Pierce! The longsword entered his chest and emerged from his back.
Knight Chevany froze up as his hand lost all its grip and released his sword, letting it fall to the ground...
Lorist looked at him with a sympathetic gazed and said, "What was the point in doing this?"
As blood started flowing out of his mouth, Chevany said, "A fai-failure of a commander like me... Doesn't de-deserve any sympathy. I-it's all because of my impotence th-that caused the expedition to f-fail and the whole army t-to be decimated... Only... only with my death c-can I atone for my mistakes for the d-duke..."
"It's not your fault," Lorist consoled. "The real mistake was the duke's decision to stretch out his claws to the Norton Family after his eyes were clouded by his greed. Actually, you've already done pretty well and even caused me to be unable to find any opportunities to deal with your main camp. If it wasn't for the lax soldiers within the town that allowed us to conquer it, I don't know how long this battle would have lasted..."
"Is... is that so..." said Knight Chevany as his speech started to slow. After that, he spread both his arms as he fell to the ground with his face looking skyward while wearing a tranquil, smiling expression on his face.
Lorist looked at the knight who had collapsed solemnly before he said softly, "I wish you a pleasant journey..."
On the 29th day of the 8th month in Year 1767 of the Grindian Calendar, of the 4000 men sent by Duke Loggins of the Northlands to eliminate the Norton Family, only 1279 survived after they surrendered to the Nortons at a nameless cavern within the Bladedge Mountains. The expedition of the duke ended with his complete loss.
The commander of the Northland Army, the head of the family knights of the duke and the head of that expedition, Three Star Gold ranked Knight Chevany, was forced into a corner by the forces of the Norton Family and requested for an honorable duel to the death from the newly-appointed head of the Norton Family, Norton Lorist, and passed away at the age of 53.
Back then, the Silver ranked knight who held the white flag told Lorist that Knight Chevany was willing to order his men to surrender to the Norton Family without any resistance on the condition that he be allowed a chance to challenge Lorist to a life-and-death duel. Despite the objection of Josk, Waxima and the others, Lorist accepted that condition.
To Lorist, it wasn't difficult for him to face off against a Three Star Gold ranked knight like Chevany. His aim was to force the knight to give up and admit defeat. However, Chevany fought with the intention of dying in the first place and didn't care about his own safety. Taking risky moves that put himself in harm's way to attack Lorist incessantly, he gave Lorist quite a bit of trouble.
It was also the first time the other people present there witnessed Lorist's skill with the sword and his tenacity. Waxima and the other four mercenary leaders were flabbergasted by Lorist's performance; nobody could have imagined that the Iron ranked Lorist who couldn't even manifest a blade glow would be able to match up against a Three Star Gold Knight and even take the upper hand, as was shown with his constant suppressing of the knight's attacks. Had it not been for the fact that he had shown mercy as he was unwilling to take the knight's life, Knight Chevany would have been crushed in the beginning seconds of the duel.
The longer he fought, the more hopelessness Chevany felt. He understood that he wasn't Lorist's match and he felt that being shown mercy by the enemy was a humiliating thing. That's why when Lorist stabbed forward with the intention of forcing Chevany to duck backwards, Chevany chose not to and rushed straight into the sword. Lorist, unable to retract his blade in time, watched as his sword pierced through the abdomen of the knight.
The 1000 plus men of the Northland Army who surrendered were disarmed and swept of their belongings completely before they were placed under the supervision of the family soldiers and were ordered to set up their camp. The surrendered Silver ranked knight told Lorist that many of the soldiers went nuts and started killing each other within the dark cavern when they noticed that their only escape route had been destroyed, resulting in the deaths of more than 400 of their own. That was why Chevany had decided to surrender for the sake of allowing his men to live while he resolved to die himself. Even if he had managed to defeat Lorist, Chevany had planned to end his own life.
Lorist on the other hand stayed near the nameless cavern for three more days and he ordered the surrendered soldiers to once again enter it and retrieve the bodies of their comrades and bury them within the cavern and had the surrendered logistics officer make markings of their names on makeshift gravestones so that their family members could one day pay them tribute. He also had a marker stone erected with the new name of the cavern, 'Chevany Cave', carved into it as a memorial to remember Knight Chevany by.
To Lorist, the battle itself was fairly straightforward; the troublesome part was the aftermath. That was especially the case given the massacre of the folk of Wildnorth Town which had led to numerous problems which he had to settle. The moment he returned to Wildnorth Town, he met with a messenger sent over from Firmrock Castle bearing Shadekampf's letter that reported that the knighthood competition would end in another three days and according to tradition, the organizers, Viscount Kenmays and Lorist, had to show up at the closing banquet to show their respect for the victors of the competition. Shadekampf hoped that Lorist would attend even if the battle was still ongoing so that they wouldn't be accused of being disrespectful.
It was fortunate that the battle had ended within 20 or so days. Lorist instructed Josk and Paulobins to bring two squads of family soldiers to escort the surrendered troops back to Firmrock Castle while he stayed at Wildnorth Town for another two days so that he could settle some more matters before he returns to the bastide. He also sent a few orders to the supervisors at Firmrock Castle: he ordered Butler Boris to move the laborers and their family members who were within the castle back outside the camp as the battle was over and there were no longer under threat outside. Their moving out would also allow for the construction work to continue.
He ordered Old Man Balk to bring someone to accompany Grandmaster Sid to forage the nearby mountains for iron veins and other construction materials. Supervisor Kedan's task was to manage and delegate work for the surrendered soldiers when Josk and Paulobins bring them over. Lastly, Lorist sent a letter to Telesti to inform her that the threat is already no more along with some cringey flirtatious statements. He also stated that she could start designing the valley city after she finished making arrangements for the construction work.
Lorist honestly felt that Telesti was a great candidate for being the wife of him, the baron of the Norton Family. While she wasn't among the ranks of the most stunning beauties in Grindia, she definitely looked quite pleasant with her decent figure and fair skin. The most important point of hers that Lorist admired was her wise and knowledgeable aura that fit Lorist's tastes. Moreover, Telesti was unlike most other noble ladies who only knew how to dress up and demand to be spoiled; she was also a scholar. Just like a certain saying in Lorist's previous life, while Telesti could definitely progress far in her life by relying on her looks, she didn't do that and instead focused on her studies and research. Her independent and headstrong personality was what attracted Lorist the most.
As he spent time with her, Lorist knew that she felt some attraction for him, given that she tolerates his insolent acts like hugging and kissing her once in a while. Even though it always ended with her being mad, it was more of a kneejerk reaction due to her being too ashamed to admit her hidden desires. She wasn't willing to renounce the oath she made to stay single and strive only for truth and knowledge. That was also a rather troublesome issue for Lorist. He was quite frustrated that she would take that kind of inhumane oath out of all other oaths that could be made.
Having received his order, Supervisor Spiel rushed over as soon as possible to take charge of making an inventory of the supplies and wealth gained from Wildnorth Town. Lorist was prepared to move everything that he could use to Maplewoods Bastide and abandon Wildnorth Town altogether. What he had to focus on was constructing a proper valley city at Morgan Hills. As for the acres of farmland that was cultivated at Wildnorth Town, while it was a waste to not utilize it, there was nothing much he could do about it but think of it as giving the land a period of time to recover. He would make a proper decision when Charade and the rest of the convoy arrives.
The four mercenary crews were also paid in full. All the crew leaders felt that working for the Nortons was an extremely worthwhile effort as they got paid quite highly and didn't lose many men throughout the battles. Compared to some other dominion lords who only used mercenaries as enemy fodder to take the brunt of battle, the young Norton Family leader himself frequently rushed into battle with the mercenaries following tightly behind him. Taking the last battle at Wildnorth Town for example, even though the mercenaries were utilized as the main defense for the town, they had done so willingly because the money pouches of the enemy soldiers were filled to the brim with coins.
Waxima and Jim on the other hand escorted the surviving womenfolk of Wildnorth Town back to Maplewoods Bastide. No matter their past, they were still relatives to many of the people within the bastide. Lorist planned to let them rest up for a bit before sending them to Firmrock Castle where they will be free to form new relationships and families with the youths over there and start their life afresh, effectively leaving their torturous past behind.
There was still one remaining problem to be solved, and that was the disbandment of Hausky's mercenary squad. 20 or so of them were willing to join the forces of the Norton Family while 30 plus others and some injured mercenaries were not willing to leave their life of freedom and joined the four mercenary crews within the past few days. However, that caused the intersection point at the Magical Dragon Mountains to be unguarded. If the Norton Family sent a squad of soldiers to defend it, that would affect Lorist's future plans. After giving it some thought, Lorist decided to pick one from the four mercenary crews and contract them for the defense of that area.
The crew that Lorist favored the most was the Razorpike Mercenary Crew as they were formed by retired military officers and commoners and were the most disciplined among the rest. It could be seen from the results of the battle that they have the lowest number of casualties while also being the ones who raked in the most gains. However, their leader Sandro refused the offer as he had already agreed to take up two other missions and had to go fulfill them.
The second person Lorist seeked out was Crew Leader Richard of the Cromwell Mercenary Crew. Similarly, he refused to accept the contract as he was worried that his crew would lose quite a bit of men from fighting the barbarians. Lorist then offered the same contract to the Nightbat Mercenary Crew Leader Ulampmaxin. As the oldest of the mercenaries, he didn't refuse Lorist's offer outright, but he stated that the pay offered was too low and demanded for 100 gold Fordes every month as well as an increase in the bonus for the number of barbarians killed.
That demand was so laughable that Lorist couldn't even get angry even if he wanted to. The price at which he paid Hausky's Silver ranked squad members in the past was 1 imperial gold coin per month while Iron and Bronze ranked members got 50 imperial silver coins each month. The total would only amount to a little more than 100 gold Fordes per year. It was quite ridiculous for the Nightbat Mercenary Crew to request for 10 times the price even though they only have twice the members of Hausky's squad.
The Pentasword Mercenary Crew on the other hand accepted Lorist's offer without a second thought but they also brought out a condition of their own. The leaders hoped that the family members of the crew members would be allowed to move into the Norton Family dominion and become subjects of the Nortons, which caused Lorist to be quite surprised.
The leaders of the crew said that there was no other choice. They mentioned that the crew was originally formed from members from a few different villages with the aim of earning enough to pay off their oppressive dominion lord that demanded huge amounts of tax. Recently, the taxation got even worse and the citizens of the villages could no longer hold out. While the mercenary crew could defend the citizens from military oppression, taxation was not something they could avoid. To add to that, their villages were near Windbury City and they frequently got harassed by the soldiers of the kingdom.
After participating in the operation with Lorist, the five leaders of the crew made up their minds as they found the way the Norton Family treated their own subjects to be exceedingly benevolent. After seeing the abandoned farmlands of Wildnorth Town, they felt that it was a good opportunity for them to move over.
Lorist was elated at the proposition as the dominion lacked people the most. He expressed his welcome to not only the family members of the crew but also the rest of the citizens of the villages to move into his dominion with the promise that they would be granted farmland as long as they move over and that he would only tax them 30% of their harvests as well as 10% of other miscellaneous economic activities such as fishing, hunting, firewood gathering, etc. If any household had members serving in the Norton Family's military, they would also receive many tax exemptions.
One of the leaders, Doboff, was extremely excited to hear that as his village had to pay a tax of 70% of their harvest and 50% in other categories as well, causing his family and friends to be unable to live comfortable lives and being unable to sustain themselves for the long run. Lorist threw in another offer and said that all the mercenary crew members would receive the same benefits that the family soldiers did in that there would be a regular pension should any member of the crew perish from facing off against the mountain barbarians.
With that settled, it was time to consider how to free the villages from the grasps of their dominion lord. Doboff said he was quite confident that he could pull that off and Lorist gave him two months' time and 50 gold Fordes as a deposit, causing Doboff to rush to begin his plan excitedly.
After handling all those matters, Lorist let out a breath of relief and handed the task of moving the supplies and riches at Wildnorth Town to Waxima, Spiel and Pajik while he returned to Maplewoods Bastide with Reidy. After greeting the old butler and checking on Belnick's health condition as well as spending a steamy night with Irina, he left for Firmrock Castle with Reidy and Jim on the next day.