“How about we take a stroll in Gondor?” Angelina whispered into Locke’s ear once the Jose count was out of sight. Her lips brushed against his ear but he remained unfazed. The intimate gesture had been repeated constantly over the last month or two. By now, he had built up a resistance against it.
“Are you sure about that? Gondor seems to be on rocky terms with us.” He pointed at the border guards again. There was an unmistakable tension that lingered in the air.
“We can just ask Kenzir for help, I’m sure it’s doable.” Angelina threw her arms around his neck, largely unaffected by the current situation.
The southwestern Faustian border was shared by both Jose and Gondor. This meant that the kingdom’s boundary was placed under the care of the garrison corps, which was otherwise known as the Faustian Shield. Following the rapid expansion of the kingdom, Faustian four main military units had swelled similarly and the initial five divisions had grown to six. There were only two garrison corps stationed on this particular frontier and one of them stood proudly before the envoy.
Margrave Shia was the leader of the Faustian garrison, whom Locke had spoken to multiple times in Felor. The margrave’s clan had pledged complete loyalty to the Faustian Royal Family so Locke was rather fond of Shia.
The second infantry division of the garrison was stationed here, headed by a courageous commander who was a veteran knight. “Your Highness, the flame transmission array to the royal capital will be done soon,” reported Gerde Shia with an arm across his chest.
“Mn.” Angelina watched the garrison casters construct the array beside her husband. Everyone was a master in their own means. It wasn’t a stretch to call Angelina a genius in spellcasting but she was, admittedly, not that well-versed in communication arrays. She was more proficient in direct transmissions over a distance instead.
The Kingdom of Faustian had seen leaps in domestic caster growth ever since they’d appropriated Shalor’s spellcasting heritage. Angelina’s former mentor was no longer the sole high-rank Lehrling of Faustian; there were now five of them with the Faustian princess included. Two among the bunch were Shalorian casters that’d refused to leave their homelands, hence the late king had offered them viscounties as incentives to become Faustians. It didn’t take long for the image of King Kenzir to manifest from the array, his expression vague amidst the dancing flames.
“What’s wrong?” Kenzir kept it short. Arrays were expensive and could only last for three hourglasses' time.
“Brother, we’d like to visit Gondor!” Angelina leapt forward with a smile, hand still tight around Locke.
“The Kingdom of Gondor, you say?” Kenzir stared ahead, seemingly deep in thought. There were a total of ten thousand soldiers on the border between Faustian and Gondor, which proved to be a sticky situation.
The Faustian envoys moved again, their numbers now greatly reduced on account of the fickle situation between the two kingdoms.
“Why do you insist on entering Gondor? Didn’t your brother mention that things haven’t been great between the kingdoms recently?” Locke asked Angeline exasperatedly once they were in the privacy of their carriage.
Angelina grinned. “Well, we’re going because I want to.”
Locke tended to stay away from trouble since he didn’t wish to be stumped by trivial matters. However, Angelina’s wish was his command and as long as they weren’t attacked by an established army, Locke’s quasi-Ritter capabilities could safeguard them from harm. Not to mention, there was a high-rank scorpiondrake lazing around in Angelina’s spatial pouch too. The current lineup hadn’t included many elites as a deliberate choice. There was only one high-rank Knecht that served as a guard captain on the current leg of their journey.
“I heard that Gondor is famous for its Ironclad Army,” Angelina tried to spark a conversation that would pique Locke’s interest.
“Yeah, I’ve heard of them before.” He nodded.
The Ligian Heavy Cavalry, the Light Cavalry of Jose, the Ironclad Army of Gondor and the Forest Nomads of Karaman were the most robust military bodies outside of Faustian; they were not to be taken lightly.
“I wonder if the Ironclad Army is as strong as Troredar’s heavy cavalry…” Locke mused to himself.
The neat formations, stringent disciple and heavy presence of the Ironclad Army were evident to the approaching envoy. The bad blood between Gondor and Faustian could be traced back to the fall of Shalor. Gondor was a stronger kingdom that towered over Faustian back then, hence they’d attempted to grab a share of territory. Unfortunately for them, an unforeseen combination of Erdritter Romm’s abrupt emergence, Aomar’s intimidation and the late King Faustian’s wilfulness had ended their pursuit with no favourable outcome. The leaders of both Gondor and Faustian had tried to suppress their clashes in the subsequent years but some friction was inevitable.
A knight in full armour came forth to stand before the convoy. His stance was intense, spear proudly pointing towards the sky, which gave him an air of authority. Since the envoy had arrived with endorsements from the Kingdom of Faustian, the general quickly sent off a messenger back to the palace.
It was half a day later when the Faustian envoys were allowed into Gondor territory. The huge group walked on the dangerous paths that wind around mountains and cliffs. Locke thought that the northwestern mountain range of the Ligia Union was difficult enough to travel along but he was proven otherwise.
He couldn’t help but notice that the inhabitants of remote areas were more feisty. It appeared that its people were the main factor that enabled Gondor to keep up with Faustian for decades without fail. It was unfortunate that the Granurer Mountains that seemed to stretch on forever had come in between Gondor’s outreach to other eastern kingdoms. The geographical disadvantage had made it difficult to pursue advancements in the east so they could only plant their soldiers on the Faustian borders. That alone would have already been taxing on the kingdom’s logistics.
Yet, there was a silver lining to everything. The Ironclad Army of Gondor was famous among neighbouring territories all thanks to the precious ores that lay beneath the Granurer Mountains. Tens of thousands of miners were sent out annually to sustain the kingdom’s iron exports. The ores that could be found were mainly iron and copper, with only a few occasions of gold and silver. There were close to no mana deposits here, which was why they hadn’t caught the attention of the Sanctum and Hall of Knights. Gondor’s iron was mainly exported to the Kingdom of Faustian in the east, the Kingdom of Jose in the south, the Zungar Tribal Alliance and the Theramore Mountain Tribe in the northwest. While Faustian and Gondor had their fair share of scuffles every year, their trading relationship was never badly affected. They hadn’t turned completely against each other, after all.
“So we’re here to meet Margrave Chergurssy and deliver some royal documents?” asked Locke. A participating officer had run him through the general picture of Gondor’s external relations and some common knowledge. He’d learnt that Margrave Chergussy was in charge of the Gondorian military, which meant that he was possibly the biggest obstacle due to the worsening situation between Faustian and Gondor.
“That’s right. That margrave is a stubborn one.” Angelina nodded heavily.
“If that’s the case, why are we still going to meet him?” Locke was at a loss for words.
She smiled at him. “The conflict between the kingdoms doesn’t appear too pressing to the higher circle. However, bear in mind that Margrave Chergussy is lusting after the Andora Basin in Munstert.”
Munstert was a small kingdom in the southwest of Gondor that boasted a population of around a million people, making it almost as large as the Ligia Union. Their territory had included the unconventionally lucrative Andora Basin. The land wasn’t fertile for corps but a diverse range of magic materials.
Locke nodded in agreement. With the Sanctum and Hall of Knights keeping a tight eye on the Andora Basin, there was no way Gondor could wage war and annex it. However, the current balance in power would shift with the emergence of an elite above level one. Since Margrave Chergussy couldn’t settle for war for the foreseeable future, he would need to resort to a refined game of crisis, intimidation and a seemingly ‘fair’ transaction.
Physical violence was only one of many types of battles. Locke didn’t know much about trade wars since he wasn’t the best when it came to matters that required brainpower. This was mainly why he’d left most of the official business on Angelina’s shoulders and treated the entire journey like a true getaway, which earned indignant eye-rolls from his wife.
Beyond the winding Granurer Mountain Range was a highland with considerable flatlands. The lifestyle of the highland peasants was no different from regular Faustians. It appeared that the stereotype of Gondorians being barbarians was very much far from the truth.
The high-rank Gondorian from earlier was tasked with escorting the Faustians. It was through deliberate probings that Locke found out that he’d too just returned from the planar war. Before long, Locke’s quasi-Ritter status and descriptions of his time on Botania had earned the trust of the Gondorian general. Knights were typically earnest people and this otherwise ferocious-looking general was no exception. The man became great friends with Locke and Angelina in no time.
Knights viewed camaraderie with great importance. There were rarely any instances where knights from opposing territories sabotaged each other on the battleground since the Hall of Knights would administer harsh punishments for such a petty act.
Locke was reminded of the four Faustian margraves. Most of them were high-rank Knechts with some being Ritters. Even so, Locke had only ever fully acknowledged Margrave Woode who’d stayed away from the Felorian political circle.