The sky darkened, and the two children had already started snoring away. Mueller was holding his son Bob quietly, looking out the window at the gloomy sky. He knew his wife was not asleep either.
After a long time, Mueller finally said, "Betty, maybe I should join the army."
Betty’s expression immediately changed as her hands tightened involuntarily, only to relax right after. She did not answer him, pretending to be asleep.
His wife's silence did not put a halt to his thoughts. He knew that his wife did not want him to put himself in risk, but as a husband and the father of two children, he really did not want his wife and children to starve.
The nobles in the royal capital issued a notice that those who repair fortifications on the wall would get two potatoes a day; if one joined the army, even as the most common soldier, one would get four potatoes. Many civilians and refugees scrambled for the opportunity.
The bonus food coupled with the basic amount could allow their children and wives to lead healthy lives.
As if he had already made his decision, Mueller reached out his left hand and took his wife's rough but warm hand. Betty did not speak, but instead gripped his hand tightly as her answer to her husband.
This was the current situation of most families in Audis. Many Shalorian men had chosen to join the army not out of patriotism, but earning their wives and children a living.
The slightly dilapidated palace in Audis was brightly lit at this time. The king felt it was too gloomy and cold and ordered the entire palace to be lit up.
In the main hall, the grey-haired king wore a blanket as he curled up in his luxurious throne. He was looking at the group of nobles who were arguing in the hall with droopy eyes.
The king seemed to not have bathed for a long time, his greasy hair and body odour could easily be seen and smelt from far away. Fortunately, the rich Charlo was not short of money and used all kinds of expensive incense, maintaining the dignity of the royal musk.
Among the nobles who had been arguing endlessly in the hall, there was another middle-aged man who stood in front of all the nobles, the closest to the king. His robe was more complicated and exquisite than the others'.
Although the nobles in the hall were arguing fiercely, but anyone with a discerning eye could see that most of these nobles were clowns. Everyone’s eyes were looking at the important man standing in front of them, as well as the king with a crown of thorns seated above the hall.
Perhaps it was the quarrel of this group of nobles that made the king a little irritable. The moment he raised his spotted arm, the hall fell back into dead silence. Everyone looked at their king in awe. Everyone knew that this mighty lion had not fallen yet; his fangs were still sharp.
More than two months ago, the desperate Shalorian king had sent out the two most elite Blood Red units. Despite that, he gained very little without even confirmation of the Shalorian princess' death.
What good was a possibly successful assassination attempt? Not only did they not get any substantial benefits, they also lost a lot of Blood Red soldiers. Even one of the leader’s arms was cut off.
As they looked at the old man seated on the throne, most of the nobles trembled in fright. When did the king become like this? Two months ago, the king had only looked a little old, but still resolute and not grumpy. Now, the old man was about to kill and behead anyone at any moment.
Just yesterday, he personally ordered the execution of two counts and four viscounts, the reason being these nobles had defected to Faustian and wanted to abandon the city and escape.
They were arguing fiercely now, but it was just an act to show the king that they were still working hard for the restoration of the kingdom, and that they would fight until the very last minute.
The heavy crown of thorns pressing on this old man seemed as if it were able to crush his frail body at any time; yet the truth was it couldn’t.
"Felippe, talk about the latest situation," the king said in a hoarse voice, every syllable emphasised with an eerie tone of grinding metal.
Everyone quietly looked at the splendidly dressed Margrave Felippe. He was the one who led what was left of Shalorian troops in the south to forcibly breaking through Lion's encirclement to enter the royal capital, bringing along 15 magic crystal cannons with him.
Felippe cleared his throat, attracting the attention of everyone in the hall, and said, "The Faustian army outside the city has gathered nearly a hundred thousand men."
As soon as his voice fell, everyone had mixed reactions. Some seemed bitter, others seemed surprised, ashamed, and were in disbelief.
The elderly king sighed. "I have to admit that Faustian's war effort is greater than ours." A pessimistic atmosphere spread.
Felippe then continued, "I heard the Ligia Union at the south of Faustian is also preparing to send troops to aid Faustian, but the Faustian king refused."
The winning side was in no shortage of allies. Faustian chose to ignore external help, yet Shalor was shunned by the surrounding countries, as everyone thought this country was done for.
"Discussing that is useless. Let's talk about Audis' defenses instead," the king said.
As one of the three pillars of Shalor and the 'god of prosperity', Margrave Felippe took over many positions such as Minister of Finance, the Minister of the Interior, and the Minister of Military Affairs as soon as he arrived in the royal capital. The royal family once suspected this margrave and didn’t dare to let him hold too much power, but it didn't matter now. He could now enter the royal capital to face the king, indicating that he was loyal to Shalor.
"Recruitment is still in progress. We have 15 thousand recruits so far, all assigned across the four walls. Together with the original defenders, each wall is defended by around ten thousand men," Felippe continued.
"The fortifications are sufficient, so there is no need to worry about it for the time being. The soldiers' equipment is relatively lacking, and now the blacksmiths in the city have been making mire day and night," Felippe did not mention when would these equipment be ready; the king didn’t ask either.
"As for food..." Felippe was silent for a while, gritted his teeth and said, "It's only enough to feed the city for half a month."
The king's cloudy eyes darkened, and many of the remaining nobles started at the revelation. "How is it possible? Aren't the food reserves from a month ago still enough for half a year?" Several outspoken nobles couldn't help but raise their voices.
"That was a month ago!" Felippe replied, "Besides, at that time, it was calculated based on a baseline standard. As for why the food is decreasing so fast, you should ask yourselves!" Towards the end, he almost roared.
Less than one-tenth of the food this month was distributed to civilians and refugees, and the rest had been either pocketed or withheld by the nobles.
They used it for recruit people. At this time, the most valuable thing in Audis was not jewelry and famous paintings, but food and manpower.
Littered around the streets of Audis like trash were the refugees and starving civilians, basically untapped manpower. Who knew how many nobles were waiting for the opportunity of the Faustian's army's breach of the city to exchange the lives of the lowest in society for their own.
The nobles cowered at the accusation.
"Don't fight. Every noble shall give out food with amounts corresponding to their titles. I want to see that the army's granary is filled!" the king said firmly. Although his voice was weak and rough, no noble dared disobey his order.
After the king finished speaking, Felippe went on to brief them on other aspects of the city.
Until the end, Felippe did not mention the magicrystal cannon he brought back, and the king did not ask as well. This kind of strategic weapon was best kept hidden. No one could know if any of the nobles had secret dealings with Faustian.
When the meeting was over, the attendant beside the king announced that the meeting was adjourned. All the nobles walked out of the hall in twos and threes, leaving only Felippe alone in the hall.
Gradually, only the king and Felippe, as well as some attendants and maids were left.
"How many shots do we have left?" The king asked.
"126 rounds." Felippe gave the exact number. "Meister Maris is leading his Lehrlings to produce more now."
The raw material of magicrystal cannon ammunition was the monster cores, and only the ones from mid-rank and above could be used. Shalor's level of magic topped most of their neighbours', and only their casters had the power and knowhow to draw out the chaotic elemental power in the cores and store it for usage elsewhere.
“Noted. Go." The king nodded, curled up on the throne, and the surrounding attendants covered him with another blanket. Since a month ago, the king had been living and eating in the conference hall, almost never leaving, speeding up his aging considerably.
Felippe slowly withdrew from the main hall. The moment before the door closed, a beam of light from outside shone on the face of the king. It was a pale, persistent, and wrinkled.
All the nobles in the royal capital didn't know why the king's temperament had changed drastically in the past month, nor why he became like this. It was said only Felippe knew why.
But this was something he would take to the grave. One of the three pillars of the kingdom, the late Margrave Campbell, a wise general who had worked with Felippe for more than 20 years, was in fact the illegitimate son of the king.