Claude slept so deeply he didn’t wake up from the god of war’s shrine’s morning bell. When his mother realized he was waking up later than usual, she sent Angelina to shake him awake.
He gave his face a quick wash and rub, grabbed two pieces of bread from the table, and rushed out the door. He was still just barely in time for class. If he didn’t arrive on time, Instructor Weckham would have had him stand outside for the entire period.
He burst into the classroom breathing raggedly. The bell rang just after his foot landed on the floor inside the door. Instructor Weckham was on his heels, so he was still in time.
“Why did you arrive so late?” Eriksson asked, “We were waiting outside your house. We thought you had already left.”
Claude took out his arithmetic textbook as he spoke.
“Don’t ask. I overslept… and had to run all the way.”
“Your eyes are a little puffy and you have bags under your eyes. You also look a little pale. Did you stay up late?” Borkal asked.
“Really?” Claude asked, stroking his face, “You know my father hosted a dinner last night. He kept talking to the guests late into the night. On top of that, two cats kept heating the roof and keeping me awake. You know I live in the attic, right? How was I supposed to sleep with that going on outside?”
“Haha, your luck kinda sucks,” Welikro said, “It’s probably mating season. Those yowls are really annoying. I know how to deal with them though. Kill one on your roof. I’m sure they won’t dare get on your roof again for a while. Want to borrow my rifle? Cat meat is pretty good if you know how to cook it, it’s certainly softer than chicken.”
“Forget it,” Claude glared, “Do you think my dad will let me shoot a gun at cats on the roof? What if I break the roof instead? We’ll have to fix it later! Go hunt for cats yourself!”
“Is cat meat really softer than chicken?” Eriksson asked, unable to suppress his curiosity.
“Yes. Let me tell you, I once…” The two got into a heated debate about how cat meat ought to be prepared. Had they not been in class, Claude would be convinced they would head back for their rifles and go out cat-hunting.
“I know what they discussed,” Borkal chirped in a hushed voice.
“Your dad and his guests. My dad was there, too. He said they were talking about starting a sea trade route from Whitestag to Tyrrsim on Nubissia. If it works, Whitestag will explode into a port city. We might even be removed from Baromiss’ jurisdiction. We’d be on the same level as Port Neru…”
Borkal’s voice faded away as he spoke. His mouth was so close it almost touched Claude’s ears.
Claude knew why Borkal was being so secretive. If word got out, there would be a huge commotion. So that was what his father had been planning.
Port Neru was the kingdom’s only large port. It was, however, part military port so there wasn’t very much space for trade. The fleet, known as Fearless, was in charge of patrolling the kingdom’s east coast. It’s primary role in peace time was to protect traders from pirates.
Aueras stood in the east of Freia. It’s coast stretched 500 kilometers at its eastern border, but not much of it was fit for building or ports. Apart from Port Neru and a few shallow-water fishing ports, the coast was nothing but shallow waters, beaches, or cliffs that didn’t allow for the docking of large ships.
Stellin X changed the kingdom’s foreign policy when he ascended. He stopped intimidating his neighbours through force of arms, and instead sought out mutually beneficial trade agreements. In a way, Stellin X was more a merchant than a king. He loved money and prioritized profits. That didn’t meant he didn’t fulfill his other duties, however. It was just that he had his sights set on the continent of Nubissia.
Nubissia was vast, at least twice as large as Freia. Half of Freia’s countries, mostly the coastal nations, sent expeditions to Nubissia to set up colonies.
In comparison to the other nations on the continent, who were armed to the teeth and frequently lost thousands of men in small wars between the colonies, Aueras’s expansion was smooth. It took only seven years for its colony to grow to double the mother kingdom’s size. It had to be split into seven colonies just so it could be properly governed.
Most importantly, the kingdom had never gotten involved in those inter-colony wars. Its only real opponents, though far from its equal, were the aborigines. Claude was reminded of his world’s colonial era.
When the first ship returned from Nubissia filled with gems, gold, and silver, the kingdom was overtaken in an uproar. Everyone praised the king’s foresight and half the kingdom started making plans to move to the colony.
Stellin X’s policy of peace with the neighboring nations allowed trade to prosper. It stood at the centre of the colony’s rapid expansion as well. It didn’t take long for him, too, to be called Stellin X the Great.
Unfortunately his subjects weren’t the only ones who took note of his success.
Nasri had always been Aueras’s enemy. Even though Stellin X had ended the war between them, they still hated him and his kingdom zealously. Unlike Aueras, Nasri had only conquered a few minor stretches of land on the new continent, and the kingdom’s internal strife prevented it from paying proper attention to its colony, which left it to flounder.
Nasri became desperate when they realised how great the gap was becoming between them and Aueras. The Aueran king preached peace all the time, but Nasri knew better than to believe any Aueran. They’d failed against him on land, but maybe the sea would be different. The route to Nubissia was long and hard. The ships leaving Port Neru had to sail up the coast and by the Duchy of Ledins, the Duchy of Askilin, and the Duchy of Rimodra. From there they had to cross the vast ocean that separated the two continents, and their route took them through the Sea of Storms and the Tranquil Ocean.
The journey took a month if things were miraculously good, but could easily take up to two months if weather was bad. Most importantly, the route, especially the part of it that crossed the open ocean, was infested with pirates.
Nasri allied itself with the four duchies along the coast in the name of hunting pirates, but they always seemed to keep their fleets close to Aueras’s territory and trade routes, a constant threat to snip the thread that connected the kingdom proper from its colonies.
The combined force of the five countries’ navies far outstripped anything Aueras could field and ensured he thought several time before moving against anyone in the alliance.
Even more troubling was that, despite having such a massive fleet patrolling the waters, rather than a reduction in the number of ships that vanished, Aueran merchant vessels instead suddenly started vanishing more and more.
The occasionally discovered wrecks suggested pirates, but everyone knew better.
As such, the kingdom had no choice but to increase the size of its navy and send its ships out as escorts alongside large merchant convoys which travelled between the colonies and Port Neru every couple of months.
It didn’t help that the port served both trade and the military. Whenever a large portion of the fleet returned to port to rest, rearm, or repair, the port’s trade operations had to be halted to make way for all the military ships, which naturally cost the kingdom dearly. The houses were all in agreement, a rare enough thing, that the situation could not continue.