Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 496

Negotiations with the ambassadors fell apart once more. In their eyes, the region had truly committed treason this time around. Not only did they not agree to their demands, they also wanted to use the kingdom's crisis as a chance to effectively gain independent rule. What could that be other than treason?

Claude being the head of the region's military, stated that they could be affiliated to Aueras and submit to them in name and take an identical stance to them when it came to foreign policy. However, all administration, policies, staffing, finances and military matters were to be independent from the kingdom. However, they could accept having the ministry of the army preside over their troops in name. The region would send in lists of people to be promoted, but they were merely notices and they wouldn't require the kingdom's permission.

Apart from that, the council's executive committee also demanded a few conditions with regards to maritime trade, such as tax exemptions or rebates for their goods in Aueras. Back then, the kingdom's goods enjoyed the same benefits whereas anything sold from the colonies had to be taxed heavily. It was yet another suppression tactic the kingdom used on them.

In some sense, the kingdom didn't really have a choice but to adopt such policies. Stellin X really did have quite good foresight in this regard. With the colonies occupying so much territory and being so rich in resources, importing them all to the kingdom for manufacturing would greatly decrease production costs.

Had the kingdom not suppressed the colonies, the wealth of the kingdom would quickly flow the other way. Displacement of wealth also implied huge emigration to the colonies as production required large numbers of skilled technicians and workers. By the time the colonies developed enough, the kingdom would have a hard time holding the leash on them. They were separated by the Tranquil Ocean, which would give them hardly enough time to react to the multitudes of unstable elements in the colonies. That was why all the colonies had to be was a place to produce raw material for the kingdom.

However, the colonial wars changed everything and led to this day. As Stellin X foresaw, economic development in the colonies caused them to break free from the kingdom's control. Never again would they be a mere raw-material producer for the kingdom.

The reason the committee brought out those conditions was the region could now produce the products the kingdom needed at better prices, quality and quantity. In the eyes of the committee, the 27 million people in the mainland were a huge market. The removal of tariffs thus became their first priority.

There were other conditions stipulated with regards to trade, all targeted towards abolishing the monopolistic policies of the old nobility and the new nobility on the mainland, such as the fixing of prices, allowing only one company to operate in a certain area and so on. What the region wanted was a free market. They weren't afraid of competition.

The true push for a free market came mainly from the council members who had involvement with the means of production. They weren't like the new nobility of the kingdom who merely paid lip service to the idea of free market when in fact they wanted a monopoly and forbade competition.

The region was quite brash in that regard and welcomed competition. They only wanted fair business practices and licences to trade. As long as the region was allowed to do business on the mainland, they were confident they could completely crush all competition with their competitive pricing and quality.

To encourage the ambassadors to agree to those terms, they also agreed to hand in a tax sum of 300 thousand crowns to the kingdom and 100 thousand in tribute to the Stellin royal family itself. They would also throw in a one-time donation of agricultural products worth 1.2 million crowns, which was the total of the above-mentioned tribute amount over the past three years since the wars ended.

As for mineral resources, the committee refused to provide them for free, but would agree to loan them some money for a subsidy to sell them to the kingdom for 80 percent of the price to help the kingdom with production of military gear. The mortgage for the low-interest loan would be the yearly tribute and tax to be provided to the kingdom.

However, the ambassadors thought the conditions were ludicrous and angrily refused, cutting off negotiations altogether without bothering to forward the terms to the mainland for further discussion.

But as the kingdom was in dire straits, the ambassadors tried their best to curry favour with the council members personally and finally got the council to approve one thing: the transport of agricultural goods worth 1.2 million crowns to stave off the famine. They also agreed that the goods would in effect be payment for the taxes and tributes for this and the past two years, which the ambassadors signed in writing.

After that was done, the ambassadors returned to the mainland with their supplies. As far as they were concerned, that was enough to call their mission a success. Those goods would be able to help them survive the famine if they rationed them properly.

Claude and the rest were relieved they managed to deal with them and get them to leave. There were far too many more important affairs in the region that they could no longer afford to deal with the ambassadors any longer. Those goods provided were not worth much to the council members anyway. With the region already so prosperous, nobody wished to go back to the days when they were still ruled by the kingdom.

This time around, Claude went to Port Patres in Robisto to set the design for the first batch of ironclad warships. After three tests, Liboyd finally admitted that Claude's design for the ships made more sense. He removed the firing windows on the sides of the ship for the smaller cannons under the deck and installed a heavy cannon at the front while also increasing the ballasts' size to better balance the ship.

However, the shape of the ship still looked a little too oval to Claude and not long enough. More importantly, Liboyd was still unwilling to get rid of those three masts with the reason that the ship could still sail with the winds if they ever ran out of coal. That way, slow as they would be, they'd still be able to return to a port.

Claude didn't want to argue over that aspect again. Liboyd was, after all, not a ship specialist and had learned it along the way. He had grown up seeing nothing but sail ships and his design echoed them as well. Claude only hoped that he would slowly improve upon them batch after batch.

There were six in the first batch of ironclad warships. The three three-masted sail-steam hybrids were called destroyers by Claude. Each had six middle-class-ship cannons, basically enlarged versions of light-infantry ones, with four at the front and two at the rear. On the flanks were three fixed ship versions of light-infantry cannons.

During the test firing, the heavy cannon was able to fire up to two thousand metres away whereas the light cannons on the flanks could shoot up to 1200 metres away. At present, sail boats only started shooting at each other when they were around three hundred metres apart before going in for boarding. The ironclad warships were way ahead of the rest of them; it was a whole new technological paradigm. The only concern was having to find cannoneers with really good eyesight who could aim incredibly well, mainly really experienced cannoneers. Claude wasn't capable of making sights that accurate for cannons.

As the admiral of the region's own long-distance patrol fleet, Moriad was among the first to check the ship out. He was totally smitten with it, even telling Claude that whether they managed to hit the enemy wouldn't matter since they wouldn't be able to hit them if they were that far away. Not to mention, if shooting wasn't going to work, they could go for ramming. They would be able to take ten times their number.

Nowadays, Port Patres had been developed into the largest shipyard in the region. To accommodate the construction of the warships, the five generals gathered the council members to invest in a new metal refinery near the port to produce the stainless-steel plates required for the warships. They even hired two rune magi for the highest of salaries and best of benefits to research how to produce steel plates with great resistance to corrosion and unique properties.

In the long-term plans of the region, a fleet of more than 40 ironclad warships was to be formed, tacked on with another hundred plus ironclad transport ships. The total amount of money invested into that plan was 12 million crowns. It would be implemented in the course of ten years, so the funds would also be split across the years. Once the fleet was complete, it was projected they would be able to make that money back in three to four years from maritime trade.

However, the ironclad warships were very much a concept still in testing, with many vestiges from the Age of Sail. Had it not been for Claude's insistence, Liboyd even wanted to remove the ballasts from the design. He believed only wooden ships required ballasts since they weren't tough enough whereas one made of such thick metal plates would be spared from leaking and sinking.

Thankfully, Claude managed to convince him that the sinking of metal would be even faster without ballasts, so spending an extra month to add those in would definitely be worth it. Liboyd had intended to wrap up work on those six ships during the 4th month and make another patrol ship Claude called a five-masted class-2 sail warship.

By the time Claude returned to Lanu, it was the 1st month of Year 599. It wasn't that he didn't want to return to his home to spend new year's even with his mother and wife, but Sheila started throwing a tantrum, knowing that Claude would leave her sad and lonely if he did go back. So, she pestered him and insisted on going to the seaside for walks daily, saying how much she loved the sea and forcing him to stay in Port Patres with her on new year's eve.

In the end, he spent more than two months enjoying the ocean breeze with Sheila there. After new year's eve, Sheila more or less had enough of the place and seafood, so they returned to Lanu. Naturally, she knew the reason Claude went along with her whims was he felt bad for not meeting her for the past ten years. So, she hurried him home the moment they reached Squirrel Manor in the western sector of Lanu.

Ferd Manor was truly deserted during new year's eve and the next day itself. Basically, nobody bothered to visit the place, save for the ladies that usually hung out with Kefnie and Madam Ferd. Even then, they only made brief visits before leaving, much to the two hosts' surprise. Madam Ferd had prepared a speech, but there was nobody to present it to!

"Why have you only come back right now?" She blamed the lack of guests all on Claude's absence.

He merely said he was far too busy with work.

However, she complained that the war was over and there shouldn't be that much more to do. Since he didn't have to go to the battlefield, couldn't he at least stay home for two days?

Claude merely smiled in resignation. There was no way he was going to get through her. She brought up Morssen as an example, citing that he could go home every night no matter how busy he was as the town's chief administrator and even host guests from time to time.

She droned on about the good times during House Ferd's glorious days in Whitestag, boasting that everybody gave her discounts while shopping. If Claude, being a general, still had to run about like an errand boy and couldn't return home more than a couple times a year, he might as well resign.

His mother was probably the only person in the world who would compare the position of a commander-in-chief and general with a chief administrator of a mere town and even come to the conclusion that Morssen was doing much better than his son. Claude looked at Kefnie and wondered if she intentionally told his mother about Sheila to get back at him. However, she acted completely normally and removed his uniform before helping him to change into casual wear like she always did.

The moment he reached home, someone came to visit. It was Weyblon and his wife. Madam Ferd was elated that she finally had someone to blabber to and ran off with Weyblon's wife on a gossip-filled tea party. Weyblon, on the other hand, was there to report good news to Claude. He had managed to forge his killer product in the factory in Lanu: the steel helmet Claude suggested.

He even brought a production sample along with him. It was slightly rounded at the top complete with a spike. Both sides of the helmet had protrusions with holes in them for fastening some internal cushioning onto them. With the cushioning, there was no need to worry about a shattered skull or heavy concussion once the bullet was deflected. He had finally finished the task Claude assigned him.

What Claude didn't understand, however, was the spiked top.

Weyblon explained that the craftsmen of the factory found a normal, rounded, steel design really ugly. So, they put a spike on top to make it more intimidating.

Claude could only shake his head. Helmets were helmets -- mere tools to give soldiers adequate head protection. Their main function was to protect against muskets and shrapnel in this era, so there was no need to be that fancy. Putting a spike on top and foregoing the unibody construction of a simple round top would rid the helmets of their practical purpose. Putting a spike meant having to puncture a hole first for the spike to go through, which would render it unable to be used as a bowl or pot in times of need.

Had it not been for the casualty reports he had read, he wouldn't have asked Weyblon to make him a helmet. When he read that six-tenths of shoulders on the battlefield died because shrapnel or bullets struck their head, the idea immediately occurred to him.

"Remove this spike. We can't have holes on the top of the helmet." By the time he finished his explanation on its practicality, Weyblon said he would deal with it immediately.

"Take these few helmets to headquarters first for General Bolonik to inspect. Once it passes the requirements, we'll order 200 thousand of them for our two corps first. As for whether the garrison forces need them, it's still under consideration," Claude said after some thought. "Once these are done, experiment on making the military shovel I drew for you the last time. This equipment will soon be standard issue in our forces. There's a lot of profit to be made."

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