Maria didn't make an empty request. She might have had an epiphany during her conversation with Claude, but, regardless, when she reached Lanu, she quickly revealed her trump card to the five generals: new conditions offered by the kingdom. The council's decision had nothing to do with her. She was merely a messenger.
The council members agreed unanimously to all conditions Fredrey I proposed. The first was that the region was to remain a part of the kingdom. As such, the kingdom would be the final decider of all foreign policy. Beyond that, however, the region would maintain complete autonomy. They would, however, have to present annual reports to the king's government so it could stay up to date with the situation within and the condition of the autonomous region.
All produce from the territory would be sold at the prices they set. They were not given full free trade rights, but they did get ten permits for their primary produce.
The latest set of conditions were essentially a complete concession on the mainland's part. The councillors were at a slight loss to understand how this sudden turnabout had come around, but the declaration of conditions had the king's seal. Had the mainland's position become that desperate?
Maria also brought the five generals' orders of promotion, and the two corps' officiations. It had been three years coming. The king had personally bestowed each general with honorary Titles for the part they'd played in the kingdom's recent wars.
Bolonik and Claude were made full generals. Skri, Eiblont, and Birkin were made lieutenant-generals. Seven other colonels were promoted to major-generals, among them Claude's minions and friends, Moriad, Berklin, and Dyavid. They had finally worked their way through the ranks to become general officers. Myjack was quite fortunate to be Claude's brother-in-law as he had been put on an even greater fast track. He was promoted straight to major-general as well. Four people from Thundercrash had been made generals, and three in Monolith.
The king was even more generous with Titles. He'd given 24 officers new or first time Titles in one go. Claude got the best of it. He was made a hereditary baron, probably due to his pre-existing county. He could now pass his Title to his descendents in perpetuity.
Bolonik was made a trigenerational viscount. Skri, Eiblont, and Birkin were made trigenerational barons. Moriad, Berklin, Myjack, and 16 other high-ranking officers were made honorary barons. The decree declared that the Titles were awarded to the generals for their magnificent contributions to the kingdom's expansion in the recent wars.
Three other councillors were also promoted; the one-armed Bernard, made an honorary viscount -- partly as compensation for the loss of his arm during the assassination attempt -- Saljorak, the chief constable -- he had retired because of that attempt but had later been made chief constable by Claude -- and Weyblon. The last's entitlement surprised everyone. He had the meritorious achievements for it, however. The exorbitant amount of funds he had provided Liboyd to research and improve steam engines, which ultimately resulted in the railway, had changed the region's transportation landscape entirely. Without his support and keen eye, the railway would never have come to fruition. He was also made an honorary baron.
Seven people from the general populace also received Titles. Only five accepted, however. Liboyd was made a hereditary baron for inventing the train and improving steam engines. The four rune magi that had helped him became honorary barons. Sonia and Angelina had refused their titles. They preferred to keep low profiles over the privileges afforded by nobility.
Fredrey I gave out so many Titles because he had two requests. The first was a million crowns in annual tithes and taxes, and the second for their military aid.
"How is the mainland faring?"
"The ministry of the army set up two lines of defence in Kugria, Krimis, Blinmorrow, and Bagasantana. The first royal guard folk and all of Griffon's men are currently manning them. Coupled with another two irregular corps, they have a total of 200 thousand men. The ministry formed two more irregular corps with the Whitestag refugees.
"There are 430 thousand men among the forces of the Union, three corps which belong to Shiks. Nasri has two corps, Canas has one, and the rest is the combined corps of Sidins and Rimodra.
"But as our royal capital is already occupied, the Union's seven corps no longer have much fighting spirit. In the past two months, they only launched two large-scale attacks and retreated after losing a few thousand men to maintain the standoff. However, there are signs they are sending six more standing corps to the frontlines, which will arrive in three months. They might be gearing up for a final attack..."
The gag order from the mainland was now lifted. Every two weeks, an update on the latest developments would be sent to the region.
"Do you think we should deploy?" Bolonik asked.
That question didn't need to be asked. The high-ranking officers were unanimous in their decision. Fredrey I's grand gesture was surprisingly successful. Troops from Thundercrash, Monolith and the patrol fleet alike were clamouring to return to the mainland to teach the darned Union a harsh lesson.
While the region had obtained true autonomy, its citizens still saw themselves as Auerans. Now that the kingdom was in trouble, public opinion was for the region to go to the kingdom's aid. Rows and rows of youths lined up at headquarters or recruitment camps to volunteer for the force to be sent back to repel the invasion.
The two corps were even keener. Shiks' forces had lost time and again against them; the 500 thousand captive labourers the region now had was proof of that. Nasri was also the nemesis of Aueras, and they still hadn't paid Canas back for the losses they suffered at the end of the five-year war. As for Sidins and Rimodra, they were merely husks of their old selves and weren't taken seriously.
Their desire to fight soared through the roof because they didn't think the enemy to be threats and desired to make more achievements. That might be the stepping stone their households needed to make their big break. They also felt a little unused to the feeling of not having any wars to fight in the past few years. That was especially the case after they've been armed with new rifles and cannons. The only thought on their minds was to charge into battle guns blazing. Some even wrote formal requests to be let in to fight.
It was no longer something the five generals could suppress. Even Bolonik and the rest hoped to go back to fight on the mainland. Perhaps, Claude's promotion to hereditary baron inspired them to take the next step forward. It was a hereditary Title which all their descendants could inherit, not just the trigenerational ones that eventually dropped off or mere honorary ones.
"We can deploy," Claude said, calmly, "But we have to make sure we have full autonomy of our troop movements instead of being beholden to the ministry of the army. We are the autonomous region, after all, and our fighting style differs from that of the mainland troops. We also won't need the kingdom to supply us and take their orders. Sometimes, our allies can be scarier than our enemies..."
That finally snapped the generals out of their trance. Sending their troops to fight was fine and dandy, but they definitely wouldn't be taking orders from others, lest they were used as bullet sponges. The ministry of the army was definitely capable of doing something like that, so the region would require explicit rights over their own forces.
"Apart from discussing this with Lady Maria, do you have any other requests?" Bolonik asked.
Skri said, "Perhaps we can ask His Majesty to relax the migratory restrictions. There are up to three million refugees gathered at Whitestag, right? They managed to survive thanks to the aid we provided. If His Majesty allows us to move them to the region, we'll provide another shipment of supplies to the kingdom."
Ever since Thundercrash set off with industrial equipment and refugees from Whitestag, the royal capital forbade all migration to the region to prevent loss of manpower in the mainland.
But with the invasion resulting in another huge wave of refugees, countless people fled their homes to the southwest of the kingdom where Fredrey I resided. They believed the safest place they could be was near the king, and the unending wave of gathering immigrants put quite a lot of pressure on Whitestag.
However, all that was a great chance for the region. Claude had jokingly estimated that they needed up to 15 million citizens to be able to truly prosper. Right now, they were only hovering around seven million. The more developed states with more than a million citizens were only developed a third way through. The states with smaller populations only saw a seventh of their area developed. Other than towns and settlements, most of the land was uninhabited. Skri didn't mind bargaining for more people with military aid.
"Alright. I'll allow making that the second condition," Bolonik said. "Anything else? Is that all? Alright, since we've decided on deploying, let's discuss how and how many. Claude, let's hear it."
Claude rapped on the table as he pondered. "I think both corps will have to deploy, but we'll leave a folk behind to defend here just in case. While we have 20 garrison lines armed with new rifles and won't have to worry even if the Shiksans start another colonial war, it can't hurt to be more careful when it comes to our home.
"The ones who will stay back are soldiers who participated in the five-year war. You should know that a corps or two won't make much of a difference in a battle of this scale. Take the attack on Rimodra, for example. The so-called strongest corps of our kingdom, the royal guard, were sent into battle and lost more than half their number before they were forced to retreat.
"This time around, the war is happening within the kingdom's territory. The enemy won't waste time attacking us and they'll also seek to do the most damage possible. So, we have to demand autonomy so we don't have to dance to the ministry's tune. As for how many we'll send, it's better to send more. The ministry won't be replacing our casualties, after all.
"So, we have to first expand our corps to make sure we have one additional folk each. Thundercrash is a light-cavalry corps most proficient in attack, so I hope there's a reliable force watching our backs. If we're going to send two folks to attack, we need at least one corps of troops to maintain our supply line so we can fight without worry.
"Same goes for Monolith. We'll add another folk to its roster and keep them here in defence. The other two folks will be sent to the kingdom to fight. The region's youths are flooding to apply to join, after all, so we shouldn't let their patriotism go to waste. Let's give them the initial three-month training. As for officers and veterans, we can transfer some from the local garrison lines."
Expanding the troops was something he had chosen to do through necessity. He didn't think the king would be so generous as to promote seven new major-generals in one go. Had Berklin still been colonel, it would've been appropriate for him to lead a line. But it wouldn't look so good for a major-general to do so, since people of that rank were usually appointed as folksmen. Since they were going back to the mainland, it couldn't hurt to have more troops around if they could transport them over effectively. They were granted some leeway with their numbers.
"Alright, we'll go forward with the expansion."
Bolonik was quite used to such tasks by now. After making sure Skri was fine with the expansion, he gave the order immediately. Eiblont and Birkin would be in charge of the new unit hierarchy and training of their respective corps to prepare for battle.
"Although we've reached a unanimous decision to deploy, we still haven't discussed the one million crowns the kingdom demands annually," Skri said, curious to hear the outcome.
Unlike the decision to deploy, which Maria was quite nonchalant about, she fiercely advocated for this. The council voted and rejected that motion, only being willing to compromise at half a million, 100 thousand more than their previous offer of 400 thousand.
Maria angrily pointed out that the gross tax collected in the region was over two million crowns, and they were obligated to give at least half to the kingdom. However, Bernard, the council chairman, argued that the region had taken the kingdom's place to fund Thundercrash and Monolith's spending. If they demanded the region for half their collected taxes, they should start paying for the spending of the two corps.
Maria shut her mouth right away.