Lorist stood on top of the inner wall and looked at the group of people who gradually entered through the castle gates.
Butler Boris and Supervisor Hansk came to Lorist's side. Hansk asked, "Milord, why did you suddenly order the people within the camp to enter the castle and stop all the construction work outside?"
"A group of soldiers of Duke Loggins's has made its way into the inner part of our dominion. There is a huge possibility that the people of Wildnorth Town were the one who guided their entry," Lorist replied.
"What?! Is that true?!" Both the butler and the supervisor revealed faces of shock and surprise.
"That's right. Even I wouldn't dare to joke about this. Ovidis, when everyone enters the castle, recruit another group of soldiers from the ranks of the laborers and form a defense unit company," Lorist said.
"Yes, milord. I'll be on it right away," Ovidis said as he rushed away.
Hansk took out a beastskin account book from his sack and flipped it as he asked, "Milord, what are you going to arm the new soldiers with?"
"What's wrong?" Lorist asked.
"While we have a lot of leather armor within the storehouses, we only have around 10 chain mails remaining. During the past four months, Grandmaster Sid, his son and his other laborers who had been recruited because of their smithing experience had produced around 1200 sets of chain mails using the 'assembly line method' that you suggested. The two companies stationed here at Firmrock Castle and over at Maplewoods Bastide respectively have all been armed with chain mails. However, we're running out of iron ingots and only have a total of around 5000 kilograms left as an emergency resource..." reported Supervisor Hansk.
Understanding the supervisor's concern, Lorist said, "How about this? We'll arm the new soldier company with leather armor, pikes, wooden shields and shortswords. Will there be a problem that way?"
"No, milord. We have more than enough of those within our storehouses," replied Hansk.
"Also, Hansk, reward Grandmaster Sid with 10 gold Fordes on my behalf and don't forget to give his other smiths one gold Forde each. Let them take a short break in the meantime. I will need them to forage the area for mining resources after we defeat the soldiers of the duke," Lorist said.
"Butler Boris, you will be in charge of the people I've asked Old Man Balk to bring inside the castle construction site, alright? When they finish moving, bring a group of laborers and Old Man Balk outside to sweep the surrounding area clean of any stone and wood construction material. After letting them rest for another two days, begin construction on the residential area inside the castle, understood?"
"Milord, please be assured that I will carry that out flawlessly," said Boris before he left.
"Shadekampf," Lorist called out.
"Milord, what are your instructions?"
"I want you to join the other nobles over there at the Kenmays Family's camp and tell them that after seeing the hectic battles from the walls, I would like to organize a proper knighthood contest and am ready to use some equipment and prize money as rewards for the victors. Tell the Kenmayses that if they are still intent on attacking us, wait until the contest is over since they won't be able to do anything given the current situation anyway," Lorist said.
"Ah, milord... You mean to do..."
"I want you to stall the Kenmayses and the other nobles so that they don't know about the presence of the duke's army within our territory to prevent them from launching a pincer attack from both inside and out. Currently, the enemies within our dominion is the priority and I'm prepared to gather all our forces to face them first."
"Milord, I understand. I will be going there shortly," Shadekampf replied.
"Patt, escort Shadekampf on his mission later. Also, send someone to bring Jim over here. I have something I need him to do," Lorist said.
Ever since he received the news from the mercenary messenger, Lorist moved his place of residence from the outer wall to the inner wall at Telesti's room. Telesti on the other hand moved down from the wall and picked two newly-built houses in the planned business sector with the larger one being the main headquarters for the construction operations and the smaller one which was situated at a quieter area as her residence.
Shadekampf and Patt entered the room only to see Lorist comparing large and small maps, seemingly in an effort to find the route that allowed the duke's regiment to make their way into the Norton Family dominion.
"Oh, you're back," Lorist said as he tossed the map in his hand onto the table in futility. "It can't be possible... There isn't a road they could've used at all. While two or three people could've crossed the mountains without too much trouble, how did they bring thousands of them over? Oh, and Shadekampf, what was their reaction when you went there?"
Shadekampf thought for a while and replied, "Milord, when we arrived, Viscount Kenmays was holding a welcoming feast for the nobles who had just arrived. When I announced our plans right there and then, many nobles agreed to the proposition. However, the viscount made an unpleasant look and the 7 nobles which the viscount had personally invited over didn't make a single sound. After that, the viscount said he had to excuse himself for a while and by the time he returned, he announced that the Kenmays Family was willing to make up with the Norton Family and organize the knighthood contest jointly with us..."
"Make up? What does that mean? I burned his bastide down as well as his immigrant town and took all their resources and citizens. They should be hating us to the bone... But now they're willing to let go of all that for a knighthood contest? How is that possible? What is the Kenmays Family leader planning... Don't tell me that he's planning on attacking our castle during the knighthood competition?" Lorist asked as he stood up and paced around in thought.
"Milord, I believe they are indeed sincere about their request. That's because I've met with Viscount Kenmays's father, the family leader of the Kenmays Family," Shadekampf said.
"Oh?" mused Lorist as he looked towards Shadekampf.
"Milord, after the viscount announced his decision, he invited us to the tent nearby to discuss the details of organizing the knighthood contest and quickly made a draft of the plans for the nobles to see. Suspecting that something was amiss, I went to the next tent only to see the Kenmays Family leader waiting for us within," Shadekampf said.
Lorist looked towards Patt and saw him nod, indicating that what Shadekampf just said was true.
"Then what did the family leader say?" Lorist asked.
"He looked really angry and said that the actions of the Kenmays Family against the Nortons were purely his arrogant son's fault. Originally, the Kenmays Family had a mercantile background and they had just become a noble family recently, so he said that they weren't too familiar with the traditions and customs of nobles yet. He mentioned that as someone who ascended into nobility after the Norton Family which had hundreds of years of history behind it, their family should have treated us with respect. But due to his son's aloof ambitions and short temper, they have mistakenly wronged the us and have learned their lesson ever since.
"The family leader also said that the Kenmays Family did not wish to make an enemy out of the Norton Family, citing that during the three-month-siege by the viscount's forces on the Maplewoods Bastide, they have suffered huge losses as well. He stated that as fellow neighbors, our two families should help each other out instead of becoming arch-enemies. He wishes that our families would put our past grievances behind us and look towards a better future of cooperation in the long term. He added that the Kenmays Family was willing to forfeit and concede all their territorial arguments with the Nortons so that there would be no more room for conflict.
"Milord, the Kenmays Family also revealed two important pieces of information," Shadekampf said.
"What are they?"
Shadekampf said, "First, they said that they would bring their forces to heed Count Lopez's call for reinforcements first thing tomorrow afternoon as the count's dominion had come under serious assault from the mountain barbarians. I think that's the main reason for their sudden proposal for peace."
Lorist nodded and thought, that's right. There was no way in hell the Kenmays Family would be so gracious and let us go for nothing. The reason they made that action was because they would profit from it somehow. No merchant family would do anything unless the profits involved were high enough. However, Lorist still did not understand the overall situation of the Northlands as he was almost blind to any happenings outside his own dominion.
Lorist asked suspiciously, "What is the second piece of information?"
Shadekampf said, "The Kenmays Family leader said that when he passed through the duke's territory to arrive at Firmrock Castle, he noticed that the Northland Army was being mobilized and heard that they were coming for you, milord, the new family leader of the Nortons who had chased away the ambassadors the duke sent to threaten us and even hurt their arrogant Gold ranked knight Tabik severely, causing the duke to enter a terrible fit of rage as a result. The Kenmays Family leader mentioned that since he was able to travel faster with few people, he was able to make it in time to warn us a few days in advance of the arrival of the duke's army so that we may make our preparations."
"Hmmm..." Lorist was currently in deep thought. Why would the Kenmays Family leader bother to warn us? Originally, they were the ones that wanted to take over Firmrock Castle in the first place. I think that also indicates that they still don't know that they duke's army is already within our territory. Then again, he did mention that he was going to help Count Lopez out and bring his forces away... Is he trying to avoid the duke's army? And if so, why?
If I were the Kenmays Family leader, the duke would be someone whose good side I have to get to no matter what. That means... that the Kenmays Family's forces would become enemy fodder for the duke's army when they arrive! Lorist's eyes gleamed as he came to the realization. That's right. When the duke's army arrives, Viscount Kenmays would have to heed his orders, and if I take into account the difficulty the Kenmayses experienced to get authorization for their army to enter the Northlands... There's no reason why the duke wouldn't want the 2000 soldiers to become the vanguard of his attacks! Given the duke's personality, that much is a given...
The more Lorist pondered on that issue, the more he felt it was possible. The main reason the Kenmays Family wanted peace at a time like this was so that they could escape the worse fate that lay ahead as well as stand at the sidelines while the duke's army and the Nortons ripped each other apart. On the other hand, it would also save the remainder of their forces. That was why they chose to use helping the count out as an excuse to have their army leave the area so that their soldiers wouldn't get caught up in the crossfire. Gosh, they're all old, cunning foxes... Despite his losses, he told us about the duke's arrival and retreated his forces to not cause us any worry so that we would be able to cause as much damage to the duke as possible, which would also become beneficial for him...
"Milord, these are the rules of the knighthood contest which the Kenmays Family leader provided. He said that their family had organized quite a number of such competitions before and had lots of experience with them. As long as we are willing to supply the rewards, the Kenmays Family will be sponsoring all the costs involved to run the event. He wants the function to be called the 'Amity Cup' to commemorate the renewed good relations between the Kenmayses and Nortons. The family leader also mentioned that the longer the contest could be carried out, the better and that anyone who dares to interrupt the proceedings will become the public enemy of all knights. That's why, even if the duke's forces arrive, they would have to wait until the whole thing is over..." said Shadekampf as he passed a stack of beastskin documents to Lorist.
Lorist smiled. The Kenmays Family leader was doing his best to put Duke Loggins in as tough a position as he could and decided to organize the contest despite thinking that the duke's troops were on their way. How would the soldiers have any morale or motivation remaining to attack the castle after the contest? It was a shame that the Kenmays Family leader was unaware that the duke wouldn't be showing up at Firmrock Castle as they were already at Wildnorth Town.
Lorist took out a feather pen and dipped it into some ink and started writing as he said, "I agree to most of the stuff in the regulations, but I want to split up the category of the Silver ranked knight competitions into three according to the star rank so that there will be winners for the One Star Silver rank, Two Star Silver rank and the Three Star Silver rank respectively. Also, only competing in foot battles and mounted battles is far too plain. Let's add another archery competition for each rank. Shadekampf, pay them a visit tomorrow morning and tell them that the Norton Family is willing to forget the grievances of the past and be at peace with the Kenmays Family and mention that we absolutely cannot let them bear the whole cost of organizing the contest. Since it's a collaboration, we will split and bear half of the organizing cost and sponsor the prize money for the knighthood competition while the Kenmayses only have to pay for half of the labor cost."
Patt stepped up and said, "Milord, when Shadekampf was discussing the details of the contest, I loitered around the area and discovered two things."
"First, the Kenmays Family already have to family knights. One of them looked to be someone who had been in the military with an air that's similar to Potterfang's. The other was extremely tall and huge with a sturdy look and emitted a heavy killing intent that would intimidate anyone at first sight. Other than that, the Kenmays Family is preparing to form a small knight brigade by recruiting the wandering knights. I found out about that because I saw 20 wandering knights within the camp and had a short chat with them," Patt reported.
"Oh, it seems that they have other stuff up their sleeves as well. I really wonder what they'll be up to next. Patt, find two guards tomorrow to spy on the forces of the Kenmays Family. Let's see what they intend to achieve by using 'aiding Count Lopez' as an excuse," Lorist said.
"Also, I will not show up during the knighthood contest and it will mainly be organized by you and Shadekampf. Make sure to pay attention to the knights who get the first few places in their categories and recruit them if you can. However, I want you to focus on the archery competition specifically. It's okay if the knights there are lacking in other respects. As long as they're good at archery, ask the participants whether they want to serve in our military force and tell them that there will be opportunities for promotion if they perform well."
Commonly speaking, knights seldom cared about the art of archery as they believed that true knights would face each other off in a bloody melee battle as attacking from afar was often considered an act of cowardice. However, Lorist understood that his forces' ranged units suffered as he wasn't able to effectively train them. That was why he had no choice but to secretly place his hopes on the knighthood contest's archery competition to find him a few good archers. Also, the Kenmays Family might think that the additional competition segment was merely the Norton Family's attempt at showing off their Gold ranked marksman, so there really was nothing to lose.
"Yes, milord. we will do as you have instructed," said Shadekampf and Patt in unison.