122 Operating a Mercenary Band

 River Cove Town was made extremely lively by a soldier recruitment exercise held by the town hall. Many aspiring soldiers in the areas surrounding the Girvent Forest who were eager to attain military achievements had made their way to town. There were even experienced mercenaries who were tired of the vagabond life, and were seeking to work for a more structured and stable organization.

The crowd had also attracted some groups of merchants, and peculiar gadgets and accessories could be seen being sold on the streets. The people of Firuman loved to shop as well, and all these intriguing items had attracted many tourists to River Cove Town for a few days of fun. As a result, the town became even more crowded, which then attracted the circus, which deemed it as a highly profitable spot to hold performances.

This was the scene that Link was greeted with when he returned to River Cove Town. The two sides of the road were filled with stalls selling a variety of items, ranging from fresh fruits and vegetables to toys and even lucky charms. The previously empty spot just outside of town now had a large carriage, where many exotic animals were performing stunts and attracting many onlookers.

Looking at this scene through the window of his carriage, Link exclaimed, "What a rare sight."

The town was really small and the crowd made it even more difficult for the carriage to maneuver itself through the narrow streets. It took Link 20 minutes to get from the town entrance to the house of the Flamingo Band of Mercenaries.

Compared to before, the house had expanded and had become livelier. Cheers could be heard from the training fields located directly beside the house. It seemed like the members were in the midst of training.

However, Link found a few things peculiar. He realized that the house was still protected merely by a wooden fence and the door was still an ordinary wooden door. Even the damages on the door had not been fixed.

While the number of members had increased, their equipment seemed old and their clothes tattered. Except for the Flamingo necklace that hung around their necks, they looked no different from ordinary mercenaries. Link even saw a few members squatting in the corner of the yard to consume their meals, which only consisted of bread and a bowl of soup. The conditions seemed rough.

Link frowned. "Didn't Lucy say that the mercenary band was making a profit? She even sent 1000 gold coins over to the academy. This does not resemble anything that she told me."

The mercenary band should be earning at least 1500 gold coins to be able to send over 1000 gold coins to the academy. This was a huge amount of money for an ordinary person. It was not possible to earn this amount of money simply accomplishing ordinary tasks. The only possible explanation was a successful raid of a large bandit's hideout.

But as Link looked around the courtyard, there was not a single injured mercenary in sight. This meant that there were no recent battles that mobilized a large group of mercenaries.

Even if the money did come from other sources, some of it should have been used to upgrade their equipment and to repair the yard. It would not even cost much.

Link had come to a conclusion, "Lucy was lying. The 1000 gold coins came from the savings of the mercenary band and were not earned."

Link could figure out the reason for this as well. Lucy probably heard that magic research required a large amount of money and was worried that he would not have enough.

"So this is a loyal follower?"

Although he was used to NPCs being unusually loyal in the game, he was still extremely touched to experience this in real life.

Everyone only thinks about themselves on Earth. It is impossible for a person to be wholeheartedly loyal. They'll be considered a nice person as long as they are mature enough to keep their negative opinions to themselves. However, the World of Firuman values the bonds between people and places great emphasis on status. If a follower swears their loyalty to you, they will never betray you. Link thought about this and sighed.

This sight once again reminded Link that he was no longer on Earth, but in an otherworldly dimension where words and allegiance were, at times, valued over someone's life.

The crest of the East Cove Higher Magic Academy on the carriage was way too prominent. The moment Link stepped onto the lawn, Jacker came out to welcome him.

In comparison, Jacker had definitely become more well-built over the past few weeks and even developed a stern demeanor. His Battle Aura had also become more pronounced, looking more like a true master. However, this stern demeanor was not meant to exert dominance over Link. Jacker smiled the moment he saw Link and bowed respectfully. "My lord, you have returned.

Link smiled and nodded before taking the stairs up to the hall on the second floor. The first thing Link did was place 1500 gold coins on the table. This included the 1000 gold coins Lucy sent him and the other 500 gold coins were from his own savings. Upon seeing Jacker's puzzled expression, Link laughed.

"The mercenary band had indeed grown in size. However, River Cove Town is a small place; it is not possible to earn 1000 gold coins in a week. I presume this was taken from the pool of money we earned previously?" Link smiled and stared at Jacker.

Jacker did not expect Link to return so soon, and even see through their lies so easily. He scratched his head, looking slightly embarrassed. "My lord, we were thinking that you might be able to put this to better use than us..."

Link shook his head, "I'm not short of money. In fact, look at yourself. You are still wearing your old undershirt and belt. It's time to change them."

Jacker still firmly believed that Link was actually in need of money. He immediately waved his hands and said, "It's more comfortable to wear these old clothes. It's fine, I promise."

Link then pushed the bag of coins towards Jacker and spoke in a serious tone, "Listen to me!"

Jacker immediately sat up and listened intently.

"The development of the mercenary band is not possible without wealth. The battle equipment, training facilities, compensation for death and injuries, maintenance and expansion of the area, as well as rewards and remunerations...these are all inevitable expenses. If you are to save on these important aspects, what incentives do the members have to continue staying in your mercenary band? They will find it increasingly tough to stay and will rather leave to work on their own as the benefits are simply insufficient. This will be extremely unfavorable to the future development of the mercenary band," Link advised.

This was the truth and Jacker fully understood what Link was trying to say.

"We may be lacking in equipment, but we are very generous with the commission. The mercenary band only takes 10 percent of their total reward-this is extremely low in the current market," he explained.

Link stopped Jacker right there. "These are only the most basic benefits and can, at most, ensure the daily operations of the mercenary band. In order to bring the development to another level, the mercenary band has to work on their branding and prestige!"

"Branding...prestige?" Jacker was confused, how do you operate on these intangible things?

Link nodded and asked, "What do you think of when I mention the term nobility?"

Jacker was following Link's train of thought closely. He pictured the nobles he had seen in his mind and described them.

"They dress elegantly and lived in huge castles. They travel in their magnificent carriages and have endless wealth and countless fields under their names. They are also proud and haughty, speaking to commoners as though we are second-class citizens."

"And do you aspire to become a noble?" Link asked.

"A little..." Jacker was slightly embarrassed. It was in fact his dream to one day become a noble. This was simply human nature. If given an opportunity, even the lofty intellectuals who appeared to despise nobility and even wrote papers criticizing them would probably jump on it the first chance they get.

"This is why our mercenary band still has a lot of things to work on. We have to fix the yard and beautify our base. Our members have to wear superior equipment that is also aesthetically pleasing. Rules will also have to be set in place to restrict their behavior in public. We have to cultivate a brand name that is powerful, reliable and safe. This is what I meant by operating on our prestige," Link explained.

"This might need a lot of money to accomplish." Jacker was slightly hesitant. However, he was also tempted. The mercenary band that Link mentioned was exactly the same as what he envisioned the Flamingo Band of Mercenaries could become one day. This had always been his dream.

"Then you must keep this money. Since you have already started chasing your dream, do not give up! Give it your all!"

Jacker fell silent for a while before speaking, "My lord, you have always been helping us. What can we do to repay you?"

Link smiled and said, "You guys have been a great help up until now. When the mercenary band becomes even stronger, I still have many tasks for you. Now, keep the money."

His original intent was to use the mercenary band to generate revenue for his magic exploits. However, ever since he realized the economic potential of his enchanting skills, he dismissed this thought.

Link's continued support of the mercenary band was mostly due to the bonds he forged with his comrades, but was also partly due to the fact that he could recruit some helpers that would help him in his grand quest.

The World of Firuman was complex and although magic was powerful, it was nowhere near omnipotent. There were many things that Link could not do due to his Magician identity, which limited his outreach and capabilities.

For example, a Magician would be unsuitable for missions that involved the mining of information. A Magician's identity was too eye-catching for such missions and they would fail miserably at them. However, it would be the perfect job for a mercenary that was practically unknown.

Jacker carefully took the bag of gold coins and took out a scroll. "My lord, there is a stone hut at the Cliff of Howling Winds. It is well furnished with a complete stock of daily necessities. However, there is a layer of dust on the furniture. I presume that it had been empty for at least 10 days when I found it. I searched the room and found this scroll in the corner of the room together with the miscellaneous items."

The scroll was black and was made of black alligator skin. There were exquisite silver markings on the edges. Link stared closely at the scroll and gasped, a coded message scroll?