On the way back, Claude kept wondering if he should just send his troops out to occupy the Canasian region. Polyvisia was now defended by Monolith and he could definitely order them to defend Eimis and Audin Mountain Range. With Thundercrash controlling the Canasian region, there was no way the kingdom's taint would reach the Sidinsian, Rimodran and Askilinian territories, not to mention the Great Plains of Canas.
All he needed were his two corps and some defences and Aueras would have to bid a third of Eastern Freia goodbye.
There was no way the kingdom could break through the defences Claudes' forces could put up, even less so when they'd also have to compete with the Audin Mountain Range's horrible terrain. It cut their options down to the stretch of passable terrain from Eimis to Polyvisia. It was a shame the noble fiefs were near there. The kingdom required permission to send their troops through and also had to pay fees.
It would be nothing short of the kingdom shooting themselves in the foot. Claude found it quite laughable that the king and the court never imagined that in enfeoffing that many nobles, they were creating more and more obstacles for themselves. That aside, could the kingdom really muster a force large enough to make the effort worthwhile in the first place? Thundercrash and Monolith had exterminated even the 700-thousand-strong Union military, conquering Nasri and Canas in the process.
While the plans were ideal in Claude's mind, were they really implementable?
Aueras could not afford to take on the autonomous region at the moment. Claude was even confident he could wipe the kingdom from the map if it came to it, but what would that do for them in the long run?
If the region went to war with Aueras, he could attack however he wanted. But the region had been maintaining good relations with the kingdom so far. It wasn't wrong to say they were on a honeymoon. If he struck the kingdom down on his own onus, everyone, even his own side, would consider him a traitor.
The Aueran throne was too deep seated in the people's hearts. The royal family's rule over the last three centuries had cemented them as the people's rightful rulers, even for the people who lived on another continent. Any Nubissian settler proudly identified themselves as Auerans in the presence of non-Auerans and took pride in the bloodline that ruled them.
Claude could never reveal his fanciful designs on the throne, nevermind trying to go through with any of them. He would be tying a noose around his neck himself. It would risk rebellion among his men. Then there was the fact that even he, having fought for the kingdom for the last decade and more, had developed a slight, begrudging pride in his heritage.
He let his thoughts run free for a couple days. He ran into Eiblont's messenger about a day's ride from Canpast. The letter messenger said something had changed in the capital and he asked Claude to hurry back to Thundercrash's headquarters.
Claude ditched his escort and charged ahead. Eiblont was waiting for him when he barged into the headquarters.
"The Lord Militant, the council members, and the entitled soldiers have all been captured. The crown's also seized the 30 million crowns they had taken with them. The other council members here with us are demanding we march on the capital."
Claude felt like bursting into laughter. They had handed him an excuse to rebel on a silver platter. He didn't understand why the capital dared to pull such a braindead move. Fredrey I and Blancarte weren't brainless fools. How could someone who had come up with the enfeoffment plan not expect that to provoke a severe reaction?
Even with their three reorganised main corps, Griffon, and Reddragon, they were still using old muskets. Their expertise would mean little against his superior firepower, and the ministry had to be painfully aware thereof. So where did they get the courage, or stupidity, to do this? Did they have no fear for the kingdom's continued existence?
"Don't panic, tell me the whole story," Claude said.
It turned out the Aueran court convened every tenth's day, on the 10th, 20th, and 30th of the month, to report on their business to the royal couple. On other days the cabinet were the only ones to interact with the king.
Lord Militant Bolonik, General Skri, Sir Bernard, and Chairman Henderman had represented Nubissia during the latest of these meetings on the 10th of the 11th month. They bid the king and queen farewell and said they would set out for Nubissia again the following day.
Shocked, the king had asked whether they still wanted fiefs. Bernard had told him the price was too high and they couldn't afford it, so they were turning it down. Blancarte immediately changed his tune and said Bolonik and Skri, being nobles entitled because of their massive contributions, didn't have to pay to get their fiefs. Both, however, turned down even the free fiefs, and in front of the king himself. They explained that Nubissia's entire leadership had agreed that either everyone got their fiefs, or nobody did.
A frigid silence fell onto the court when he said those words. The queen offered to lend them the money. Bernard answered, however, that the problem wasn't having the money, but that the fiefs weren't worth the price. Even if the fiefs were ridiculously profitable, they would take decades, if not centuries, to make back the cost.
It was simply not worth it, especially not after they found out all the discounts and benefits the mainland's nobles had gotten. It was an unfair transaction.
The mention of 'transaction' ruffled many feathers. The sheer audacity of calling the king's bequeathment a transaction was sacrilege! The queen's face contorted in such an avant-garde fashion that no existing words could describe her expression. The king and the ministers' expressions soured immediately.
"Yes, it is a transaction," Henderman said, standing up, "We are paying gigantic sums of money for pieces of land. What is it if not a transaction? The only difference is that we're trading with the king. It's a transaction by the name of enfeoffment. Sure, it sounds better, but that's all. We're nothing but buyers dissatisfied with the price. You cannot force us to buy when we're unwilling."
"Ridiculous!" the queen yelled, "Say you don't have the money if you don't! What a bunch of paupers! Such bumpkins.... Only you lot will call this sacred enfeoffment a transaction! You lowly merchants! Letting you stand in court is the royal family's greatest humiliation! Guards, chase them out!"
Skri stood up.
"Your Majesty, let me remind you that we, the so-called bumpkins, gave you ten years of tax money in advance to resolve the kingdom's financial crisis. Without our bumpkin armies, you would not have a throne today, possibly not even your head. It was those same bumpkin armies that brought down the kingdom's centuries-old enemies.
"We bumpkins held up our part of the bargain, we even expanded the kingdom's dominion to unprecedented extents, and are currently administering those territories on your behalf without a fenny's compensation. Of course, we are grateful for the honours bestowed upon us, and we are more than willing to pay a fair price for our fiefs, but just that: a fair price. Your Majesties are also welcome to step onto the balcony and gaze at the money we apparently don't have."
The court's great hall was built on a hill that overlooked a giant plaza some fifty metres below. The kingdom's ministers received others there. However, the 60 chests the region had brought with them now occupied most of it. Beside each chest stood four tall palace guards responsible for the court's safety. The chests were locked and they were unable to open it, so they could only stay vigilant beside them.
If Bernard and the others wanted to open the chests and move them into the hall, they would have to let the guards check them first. Then again, it was no different leaving them there. However, quite a number of ministers' attendants and maidservants had gathered around them and were guessing at their contents.
"I heard the bumpkins put them here so His Majesty can look at them. I wonder if they're filled with gold?" one attendant asked, unaware of just how accurate his guess was.
His colleagues laughed at him mockingly.
"Haha, no way. How could they all be filled with gold coins? One such chest can store tens of thousands. There's no way those bumpkins are actually so rich to have all sixty of these filled with gold coins."
"I once followed my house's lord to the national treasury. They had a chest double the size of these that could store up to a million crowns. However, I've never seen one such chest ever filled to the brim. They're usually only filled around the bottom. The treasurers have to use a scoop to get the coins out of the chest," said another attendant.
"Hey, don't you think three soldiers can hide in one of those chests? Do you think the bumpkins are trying to stage a coup and use the troops hidden inside those chests to kill our king and ministers?" The conspiracy theories were going wild.
At that moment, four council representatives stepped out of the side entrance of the hall, along with a few curious ministers. The side entrance opened up to a large veranda where some ministers would enjoy tea under the warm sunshine. Everything at the plaza could be seen clearly from there.
"Open the chests!" Skri yelled from the veranda.
Five grey-uniformed guards of the region entered the plaza with a myriad of keys. As they unlocked them, they turned to their palace counterparts and said, "Friends, please be on alert when I open this box. Don't let anyone take advantage of this, or you wouldn't be able to bear the consequences."
One of the palace guards wanted to snap back, but the lock was already undone. The box opened to the blazing sunshine of the afternoon, instantly blasting a torrent of gold into the air. The guard and his three colleagues were shocked frozen. People all around them cried in shock, "Gold! They're gold coins! All gold crowns! Heavens, how much money is that?!"
"It isn't only one chest! All the opened chests are filled with gold crowns! Am I going crazy? Do all the 60 chests contain gold coins?"
Congratulations to the one who guessed right, but there was no prize for it.
It wasn't that the ministers hadn't seen such an amount of money before. As prime minister, Marquis Blancarte had handled a couple bank exchange notes worth ten million crowns himself. However, that was a relaxing and menial office task, only slightly distorted by the obscenely large numerical values printed on those notes. It wasn't like anybody could use those notes for any transactions in the market anyway.
However, the sixty chests contained cold, hard, gold crowns! They cast a golden sheen across the plaza under the sun. The king, queen, ministers, and palace guards and attendants, were dazzled beyond their wildest dreams.
Two loud claps rang out. The region's guards shut the chest once again.
"Each of the 60 chests contain 500 thousand crowns. Thirty million in all," Bernard said, "It's all the reserves our overseas bank has. I'm sure we have proven our sincerity.
"We didn't think the elevation and picking fee would be this much, however. There is no point in buying even the richest fief option at these prices. We may be bumpkin merchants, but merchants know a bad deal when they see it.
"We may never be as proud and noble as you, but we at least think using that money to build more factories, schools, and ironclads is worth much more than buying fiefs at such prices.
"We brought the chests here to show you we do have the money, and were sincere in our desire to pay the fee. It's a shame we couldn't come to an agreement. We will be returning tomorrow, and we'll even have to go through the trouble of shipping the chests back."
After his gleeful speech, Bernard bowed along with Bolonik, Henderman and Skri before they escorted those chests back to the region's office in the royal capital.
"But last night, the palace guards captured the entire delegation, even Lord Militant Bolonik, under Queen Christie's orders! They were brought to Rotsteinsburg, the kingdom's hellish dungeon itself! They used the excuse that the delegation had committed a lese majeste against the royal couple."
Eiblont held an eagle message in his hand.
"Here's some information an informant in the royal capital sent us. Our region's branch is sealed and our 30 million crowns have been seized. It's all probably in the palace."
"Does the rest of the council know?" Claude asked.
"Yes--" Eiblont smiled in resignation. "--the council and honorary nobles that stayed back here already know about this and they're fuming. They demanded us to send our two corps for the royal capital immediately. But at the same time, we received an eagle message signed by His Majesty himself, as well as another from Prime Minister Blancarte.
"They both said it was a huge misunderstanding. According to them, everyone in the capital knew about the region's representatives having 30 million crowns. To ensure their personal safety, they sent their palace guards to invite them to the palace and move the assets to the palace to prevent any malicious third party from taking advantage of the situation."