"Patt, please invite Jim and his fellow mercenaries to come over. Also, bring the surrendered Feathersoar mercenaries here as well. I have something I want to ask them," Lorist said.
"Understood, milord," said Patt before he turned and headed for the group of the surrendered mercenaries not far away.
Jim and the rest of his mercenaries helped Patt to escort two of the captives over. What made Lorist wonder was that the closer the mercenaries approached Lorist, the more respectful their gazes became as if they revered Lorist for some reason.
"What's with you guys?" Lorist asked Jim.
Jim pointed towards the corpses of the two Gold ranked shield-bearers not far away and licked his lips before he said, "Milord... Those two... they..."
"What's with them? Aren't they just two Gold ranked shield-bearers? Oh, that's right, why would those two be in the Feathersoar Mercenary Crew? I've never heard you guys mention them before," said Lorist with a dissatisfied tone in his voice. The presence of those shield-bearers had not once been mentioned by Jim and his crew nor Butler Boris when they first came up with the plan and the mercenaries said that the Feathersoar Mercenary Crew only had around 10 Silver ranked fighters as one of the three most famous mercenary crews in the Iblia Kingdom. Even though Butler Boris probably wouldn't know the details within the crew, news about two Gold ranked fighters within their ranks shouldn't have escaped his ears, given that they had worked together for multiple occasions.
"That's not it, milord," said Jim in a slightly frantic voice, afraid that Lorist would misunderstand their intentions. "I had no clue at all that those two had returned. It's been over a year since we last heard of them. When I was hitting the pubs, I've met Adams once or twice and he said that those two had traveled far away to become someone else's disciples without mentioning any other details. The rest of us usually wouldn't mind small matters like that and continued feasting away without considering the two to be part of their crew."
"You mean to say that they're rather famous?" Lorist asked interestedly.
"That's right, milord. These two shield-bearers are pretty famous in the Royal Capital of Windbury City. The elder of the twin brothers has a fire Battle Force attribute while the younger has a water Battle Force attribute. It was rumored that they have some degree of telepathic communication ability with each other that was the source of their excellent synergy and teamwork. Combined with the excellent combination of their Battle Force attributes, these twins have managed to defeat two Gold ranked fighters in a team battle when they were at the Three Star Silver rank. That battle ended with only one of the Gold ranks escaping with the other being killed by the twin brothers, thus greatly boosting their reputation.
"The twins were orphans who have been discovered and adopted by Crew Leader Adams when they were around the age of 12. To raise the twins, Adams had spent lots of effort and resources. I have just heard a few Feathersoar mercenaries say that the twins had just recently broke through to the Gold rank after training in seclusion for around a year and only returned to the crew two months ago, during which they dueled with one of the Second Prince's subordinates, Blademaster Luins, for more than 300 bouts before they lost due to lack of stamina. The Second Prince was so fascinated by their abilities that he had wanted to hire them as his personal bodyguards for a high fee, but they rejected the offer in the end. This escort was their first mission ever since they returned to the crew, but who would've expect that it would also be their last and end up dying at your hands, milord..."
Jim stammered the longer he continued. Had he not been present when that happened, he definitely wouldn't believe that those two corpses belonged to the most famous twin shield-bearers of the Iblia Kingdom, who were both Gold ranked fighters. Jim and his mercenary comrades conceded without much trouble back then was because Lorist had Josk, a Gold ranked marksman, on his side. None of them had took the dominion lord, Lorist, seriously and believed that he wouldn't have been able to take over the construction site by himself given his power as an Iron rank without Josk's help.
However, these mercenaries finally understood that the seemingly mediocre Lorist was an existence on par of that of fearsome dragons. Even if they hadn't seen his battle with the twin shield-bearers, the mere sight of the speed and efficiency at which Lorist mowed down the rest of the Feathersoar mercenaries with one or two strikes each shook their hearts to the core. That was even more so the case during his battle with Crew Leader Adams, in which Lorist had taken his head with only one strike. Even Silver ranked mercenaries like Patt and Jim were shaken by that scene: the crew leader that the both of them had so painstakingly defended against had so easily been decapitated by Lorist in one swift stroke. Witnessing all that had cemented the difference between Lorist's and the mercenary's abilities, causing them to have a newfound respect and awe for him.
"I agree, those two had held themselves quite well in battle. No wonder they were able to stop me for so long and made me use so much energy in defeating them," said Lorist as he nodded. Little did he know that his words had almost made the mercenaries around him faint in disbelief. If the twin shield-bearers merely 'held themselves quite well' during that battle with Lorist that lasted less than 30 minutes and even died at his hand, given that they were capable of fighting a Blademaster for more than 300 tiring bouts, didn't that mean that Lorist was stronger than Blademasters? That fact had caused the looks of the mercenaries to be even more fearful.
"Jim, thank you and your comrades so much for aiding us when we were under the assault of the Feathersoar Mercenary Crew. I thank you on behalf on the whole Norton Family. I have decided to double your payment today as a sign of gratitude. Shadekampf, go to the warehouse and bring out a chest of gold Fordes. Give each of these fine men 20 gold Fordes each," said Lorist.
"Yes, milord," said Shadekampf before he quickly retreated. The mercenaries all let out soft cheers of delight upon hearing about the doubling of their pay as they didn't expect that Lorist would be so generous. Their initial guilt about betraying the Feathersoar Mercenary Crew had all been melted away as all of them felt that it was definitely a worthwhile job.
"Also, I'd like to ask..." Lorist said. "Jim, would you be willing to join the Norton Family as our family knight?"
The surrounding men all quieted down as they focused their attention on Jim.
With a reddened face, Jim looked back at his comrades. Some of them had eyes filled with envy as they believed that becoming a knight of a noble family was the best possible outcome for men like them. However, some felt that the current state of the Norton Family didn't seem to promise a bright future for its subjects and felt that it was far better being a free mercenary that was not held down by any obligation. Others were even jealous and felt that it was unfair that Jim was the only one who was offered that chance even though all 20 of them also had a part in that battle.
After giving it some thought, Jim lifted his head and regained his calm before he said, "Milord, I'm only a mercenary and I have nothing in mind right now but to fulfill your tasks..."
Lorist felt disappointed with that response, but he waved his hand and said, "Don't worry about it, I understand how you feel. But since I've already given you the invitation, the doors of the Nortons will always be open for you should you ever change your mind."
"Thank you, milord..." said Jim as he bowed deeply.
"Then what about the rest of you? Would you be interested in joining the Norton Family's forces?" Lorist asked the remaining 19 mercenaries.
After a moment, six of them approached Lorist and said in unison, "Milord, we are willing to be in your service."
Delighted, Lorist said, "I appreciate your commitment. It is my wish that you rack up some achievements for yourselves so that you may one day become knights of the family."
Of the 6 mercenaries, there was 1 One Star Silver rank, 3 Iron ranks and 2 Bronze ranks. Their enlistment into the forces of the Nortons was much needed to relieve the loss of the men who were sacrificed on the battlefield.
At that moment, Shadekampf brought over a chest filled with small pouches each containing 20 gold Fordes. Satisfied with Shadekampf's considerate inclusion of the sachets, Lorist gave the approval to distribute them to the mercenaries. However, one Silver ranked mercenary who had just joined the Norton forces said that since he was already part of them, it was only natural for him to fulfil his duty and urged that he didn't require any payment.
Lorist laughed and said, "Take it, my friend. The Norton Family doesn't lack that kind of money. This is your reward for doing good work for the family, so I insist that you take it. After this, rest up well. I will ask for you guys if I need anything else."
The mercenaries all left happily with their money with some even opening their sachets to count the coins as they admired them while they walked back to the camp before unwillingly putting them back into the sachets. Only Jim remained, seemingly having something to say to Lorist.
Upon noticing Jim's hesitation, Lorist asked, "What's wrong, Jim? Did you change your mind?"
Jim responded respectfully, "Milord, I've stayed to plead for the lives of the surrendered Feathersoar mercenaries. I know many of them and they are all my good friends who also didn't act against your men during the battle just now and only fought casually against us. They finally surrendered when you made your way there. I hope that you will show them mercy and allow them to serve you along with the rest of us mercenaries."
Lorist stroked his chin while he thought before he said straightforwardly, "Alright then. Since they didn't cause the family any loss, I am willing to spare them on your behalf. I will also hire them on the same conditions as I hired you and your crew, would that be acceptable?"
"Milord, I am grateful for your benevolence and grace. I thank you on their behalf as well," said Jim gratefully.
"You should stay for a little more. I still want to ask them some questions," said Lorist as he motioned for the two surrendered Feathersoar mercenaries to come forward.
First, he asked them why they still decided to resist even after they found out that they had been trapped and surrounded by ballistas. That wasn't the usual behavior of mercenaries, who only cared about their own lives unlike soldiers of proper armies or nobles families.
The two of the captives gave a simple answer: before they left the dominion of the Kenmayses to deliver the shipment, Viscount Kenmays had promised to make Crew Leader Adams a baron if they were able to cooperate with the Kenmays Family to make the Nortons submit as well as enfeoff him part of the territory of the Norton Family's dominion. As the Nortons' dominion spanned a large area, there was more than enough land for five baronies. Adams would then become an official vassal noble house of the Kenmays Family. He had also promised his fellow mercenaries that he would recruit them to become his family knights. That was why they were so willing to fight despite the risks involved.
Good Sol! Lorist was really struck speechless after hearing their response. The Kenmays Family were truly too devious in their plots; for them to use the territory of the Norton Family which had yet to fall into their hands to entice Crew Leader Adams... it was no surprise that the Feathersoar Mercenary Crew was so desperate during that battle! Darn it! As expected of a family of lowly, devious merchants!
His second question was to verify the truth about the rumor about the Kenmays Family's new army of 2000 men at the Royal Capital of Windbury that Adams had mentioned during his chat with Jim before the battle.
According to the captives, all that was said by Adams was true. The elder one even revealed some insider information: the Kenmays Family had secretly received the support and permission of the Second Prince to form their army. When the Feathersoar mercenaries got to know about that, they expressed their worries about the crew leader's future position in the Kenmays Family as they may no longer be as integral to the Kenmayses now that they had a force of their own. However, Adams said that there was no need to worry and mentioned that the reason the Second Prince supported the formation of the army was to put some pressure on Duke Loggins. Additionally, the Kenmays Family and the Second Prince were still in the process of negotiating with the duke to let the force of 2000 enter the Northlands.
Lorist's third query was about the status and defenses of the Redriver Valley Bastide.
The captives said that they had taken ten days of rest at the bastide before the shipment mission to the construction site began as they had spent the last month traveling from the royal capital to the Kenmayses' dominion. The two of them answered every single question that Lorist brought up about bastide, much to his satisfaction.
After sending Jim and the two mercenaries away, Lorist looked and Josk and Patt before he said, "Joe, Patt, do you have any energy left?"
"Milord, please don't hesitate to give us your orders," said the both of them energetically in unison.
"You've heard what the mercenaries had to say. The dominion of the Kenmays Family is very weakly defended right now, especially so at the Redriver Valley Bastide. The immigrant town they have nearby only has a garrison of 100 plus people at most with no defensive walls or fortifications. It would be extremely rude for us to not pay them a visit after what the mercenaries they hired have done here, so I've decided to let the two of you do the honors. I give you one hour to prepare a squad of men including the ones in charge of the ballistas just now as well as some uninjured guard squad members. If they're tired, bring some carriages with you and let them rest on the way there. After occupying the Redriver Valley Bastide, send someone to notify me about it and move everything that you think we can use over here. I want to make sure that the place is burnt to the ground so that the Kenmays Family will have nothing that they will be able to use against us there," ordered Lorist.
"Your will is our command, milord."