"Milord, I've brought Knight Waxima here," Patt said.
"Who?" Lorist asked, having not clearly heard him.
Shadekampf explained, "Milord, when we left the camp of the Kenmayses, Patt said he wanted to recruit Knight Waxima as a family knight as he had won three straight challenges in a row in the morning. That was why we headed to his tent to pay him a visit. But when we were there, the men sent by the Family of the Pegasus and the Kenmays Family were already there to make their invitations."
"Oh..." The more Lorist heard, the more interested he got. However, he had never heard of a 'pegasus' family. "Wait, what noble family bears the moniker of the Family of the Pegasus? Why haven't I heard of it before?"
"Milord, did you forget? Yesterday, the first knight who challenged our family, Lamboway, wore a silver pegasus crest did he not? He was a knight of the Family of the Pegasus. Milord, do you know about the Newmoon War and the Felim Family?"
"I know about those. Hundreds of years ago, an artifact was excavated from one of the ancient ruins. It was a Silvermoon-shaped stone that was said to be filled with magical power. That stone had caused Krissen IV to go to war for it against 7 other noble families and it was termed the Newmoon War or the Newmoon Chaos. In the end, Krissen IV won a hard-fought victory and eradicated the other 7 families. However, the magical stone had disappeared and was never seen by anyone else ever since. Having ruined half of his empire and gaining nothing, Krissen IV was often ridiculed for expending so much effort on something he did not get his hands on in the end. I recall that the Felim Family was one of the 7 families that rebelled, right?" Lorist asked as he recalled.
Shadekampf said, "Milord, your memory is indeed great. The insignia of the Felim Family does indeed depict a silver pegasus. Like how we are called the Family of the Roaring Raging Bear, they are colloquially known as the Family of the Pegasus. One of the wandering knights who paid the Second Prince a huge sum to be made into a noble is Baron Felim Chalvode. According to the ambassador of the Felim Family that was sent to recruit Knight Waxima, the baron is one of the descendants from the Family of the Pegasus and he wishes to one day return his family to its previous glorious position. As long as Knight Waxima joins the Felim Family, they might actually stand a chance in the future..."
"Also, the ambassador of the Kenmays Family said that they were willing to offer Knight Waxima two times the yearly salary other families paid their knights as well as giving Waxima his own personal manor which will be complete with all the necessary infrastructure if he made it to the Gold rank," Patt added.
"Oh, then why did Knight Waxima come back with you guys? What kind of conditions did you make?" Lorist asked curiously.
"This..." Shadekampf said as he shook his head in a troubled manner.
Patt scratched his head and said, "To be honest, we don't know why he followed us here either. We didn't even make any conditions. Milord, when we went there, the other two ambassadors from the other families were already there. When we met Knight Waxima, we went straight to the point and asked if he was willing to come to our family. After we said that, the ambassadors of the Family of the Pegasus and the Kenmays Family tried to convince him otherwise and made better conditions of their own. Thinking that we didn't have a chance, we bid our farewells and left. Who knew that after hearing the offers of the two ambassadors, Knight Waxima merely shook his head and refused them before he brought his sword and mount and followed us back..."
"Then where is he now?"
"Milord, Knight Waxima is waiting right outside. I had wanted him to come inside with us, but he said that it would be impolite to enter milord's room without first being invited and that it was against the code of chivalry practiced by knights. That was why we had no choice but to allow him to wait outside..." Patt said.
"Sol, you should've said that first when you came in. It really is quite rude for me to have made him wait for so long..." Lorist complained as he hurriedly rushed outside.
Waxima was a tall and slender guy who acted with utmost politeness. His almost ceremonial behavior instantly revealed his traditional knight family upbringing, given that he was a little uncomfortable with how friendly Lorist treated him and even hesitated to receive the cup of tea that Lorist poured him.
"Knight Waxima, please forgive my prying, but why did you refuse the invitations of the Family of the Pegasus and the Kenmays Family? Their conditions were not bad at all from what I've heard..." Lorist paid attention to the knight as he was quite interested in him. After witnessing Waxima fight with other knights with his practiced and stable fighting style that allowed him to aptly receive and parry any strike headed towards him, Lorist felt that the knight gave of a dependable and reliable aura, similar to that of Mt. Tai. For some reason. Lorist chuckled at somehow remembering the famous saying about a mountain from his previous life.
Knight Waxima continued to stay silent before he brought out a small golden badge bearing the insignia of the Raging Bear and put it on the table. "I have come because of this."
The badge of the Raging Bear? Lorist picked out the badge and flipped it around and saw the characters spelling out 'Abelyde' engraved upon its back.
"Big brother?" Lorist looked at Knight Waxima and thought, how did the badge of my elder brother end up in his hands?
"Seven years ago, Sir Abelyde was a One Star Gold ranked knight and he traveled the Northlands to challenge all the famous knights within with none of them being his match. When he was on his way back to his own dominion, he passed through my manor. At that time, I was trying the third time to awaken my Battle Force. If I had failed back then, I would have nowhere else to go and would have no choice to leave the manor that was left to me by my father. It was because I had Sir Abelyde's guidance that I was able to awaken my Battle Force successfully in the end. Before he left, when I asked if I would be able to meet him again, he left this badge behind and smiled as he said that I could go find him with this badge when I reach the Silver rank and he would make me his knight. But when i finally broke through, I received the news that he had perished on the battlefield...
"Not knowing what I should do, I decided to visit the Norton Family anyway when I reach the Two Star Silver rank even if Sir Abelyde was already no more. However, my mother passed away by coincidence at that time and my wife also birthed me my son, causing me to be unable to leave as I had planned. Just last year, I broke through to the Three Star Silver rank and my father's liege's descendant, Viscount Beseth, went under the attack of two other new noble families, so I had no other choice but to help resist the attacks and we only managed to defeat those dominion lords earlier this year.
"I then spent three months to settle the issues within my manor like laying-off my servants before I returned it to the viscount and brought my wife and son along with my attendants over here. I only just arrived yesterday and planned to visit you this morning, but the other wandering knights in the area thought that I was planning to challenge them, so I had no choice but to defeat those two challengers. Then I thought that if I showed up at the castle walls, I might be mistaken to be challenging your family, so I returned once again to think things over. I didn't expect that just now during the evening, you would've sent your men to find me... So I followed them back here right away..." explained Waxima in a rather calm tone as if he was talking about his past like the most common things of everyday life.
Lorist, Shadekampf and Patt, however, were rather moved by his experiences...
"You've returned the manor your father left you back to the dominion lord?" Lorist asked in a surprised voice.
"That's right, milord," replied Knight Waxima calmly. "The lord my father pledged himself to is the grandfather of the current dominion lord. When I failed on my second attempt to awaken my Battle Force, the current Viscount Beseth even asked me to leave the manor and said that their family cannot afford to support a piece of useless crap like me. That's why I've decided not to follow the Beseth Family like my father did when I broke through to the Silver rank, considering that I also promised Sir Abelyde that I would become a knight of the Norton Family. This time, the reason I fought off the two noble families that attacked Viscount Beseth's dominion was to return the favors my family owes Viscount Beseth's grandfather. After returning the manor, we no longer owe each other anymore and I can leave without any lingering attachments."
"Knight Waxima, I'm really touched by the behavior that you have shown which is exemplary of a most respectable and glorious knight. Your firm belief on fulfilling promises is the best reciprocation the Norton Family can hope for. However, you should know that our family is currently in a rather dire situation. To be completely honest with you, a group of Duke Loggins's soldiers have already managed to invade our dominion. If you join us, you will have to face his men on the battlefield and nobody can guarantee your safety. Your child is also still young, so I hope you can think it over by taking your family into consideration. Joining the Norton Family now is not the most optimal choice you can make," Lorist said as he made a bitter smile.
"Milord, the path of knights is supposed to be fraught with dangers. My only regret is that I couldn't come here earlier and I do not wish to have the same regrets for the remainder of my life. If I shirk out now, my son will probably be ashamed for having a father like me..." said Waxima as he stepped in front of Lorist and kneeled down on one knee. "Milord, if you are willing to take me as a knight of the Norton Family, then can you allow me to join your forces as a regular foot soldier so that we may resist the enemy together?"
"This is the most touching pledge I have ever heard. Rise, my knight," said Lorist as he tapped onto Knight Waxima's shoulder twice with his sword. "Patt..."
Patt brought out a Silver Raging Bear badge and gave it to Lorist before he hugged Waxima heartily and said, "I welcome your participation, comrade and brother of mine. Your arrival is the best honor the Norton Family could ever receive."
Waxima, who had just become the knight of the Norton Family, excitedly went to fetch his wife, son and attendants while accompanied by Shadekampf. As Lorist was playing around with his elder brother's badge, Patt entered and reported, "Milord, Jim is back."
"Oh, let him in quick."
"Jim, what did the four mercenary leaders say?" asked Lorist impatiently before Jim even managed to catch his breath.
Jim wiped the sweat off his face before he replied as he panted, "Milord, the price you gave them is more than enough and all of them are willing to accept your employment. However, they have a small request..."
"What is it?" Lorist asked.
"They want you to provide them with some weapons and equipment..."
Lorist's expression darkened as he said, "Do they want metal armor as well?"
"No, not metal armor..." clarified Jim hurriedly. "Milord, if they did, I would've scolded them furiously when I was there myself. What they've requested is to be allowed to masquerade as the forces of our family while they work on the mission you gave them. That way, if anything goes wrong, they will be treated as soldiers of the Norton Family and not mercenaries from their crews. Milord, you should understand that if they were captured as mercenaries by the duke's men, they would be beheaded right away and the duke would know which mercenary crew helped us out. If they pretend to be our men on the other hand, even though they might have to endure some torture, they have a better chance to retain their lives and their crews wouldn't offend the duke on the surface either..."
Lorist's expression calmed down and softened before he nodded and said, "Alright, I can give them a couple of leather armor and weapons that have our family's insignia engraved on them. However, they have to prepare their own mounts. Also, after they sign the agreement, let them lead their men into the castle in small groups to collect their equipment before they head outside the castle once again to set up camp there. Once we receive news from Paulobins, that will be when I will depart with them."
"Alright, milord. I will go back there to get them to sign the agreement and have them collect their equipment tomorrow night," said Jim as he hurriedly rushed back.
"Milord, can we really count on those mercenary crews?" Patt asked.
"Regardless of whether we can or not, having their men on our side is still better than nothing. In terms of individual battle prowess, the mercenaries should be better than the soldiers of the Northland Army. However, if an all-out battle breaks out, there is little doubt that their coordination will be worse when compared to properly-trained armies. Other than that, we don't have enough men on our side to resist the forces of the duke with the aid of Wildnorth Town head on. In terms of numbers, they beat us hands down and we have no choice but to resist them defensively. Then again, we can't coop ourselves out in a castle for the whole time and we have to retaliate once in a while so that our forces can push the enemy back slightly and last longer. When using the mercenaries, we have to let them do what they are best at: using hit-and-run tactics from the sidelines to wipe out the enemy's scouts, ambushing their rearguard, and intercepting their attacking troops so that they will be distracted and not be able to effectively besiege the castle," said Lorist as he explained the tactics he was going to employ using the mercenaries he hired.
"But the cost of hiring one crew is far too high at 100 gold Fordes. And you will also have to pay them one imperial gold coin for every enemy they kill as well as provide them with leather armor, weapons and food supplies. Milord, I feel that it's not worth spending so much money on the mercenaries," said Patt, worried about the huge payment involved.
"If we don't at least spend that much, then the mercenaries will not fight with all they have. After collecting around 200000 gold Fordes' worth of wealth from the Kenmays Family, gold coins is not something we currently lack. If we can squash Duke Loggins's army with money, then that would've been money well spent," Lorist said.