"I don't know how to say it, but I believe that our region is blessed by the war god. Claude, did you know why Duke Pillag Xi Feriot didn't make any movements at all? I just got word from the northlands that the duke has been recovering from injuries since half a year back," Borkal said.
"Recovering?" Claude shot him a doubtful look. That could be the true reason behind the duke's apathy despite the slow demise of his nation.
"That's right." Borkal nodded, fully aware of Claude's guardedness against the duke. The duke used to be the commander-in-chief of the Union, after all, and managed an early retreat to deprive Claude of the complete victory. Claude only considered adept and sharp commanders like the Shiksan duke as his true adversaries.
However, he completely didn't expect that the duke wouldn't react to his deployment of Thundercrash and Typhoon in Saint Cyprean, the royal territory, eight southern prefectures and nine eastern prefectures at all. The region didn't have long-term informants deep in the northern highlands, and the new ones they just sent there only just returned with concrete news.
"Even most of the Shiksan nobles aren't aware of the duke's injury. Word is that House Feriot immediately put out a gag order about it to prevent Majid III from discovering it. There was definitely the possibility of the king summoning the injured and old noble to the royal capital and work him to death, after all.
"With his injury more or less healed up in the course of half a year, the household relaxed somewhat. Coupled with the fact that whether Shiks would survive our attack is still unknown, some of the household's servants let the secret loose unintentionally. Our informants managed to hook up with a maidservant working in the household and he heard about this from her as they were making merry.
"That maidservant said that the duke was stripped of his military rank by the mad Majid III, causing the duke to shut himself in out of disappointment. Right before our troops came knocking on Shiks' door, chaos broke out with one of the northern barbarian nations. When the duke was out quelling the chaos, he was unlucky enough to be shot in the right chest by a hidden barbarian shooter.
"As the barbarians dip their bullets in faeces and poison, the duke's gunshot wound got badly infected and he was almost beyond saving. Then, a mysterious doctor came and used a kind of weird maggot to eat up the rotting flesh around the wound. The saliva it spat also formed a film around the bleeding wound and managed to save the duke. But due to the seriousness of the wound, he still had to recover for half a year."
It was no wonder the duke didn't make any moves, asking even the two Shiksan standing corps to stand guard at the border of the northern lands, allowing the Duke of Sunset River to gather a force of 300 thousand to sweep through the ten western prefectures and declare himself king. Had Duke Feriot been in good shape, he might've suppressed the Duke of Sunset River without letting him leave the eleven northern prefectures.
Though, there was no discounting the possibility that Duke Feriot intentionally let the other duke go to test out the region's mettle. With a long half a year of rest, he had plenty time to consider his next move that would set his and his household's fate in stone.
Nevertheless, Duke Feriot had lost the initiative. He was barely able to hold his own. Claude didn't want to provoke the Duke of the Northlands at all. The way he saw it, once he conquered the remaining six western prefectures and allowed the final batch of homecoming Shiksans, the invasion would come to a perfect close. There was no longer any need to sacrifice the previous lives of the troops to fight it out with the duke.
"Well, then, I'll write two letters for you. Find me two reliable messengers and send them to the Duke of the Northlands and Duke of Sunset River," Claude told Borkal. If possible, he didn't want to attack the remaining six prefectures either. After all, the Duke of Sunset River had hundreds of thousands of troops. He should have a total of 300 thousand if the garrison forces in those prefectures was included. Typhoon would have to pay quite a steep price to conquer them all.
Borkal nodded and sipped at his wine as Claude penned the letters. Starting with pointless pleasantries, Claude went on to write about how he had to attack Shiks to deal with a stubborn king like Majid III. Otherwise, Aueras and the region wouldn't be able to enjoy any peace in the following decade. Only by dealing with him could their dream for peace come true.
When he heard Borkal mention that Duke Feriot had kept word of his injuries secret to Majid III, it meant he wasn't fully loyal to the Shiksan royal family and should know that Claude meant what he said. Having such an obstinate king really was quite a huge trouble for the ministers and subordinates of the king. If only Majid III admitted to his losses earlier and signed a peace treaty, Claude wouldn't have thought about going after Shiks at all. The disastrous invasion could have been prevented.
Claude wrote that he wouldn't send his troops to the eleven northern prefectures as none of the soldiers from his homecoming Shiksan folks were from that region. Back then, the nobles that rebelled were concentrated in the western, central, eastern and southern regions of the nation. They were only punished and sent to fight a war on Nubissia because the rebellion failed.
Had the Shiksan king agreed to let the region release Shiksan captives back, the war wouldn't have happened in the first place. Yet, Majid III declared the returnees traitors and hanged them once they were captured, resulting in the remaining 500 plus thousand captives in the region to fume with rage.
Two years back, Majid III also noticed the formation of the voluntary Shiksan folks in the region and intended to use them to get Shiks another colony on Nubissia, so he sent ambassadors there to cause trouble. That was the final straw that prompted Claude to attack Shiks to rid himself of that eyesore.
Claude candidly said that he wouldn't occupy a single inch of Shiksan land after the war and would retreat once the homecoming Shiksans brought their families away. So, he hoped that he wouldn't run into any trouble with House Feriot. In not attacking the eleven prefectures, the region also hoped that the Duke of the Northlands would stay within his territory, lest their troops came to blows out of misunderstandings that could've been prevented.
The letter to Duke Feriot was sealed in wax. Next came the letter to the Duke of Sunset River. Claude got straight to the point in this one and only stated a few conditions. He mentioned that the six remaining western prefectures would be the region's next target. If the duke surrendered without a fight, Claude would hand over Saint Cyprean in his care once the region retreated from Shiks.
Those conditions would definitely prompt the duke to consider his options. Saint Cyprean and the royal territory were the most developed of the Shiksan lands, unlike the rural ten western prefectures. Not to mention, the duke was also a member of the Shiksan royal family. He had all the right to occupy the capital and declare himself the rightful heir to the throne before rebuilding the nation. Though, whether the other factions submitted themselves to his rule was another matter altogether.
Claude had no choice but to offer those conditions. Initially, he had planned to pass the remaining ten prefectures, the capital and the royal territory to a branch faction. But now, the military administration decided that the National Preservation front wouldn't be appropriate. To be franker, they were merely a military organisation that sided with the region to maintain local security.
The leader of the National Preservation Front was a baron who was among the first to surrender to the region. While he was a Shiksan noble, his household had always been rather broke. The baron himself even had to work his own lands. Back when the troops were sent to capture him, they had trouble identifying who the noble was. He seemed even poorer than the average town citizen.
However, the baron, named Klaus, was quite an opportunist and submitted to the region's troops almost immediately, becoming a collaborator for the invasion. Since their arrival in the first central prefecture, Westmon, he led Thundercrash to capture all nobles and local officials along the way as well as rich tycoons. Not a single one of them managed to escape. He was even aware of how much wealth each of the arrested persons had.
One of the majors of Thundercrash curiously asked why the baron knew so much about the wealth of others, only to be strapped in for a long sob story. The baron's father had a dream to get rich by discovering mines, so he spent all his assets and even mortgaged off all the household had to incur a debt, only to be scammed. The land he bought from someone was barren and had no mineable resources at all. The household had been weighed down by the debt since.
Before his father passed, he and his two other siblings kept pushing the Title off to one another, neither wanting to inherit the household. Their fief had already been mortgaged anyway, and inheriting the Title and household meant inheriting the debt. So, they decided to settle the matter by drawing lots and the baron got the unlucky pull. He knew all about the wealthy people because he had borrowed money from them before.
At the end of the day, he was a smart one and knew that the interest owed to a debtor would only increase as time passed. So, he decided to borrow money from a certain rich man to pay off another. That way, he continuously paid his debts from one debtor to another and was slowly able to repay the full debt in time. For instance, he split a debt of ten thousand into 20 debts of 500. That way, he could pay off one each year to decrease the interest he owed as time passed.
But with the arrival of the region, he managed to wipe out all his debt at once as a collaborator. He could also pick up the scraps after Thundercrash was finished with their raiding and eventually got quite rich. Due to his good performance, he was appointed to be the person in charge of the local garrison forces made up from other collaborators like him to form the National Preservation Front whose main purpose was run the region's errands.
Claude really didn't understand why Borkal initially held them up to be a splinter Shiksan faction to be upheld. They were nothing but lowly collaborators loyal to the region, but without any abilities. Claude was quite unhappy with that decision, but those at the military administration complained that they weren't able to find a good replacement in that short an amount of time, so it would be better to just let those obedient collaborators enjoy some benefits.
The problem was the collaborators weren't fit for what the region had planned! Even if Borkal said they had potential and would grow if they had enough time and opportunity, those were rare commodities they could not afford. Take for instance the three prefectures Reddragon gave up on to go on raiding other prefectures once Claude told them they wouldn't be getting reinforcements to hold the prefectures.
Frontline command sent the National Preservation Front to take over the three prefectures abandoned by Reddragon, only for them to be beaten back by the local garrison that joined Reddragon's side. In the end, Typhoon sent their light cavalry to defeat those forces and made a small profit before the National Preservation Front could form a firm foundation in those prefectures.
With the mediocre capabilities of the National Preservation Front, they wouldn't be able to compete with the other two factions to form a delicate three-way power balance in Shiks. One of the other factions was the Duke of the Northlands that held great sway in their household fief, and the other was the National Defence Army led by Count Mullids Jay Kreist, who had lots of loyal men. The National Preservation Front couldn't even compare.
In fact, if the ten central prefectures were split among those in the National Preservation Front, they would no doubt dissolve and fight among themselves the moment Claude and his men left. The duke and count wouldn't even have to lift a finger to engineer their collapse. In fact, there would be no point to hand them Saint Cyprean and the royal territory, given how quickly they would collapse into themselves, so Claude turned his sights on the Duke of Sunset River instead.
Doing so would immediately make the National Defence Army the duke's enemy. The army would have to first deal with the duke before being able to take back the nation's capital, but behind them, the Duke of the Northlands lurked. If they didn't have a chance to crush the Duke of Sunset River in one go, they would have to work together with him to deal with the Duke of the Northlands first.
On the other hand, if the Duke of Sunset River took over Saint Cyprean, with their forces unable to match the National Defence Army, they would undoubtedly turn their sights on the National Preservation Front in the ten central prefectures. If the National Preservation Front didn't want to be swallowed up, they would have to work together with other factions to deal with the duke. That would create a fine balance in Shiks where no faction would be able to overwhelm another for a good time to come.
Claude handed the letters to Borkal to be delivered to the two dukes. He believed the Duke of the Northlands wouldn't dare act carelessly after reading the letter. They were all intelligent fellows who would avoid pointless fights if they could. But Claude wasn't sure how the Duke of Sunset Lake would react to it. It would be fine if he didn't agree to cooperate though since he would face certain demise before Typhoon.
Of the 53 Shiksan prefectures, the nine eastern prefectures were gone, with Bleyotte absorbing four of them and the other five distributed among the former vassal nations of Shiks, Suncross and Castro. Only five of the eight southern prefectures remained with the three on Manori Plains returned to Bleyotte as well.
By the time Typhoon swept through the ten western prefectures and handed them to three other neighbouring nations, Tumak, Monatro and Isabra, Shiks would only have eleven central prefectures, five southern prefectures, 15 central prefectures and one royal territory remaining.
Splitting the remaining territory into four factions would make each faction about as powerful as a normal duchy. Shiks would no longer be able to rise once more to cause trouble for Aueras or the autonomous region. Now, Claude just wanted them to fight it out amongst themselves and render Shiks barren.