After two years, Claude finally returned to Lanu. As he was reaching the city, the skies were darkening. Masonhughes asked him which home he wanted to return to. After some consideration, he decided to head to Covenbrun Manor, his love nest with Sheila. Sheila's full name was Sheirulati Covenbrun, so Claude decided to name that manor after her. The property was also owned under her name.
During the first half of last year, he tasked Sheila with taking the treasures they got from Nasri back to the region. She didn't return to Freia since then, choosing instead to stay in her manor researching the magic tomes and scrolls they obtained from the Nasrian royal family's collection. She was fickle. She suddenly felt like returning home after spending a good year with Claude on Freia. So, he sent her back with the excuse of escorting the treasures.
She was quite surprised to see him at the manor and hurried to prepare some food and a bath for her and spent a warm night with him, relieving him of his fatigue from the long journey. However, Claude had to get up early the next morning to head to the military council headquarters. Borkal had been waiting three days there for him.
The officers left behind to watch the region were all elated to see him return. After all, the five heads of the region had been on Freia and there was much that the ones left behind didn't dare decide themselves. For instance, they didn't know how to respond to the driving out of region merchants from the western coast. Claude's return finally relieved them of their uncertainty.
After greeting his officers, Claude went to his office. Someone had been cleaning the place to make sure it was dust free. He noticed that his white gloves were still clean after wiping it on the chair and desk. Nodding with satisfaction, he removed his cloak and handed it to Masonhughes. "Have Colonel Borkal come right now."
When he first disembarked at Port Patres, he wrote military headquarters a letter requesting Borkal to wait for his arrival there and asked him to prepare all information he collected about the colonies of the eight nations at the western coast to report to him. The purpose of his return was clear: he would be dealing with the embargo targeted at the region.
However, he didn't think he would remain stuck at Port Patres for four days instead of returning to Lanu immediately. During that time, he accompanied Moriad to see Liboyd for a discussion on handing the first-generation warships to the kingdom. While they already had a rough plan, they still had to go into the details and discuss what to remove and how they would refurbish them. That alone took three days, and he was held back by Liboyd who consulted him on many technical issues.
While Claude's expertise in that area couldn't compare to Liboyd's, he did have a couple great ideas from his previous life. Sometimes, he would accidentally inspire Liboyd by what he considered to be something really trivial. He only managed to escape after Liboyd was satisfied after consulting him for a whole day.
That delay was why Borkal had to wait for him for three days. He was so busy that he couldn't catch a breath, and Borkal was surely to be pissed and talking behind his back for letting him wait for so long.
Less than two minutes after Masonhughes left, Borkal came in with a large stack of documents. Only an old-time friend like Borkal dared act so casually around Claude. Nowadays, the latter was a Lord Militant and all officers saw him with undeniable respect, standing ramrod straight the whole time. Only Borkal didn't care about his rank much and did whatever he wanted.
After Borkal put them all down, he turned to get a bottle of fine wine from the rack. Claude shook his head at Borkal's unfixable shameless behaviour. He knocked on the wine glass with his fountain pen and said, "It's a shame, Boa, that you didn't take part in the war on the mainland. Otherwise, you would've gotten at least a hereditary Title and barony."
Borkal had to stay behind during the deployment to manage his own smuggling business at the western colonies as well as the secret trades of the wild-bull company, not to mention managing trade relations with the nikancha nation. Though, he did say he loved doing business much more than being on the battlefield anyway, so headquarters simply let him manage all the trades that couldn't come to light.
"You know I'm not the least bit interested in that, Claude." Borkal finally found a bottle he was satisfied with and popped it open for a drink. "Actually, my family is quite satisfied with the environment here on Nubissia and don't wish to go back to the mainland. Back then, my father was still quite homesick, but now, he couldn't be happier. He's busy setting the foundations and networks of our household business here now."
Claude didn't really mind being addressed by name by his friend. He picked a random file and flipped it through. "By the way, the embargo has been up for around four months now. How is it like over there?"
Borkal finished his wine and put his glass down. He firmed his expression and approached the desk, knowing that Claude wanted to get immediately to business.
"Well, how should I put it... It's real strict nowadays. More than 30 thousand have been penalised for attempting to bring contraband into those colonies, and most of them are small-time merchants like street peddlers, not smuggling companies. However, they usually get their stock from the smuggling suppliers and got caught by the constables. Now, anyone discovered with products from our region will be arrested.
"It's a good chance for the local officials of the western colonies to make money. They first fine the ones they arrested and punish them with unpaid labour. If they don't have money for the fine, their labour terms are extended by a few years. The rich ones can get lighter labour terms if they pay up. As long as they can feed the officials well, they'll be released after a night in detention." Borkal sat down in front of Claude's desk.
Claude pointed at the fruit wine and glasses on the tray Borkal just put his on and said, "You can take this here. Let's chat as we drink. Get another bottle if you want to when we finish this one."
Borkal, however, shook his head. "Let's talk business. We can have wine later."
"Fine. Then, tell me which nation started this embargo first?"
Borkal picked out a blue folder from his stack of documents and handed it over. "Like our previous analysis, the eight nations of the western colonies have had their markets dominated by our products thanks to normal trade and smuggling.
"Even our legit registered businesses at the western coast were making so much profit that it infringed upon the nations' bottom lines. Our merchants made so much more sales than their own thanks to our far superior goods and our companies there even facilitated the exchange for our paper currency.
"Thanks to the region winning the colonial conflict and exterminating more than ten Shiksan corps, the western colonies didn't take direct action despite being really unhappy with the situation, choosing only to state their objections. They didn't dare threaten war with us directly and strengthened their restriction on our products.
"Additionally, the products our legitimate companies sold weren't on their list of contraband, so they had no excuse to stop us from trading. Not to mention, our companies paid taxes wherever they were due, so there were no loose threads for those officials to grab onto.
"The main problem is the smugglers who are getting more and more audacious in shipping all manner of daily necessities we produce there. Our products are far better and more competitive than those shipped there from their nations, causing their goods to become unable to sell at all.
"One such merchant from Fochs even went bankrupt and jumped into the sea to end his life. Once that matter got big, Fochs' merchants complained to their king about it. The king then sent ambassadors to the other seven nations and established a united front to levy a heavy embargo against us, ceasing all trade whether legitimate or not."
Claude opened the blue folder and saw a rather thick collection of personal files containing information such as which colony they resided in, their names and ages, family members, assets, products supplied and through which channels. After flipping through a couple, he put them back on the desk. "Are these the smugglers you picked? They're all nikancha..."
"No, they're not nikancha. If you call them that, they'll challenge you to a duel to the death. To them, nikancha is a derogatory term. They call themselves the pamigar."
"Pamigar? Is there a difference? They're also mix-blood natives, right?"
"They are, but their skin colour is slightly paler than the nikancha's." After all that talk, Borkal was feeling a little thirsty, so he brought the tray over. "The western coast is unlike our region. The settlers arrived there more than two centuries ago. After the nikancha population there mixed with the settlers for so many generations, it's only natural that their skin colour would pale. Not to mention, many of the nikancha's apathetic traits have been weeded out of them thanks to proper training.
"Not to mention, the pamigar are far better than the nikancha in many ways. At least, they can learn and work hard for money and also feel a strong sense of responsibility for their family, much like us. I'm sure you won't see them as the same as the nikancha if you interact with them often enough. Pamigar, a word from their native language, means civilised, honest, trustworthy and fearless."
"So are they all pamigar?" Claude said, pointing at the blue folder.
Borkal took a few more sips and shook his head. "No, pamigar is only one of the few self-referential names. Two centuries of colonisation also caused them to adopt the identities of the respective colonising nations. They also inherit the same conflicts their nations have with other nations.
"For instance, the mix-blood natives in the Fochsian colony call themselves the lanstobuk, meaning brave warriors beloved by the waves and winds at sea. They're proficient in diving and fishing.
"The mix-blood natives in Lesnia's colony call themselves the losman, meaning herders or shepherds. The natives in Reliaro's colony are known as the jipkut, meaning runners and chasers of the light. They worship the god of fire. Only the natives from Moloshik's colony call themselves pamigar.
"Additionally, there are a few more different names in the colonies of the Kingdom of Carmenleon, Duchy of Wasilik and the Opsaro City-state Federation. They don't have a unified name for their mix-blood natives unlike the five previous colonies.
"Interestingly, Carmenleon and Opsaro have a history of fighting seven wars. It's known in the history books as the Centennial Seven Wars. Their citizens see each others as enemies, and the mix-blood natives do so as well. They can't bear the sight of one another.
"As for Lesnia and Carmenleon, they've gotten into conflict three times in the colonies, causing the native losman to hate the machaklin and doramana peoples in Carmenleon's colony.
"It's said that the machaklin once pillaged Lesnia's colony quite often and resulted in a massacre of tens of thousands of losman folk. After that, the losman lashed out for revenge, but hit the wrong target, causing enmity between them and the doramana to grow. That's how those three tribal folk's vendetta developed."
"It's far too complicated," Claude said with a sigh.
"That's true." Borkal poured himself another glass of wine. "In fact, I think much of their conflict is due to some intentional provocation of some party in the colonies. They should be of the same race like the unified nikancha.
"This blue folder here contains natives who have powerful connections, status, wealth and reputation. Apart from having skin colour a little different from ours, they're no different. Most importantly, they're quite ambitious and hope to form their own independent ethnostate.
"The western colonies are quite discriminatory against these mix-blood natives. For instance, Tazinger Nora Taganem on the first page here was sent to Moloshik to study by his father, but he was discriminated against because of his skin colour and dropped out to come back. His father is a minor noble and he managed to inherit the Title and assets of the household after his father died.
"In the colony of Moloshik, he's quite reputable, but he is often ostracised because of his nickname, the mix-breed baron. That's why he wants to form an independent nation for the pamigars and is trying to smuggle weapons to form a personal force. He has asked whether the region will support the founding of their nation. They hope that we can supply weapons and give them training to form a force that can drive out the colonies' troops."
"Do all these people in the folder have such ambitions?" Claude asked.
"Well, some do, some don't," Borkal said after some thought. "Tazinger Nora Taganem is the only smuggler that approached me about independence. Back then, I didn't really understand him and gave him a curt refusal. But when I had someone research his background, I noticed he was a prime candidate and took note of him.
"The others were picked because some of them have personal grudges, some want revenge for their families, and some are risk-loving daredevils. I'm not sure how far they'll go, but I can tell that they hate their colonies on account of being mix blood and hold dreams of changing the world.
"That's why I picked them to be candidates for Operation Wildfire. I trust that if we supply them with weapons support, they'll be able to cause a wave of new nations to form. Even if they fail, they'll give those eight nations lots of trouble so they'll be too occupied to care about the embargo."
Claude paced around his office in thought. "I'll leave Operation Wildfire in your hands and assign Bloweyk's Wolfang clan to you to work with and protect you.
"You'll get all the manpower and resources you need, but I don't want this operation to only cause a small spark. I hope to see that they'll really be liberated and form their own nations. That's the most beneficial outcome for the region."