When Lorist arrived at the western bank of the Metropoulos River, he noticed Baron Silas standing at the port wearing the golden-threaded extravagant plate armor that he had gifted him the last time they met. The insignia of Baron Silas's family had already been engraved upon it: a rhombus-shaped icon of a gemstone could be seen in the center of the armor.
The moment the baron saw Lorist, he broke into a smile. Having not met him for more than half a year, Lorist noticed that the baron had gotten a little fatter: originally, the plate armor was a little too big for the baron. However, some fatty meat could be seen protruding from the opening at his waist. On the other hand, the baron had quite a bad memory as he had forgotten what Lorist's name was.
Naturally, Lorist didn't take any offense as he understood that it wasn't easy to remember the name of someone whom one didn't get to meet often.
"I'm called Norton Lorist. As an old friend, feel free to call me Locke," Lorist said.
"Ah, that's right, you're Baron Norton. I recall that you've gifted me with a nice carton of wine before..." Baron Silas said with delight.
Lorist was completely speechless.
Pointing at Baron Silas's armor with his horsewhip, Lorist reminded in an unsatisfactory tone, "Baron, that armor you're wearing is given to you by me. Don't tell me you forgot..."
Blushing with embarrassment, the baron seemed to finally recall who Lorist was and said, "Hehe, old brother of mine, I'm really sorry about that. It's because far too many nobles come to visit and this one is always busy receiving them as guests... I'm also getting a little old and you know what that does to one's memory, so I hope you bear with me. Back then you brought a convoy through here to get to your dominion to inherit your title, right? You look far better than you were back then. I'm sure that things have been going well for you?"
"Hehe, it's alright. Your business also looks like it's flourishing. You even got two new ferries. As they always say, money will come knocking if you're at the right place and at the right time..." Lorist said as he laughed.
The baron shrugged and said, "Those two boats weren't purchased by me... Oh, right. Just now I saw you and the rest fight on the opposite bank. Did you get into trouble with the garrison soldiers of Viscount Darwof's customs point?"
"It's nothing serious. The soldiers at the custom point dared to rob my messengers because they took a fancy to their metal armor. It's fortunate that two of them managed to get back to report what happened. On the way here, I figured I might as well clean up scum like them by hanging them all to death," Lorist said candidly without batting an eye.
Baron Silas clapped his hands in admiration and said, "Great. It's only right that those fools who don't know what's best for them to be taught a lesson. A few months back, Viscount Darwof even sent his men here to demand me to share half of the transport fee for the ferries to him and threatened that he would seal off the banks from the other side if I didn't. Did he think I was an idiot? That Viscount only occupies half the area of the opposite bank and I can easily move my port to another spot. Naturally, I refused his demand and changed where my ferries docked. It would only take the passengers a little more time to reach the main road anyway."
"Then why was it switched back here?" Lorist asked as the current port was the same one he used back then.
Baron Silas pointed at the two new boats and said, "You've noticed the new additions to my inventory, right? After noticing that I ignored his demands, the viscount commissioned for someone to build him two new boats to set up a new ferry port to compete with my business. However, when the ships were complete, he realized that more than 50 kilometers along the western bank of the river was within my dominion and he had no place to dock his ferries. In the end, he sent someone to negotiate for him to have a share in the profits of the dock in exchange for investing the two ferries with me. Even so, I didn't give him the slightest damn and in the end, he had no choice but to gift the ferries to me so that I would move the port back to the original location. That way, he can also profit a little from collecting a toll at his newly-formed customs point over there.
"Old friend, you should know that I am quite lacking in academic and martial disciplines... My only redeeming point is my generosity and eagerness to help to others. Hearing his plight, I decided to accept his ferries and move my port back to the old spot. However, many merchant convoys came to complain to me that the viscount is getting more overboard with the toll as of late. I've been long worried about something like that happening as it would deter merchants from using my ferry service. How would I survive then? Just as I was about to send someone to warn them, you came over and taught them a lesson. How fortunate..."
To show his welcome and accentuate his friendship with Lorist, Baron Silas gave him a 'hugely generous' discount of 5% off for the ferry service.
However, he wasn't able to invite Lorist back to his bastide for a meal as he had no choice but to stay put at the port. That was because many merchant convoys would use his ferry service to cross the river for a rather huge sum of money and he was willing to sit there and collect the sum himself rather than let his subordinates handle it in fear of them embezzling his money.
Since that was the case, Lorist decided to set up camp on the spot and depart the next day. He also invited the baron to have dinner with him, to which the baron gleefully accepted; he even had his servants bring a few bottles of fine wine over.
With the tables and chairs were laid alongside the riverbank, 'scales' of sparkling silver could be seen blinking within the river due to the light of the Silvermoon, giving the scenery an almost ethereal quality. Lorist felt that enjoying his meal there was an extremely soothing and tranquil experience. It's no wonder that Baron Silas mentioned that he was satisfied even though he only had normal bread every night at the port.
The cool breeze from the river washed away the heat and drought brought upon the land during the day. Even though it was already autumn and cool breezes blew rather often, the heat of the sun was not one whit inferior to that of summer. After bathing by the river and refreshing himself, Lorist donned nothing more than a loose robe and dined together with Baron Silas.
Since it wasn't a formal banquet, the baron didn't mind Lorist's casual appearance. Instead, he expressed his envy for Lorist's healthy and lean physique.
"Back when I was studying at the imperial capital, I also had a figure like yours... Those days were good... We would leave the academy after class and mess around all over the place to hook up with beauties..." Baron Silas rambled nonstop as he started to recall the good old days of his youth and misadventures.
"I apologize for letting you see such an embarrassing side of me. When one gets old, one can't help but reminisce the days of one's youth..." said the baron apologetically. After all, it was only his second time meeting Lorist, so he felt that it was slightly inappropriate for him to be talking about himself on such friendly and informal terms.
"It's fine. Your stories were rather interesting as well. Everyone has a tale or two of their rowdy youth that they'd love to share," Lorist said as he raised his silver cup to toast the baron,
Baron Silas downed half the cup before he asked, "By the way, why have you brought so many men with you this time? Would you mind telling me about it?"
"Well, Viscount Tebri Tim is a good friend of mine whose dominion is in the northwestern part of the Redlis Kingdom. His family has always had business relations with ours and we have been trading with him using the produce from the Northlands for other resources that we need," Lorist recited out an answer he had long prepared beforehand.
"The Redlis Kingdom? Where is it? I feel like I'm forgetting something..." said the baron as he scratched on his head. Still unable to figure out what was on the tip of his tongue, he ordered one of his attendants to bring him a beastskin map.
Upon seeing it, he recalled the thing he was struggling to remember. "Aha, brother, I think you have to take a detour around here. Look, the route starting from Vanades City all the way to the Lichtana Citadel at the border of the Andinaq Kingdom has already been completely sealed off. Apart from army supply convoys, other merchants or people are forbidden to use this route."
Lorist took a look at the map and there was indeed a red line along the path from Vanades City to Lichtana Citadel. The border between the Andinaq Kingdom and the Madras Duchy was also colored red.
"What's going on? Did the duchy go to war with the Andinaq Kingdom? Why has the border been sealed off as well?" Lorist asked.
"No, it's something more fearsome than war. Brother, have you heard of a man called Charade the Demon and his misdeeds within the Andinaq Kingdom?" Baron Silas asked as he lowered his voice mysteriously.
"No, I haven't. You should know that my dominion is located within the Northlands that has always been rather isolated. News of the outside world hardly travel all the way there within a short period of time," Lorist said as he shook his head curiously. Feeling troubled, he thought, Charade the Demon couldn't possibly be referring to that fatty, right? What did he do to cause such a big stir to the point that he was labeled a 'demon'?
"Charade led an armed convoy and even gathered more than 100000 vagabonds as he rampaged through the Andinaq Kingdom while spreading his poison throughout all three provinces within the kingdom and paving out a path of blood in his wake. Like locusts, the people of the convoy killed wherever they went as well as pillaged and devoured whatever they set their sights on, leaving behind only a piece of desolate wasteland. Of the 130 plus noble families within the Andinaq Kingdom, less than 50 of them remain thanks to the effort put in by the Second Highness. The other nobles have all been sent to the gallows by Charade the Demon.
"Right now, the Andinaq Kingdom is practically completely sapped dry. That's why the demon turned his sights on our Madras Duchy. It's fortunate that Lord Duke Madras noticed the threat early on and sent out the Ironguard Legion to secure the borders to stop Charade the Demon from entering our duchy. If he does get in, it'll be over for all of us. Thinking back at the fate suffered by the Andinaq Kingdom, it truly would be a fearsome nightmare if the same were to happen here!"
Baron Silas continued his embellished account of the rumors he had heard from the merchant convoys that crossed the river, which painted Charade as a green-faced, fanged demon boasting a huge size of 3 meters in height and breadth, complete with horns on his head and a demonic tail sprouting from his hind. The worst part was that Baron Silas actually believed that Charade had to consume at least 99 human hearts during every single one of his meals coupled with hot sauce made from fresh human blood.
Resisting the urge to laugh out loud at hearing the baron's description of Charade, Lorist thought that even if Charade morphed into a demon like that, he still wouldn't lose all rationality and go on a rampage. However, as it was the first time Lorist heard of news of his convoy from another party, he looked at the red line on the map with worry as it meant that the convoy was prevented from advancing towards the Northlands. The more he thought about his friends a tthe convoy, the lesser he smiled.
"How long has the blockade been enacted?" Lorist asked.
Unhappy that Lorist had interrupted his imaginative story, Baron Silas replied, "It should have been around 1 month already. 30 days more or less."
"Then is there word on when it will be lifted?" Lorist asked again.
"I don't really have much of a clue about that. The merchant convoy that came along yesterday was originally on its route to trade within the Andinaq Kingdom and they stayed at Vanades City for more than 10 days. After hearing that the blockade would be around for at least a year and a half, the merchants decided to turn back and return. I say, brother, if you're heading to the Redlis Kingdom, you'll have to take another route. First, get to Vanades City and head to the Farkel Duchy from there. After that, travel through the Handra Duchy to arrive at the Forund Duchy and you can enter the Redlis Kingdom from there. However, that route is more than twice the original distance you have to travel and you will be passing through war-ravaged lands, so there are many variables to look out for," Baron Silas said as he looked at his map.
"That's right. That was why I was worried that the blockade would be upheld for a long time. This is the route that we've always used; if we use another, we won't be familiar with it and our safety would also be put at risk. That's far too much trouble," Lorist agreed as he nodded.
"Actually, I believe that staying within your own dominion is much safer. In times like these, it's quite dangerous to bring your merchant convoy outside even if your family soldiers are capable. Things can still go wrong one way or another," Baron Silas said as he sighed.
Lorist shrugged his shoulders and said, "Well, unlike you, I don't have such a profitable service which allows you to earn money just by sitting still and collecting transportation fee. My dominion is in the Northlands and without making trading trips like these, I wouldn't have any income at all. I'm not in the position to sit still and do nothing, am I?"
Baron Silas raised his wine cup again and said, "Then, here's a toast to your safe journey and the profits you will make from it."
The two of them continued to make merry before they parted.
Upon returning to his tent, Lorist asked Patt, "Hey, do you remember the flag and family insignia Tim gave us? Did you bring it along?"
Surprised, Patt said, "We should have brought it... I remember Shadekampf putting those two items in a chest somewhere. He said that with those two items we will be able to pretend to be Mister Tim's men when we need to do something that is inconvenient for our family."
Lorist nodded and said, "Spread the word to everyone to not refer to themselves as soldiers the Norton Family but rather escorts for the merchant convoy of the Tebri Family. Also, hang up the flag Tim gave us on the horse carriage."
"What's going on, milord?" Patt asked.
"Charade and the northbound convoy have gotten into some trouble. The Madras Duchy actually blockaded their borders to stop them from entering. I have a feeling that they already know that the convoy belongs to us, the Norton Family and I worry that trouble will find us if we travel so openly without hiding our identities," explained Lorist.