Once he got in, Masonhughes came to report to him that the train would take another half an hour before it departed as there were some who crossed the bridge and were lining up for tickets.
The train only started rumbling along after six when the passengers were served dinner.