"Milord, Count Kenmays is here," Reidy reminded as he walked into the room.
"Alright, I'll go receive him," Lorist said as he stood up and headed towards the main gates of the castle.
Count Kenmays had brought around 100 men with him on his excursion to Firmrock Castle this time around with him being seated in an extravagantly-decorated carriage, much unlike half a year back when he only came with ten plus attendants.
It is worth noting that while Lorist was busy settling down the 500000 citizens within the dominion and making all those development plans, the Kenmays Family didn't slack off either. They had also made a plan to develop the eastern Northlands. Ten plus other noble families had also been drawn into the plan whether they agreed or not, with the 7 who had resisted exterminated and the rest who knew what was better for them or didn't have the ability to rebel signing the agreement to cooperate with the plan that effectively handed their territory for the Kenmays Family to manage while they only had to wait for the profit to roll in to support their lavish lifestyle.
To summarize, the Kenmays Family had taken full control of the eastern Northlands, causing even the Second Prince to be unable to do anything about it apart from accepting the reality of the situation, however unwilling he was to do so. Additionally, by pressuring the Second Prince with their wealth, the Kenmays Family got elevated from the status of a viscount to a count by the Second Prince during the noble gathering that had occurred during the 5th month with the reason of that promotion being their contribution to improve the connectivity of the Northlands to the outside world by building the metal suspension bridge. Naturally, with the promotion in rank, the Kenmays Family officially gained control of Count Lopez's dominion as well, thus completing the grasp of control of the Kenmayses on the eastern Northlands.
The radiant Count Kenmays was the first one to get off the carriage, followed by two extravagantly dressed female attendants. The Norton Family's policy of not providing their guests with women to warm their beds caused the count to have to spend 3 lonely nights during his former visit. This time, he had learned his lesson and brought his own female attendants along.
Lorist stepped forward and casually greeted the count. "Hey, why have you come here this time? Based on what I see, you plan to stay here for long?"
Already used to Lorist's antics and noticing Lorist staring at his attendants, Count Kenmays said, "Oh? You're interested in them? Do you want me to present one of them to you as a gift? Tell you what, they have received professional training in the finer arts of pleasure and can absolutely bring you to paradise when you're in bed..."
"Nope, not interested," Lorist said as he turned away from the women. "I was just a little curious... Can your body really handle those two? How long have they tended to you? Why haven't you been sucked dry of your vitality yet?"
The matters of sexuality was a soft spot for all men, Count Kenmays included. Putting his hands to his hips, he said, "Hmph, my body is far tougher than you think. Don't get the wrong impression just because those two look like small little kittens. I can easily do them two to three times in a single night."
"Yeah, boast all you can. Let's go have a real chat in my study," Lorist said as he smirked before he led them inside.
Lorist himself found the relationship between his family and the Kenmayses to be rather weird. Even though they had made peace between one another, the Kenmays Family no doubt lost quite a bit from their interactions with the Norton Family and they should secretly feel hateful of that. And given that the Norton Family profited quite a bit off the Kenmayses, they should also be rather vary of them. The two families should only be friendly on the surface. However, the more Lorist interacted with Count Kenmays, the better friends they became, to the point that they were able to tell one another anything down to the most private matters. Lorist felt that there was no way he could truly hate the count even if their families were to be on hostile terms.
"Every time I walk into here, I feel like I've entered a bandit's lair. Heck, even this castle was taken from me by force," Count Kenmays said as he started to bring up the matters of old.
"Let me state clearly once again that this castle was built within Norton Family grounds. I've only chased away a bunch of bandits who tried to occupy my land and taken control of their lair," Lorist said.
"Fine, this castle was indeed constructed on the lands of the Nortons," Count Kenmays conceded. "But you have to admit that the manpower, resources, funds and the designer of the castle himself were taken from my family, right? Poor old Grandmaster Ciroba... Even now, we don't know his whereabouts."
"Let me warn you upfront, just state what you came here for and don't even think of trying to weasel the location of Grandmaster Ciroba from me. There's no way I will restore his freedom until he has served the family for ten years as penance. He's also incredibly busy on many things right now, so if your family wants a castle to be built, you should look for another designer," Lorist said as he exposed the count's intentions right away.
Count Kenmays shrugged his shoulders and said, "Well, personally, I couldn't care less about what the grandmaster is doing right now. However, my old chap back at home wanted me to try to get some information about him and ask you whether we can pay his ransom to have him back at our dominion to help us build some castles. Since you've been so clear about your intentions, I'll give up on it. It's not that I didn't try, I wouldn't have been able to do anything about this anyway."
"Pffft!" Lorist couldn't control his laughter. "Fine. Just tell me what you're up to by traveling so extravagantly with so many people."
"Where else would I go but Gildusk City?" Count Kenmays said as he took out a large bottle of wine from a corner of the study. "Huh, just look. One bottle of fine wine after another. And you said you weren't a bandit... Which one of these were bought by you with your own money? Didn't you get them all from robbery? The wine aside, look at the sofa you're sitting on. This is a prized item of the Mijis Royal Family which Duke Loggins spent more than 1000 gold Fordes to obtain back then at the Royal Capital of Windbury City. Within but a few years, it has already made its way to your study without you having to spend even a single coin on it..."
"If you shut up about the bandit thing, I'll let you take two bottles of wine back with you," Lorist said.
"Really?" exclaimed the count happily.
Lorist merely nodded.
"Fine, I won't mention it from this moment onward," said Count Kenmays as he started to pick the wine from the rack.
"I'm still curious why you're setting out even though it's the 11th month already. Don't tell me you don't plan to stay within your dominion to spend the winter?" Lorist asked.
"Haha, brother, nobles don't 'spend winter' cooped up within their homes. Only commoners do that because they don't have enough food and clothing to endure the cold weather. Nobles like us have to continue living our luxurious lives regardless of the seasons by holding banquets which span night after night, attending balls to recite poems and invite the beautiful and gentle noble ladies to a dance and even have a secret rendezvous with one of them during the cold winter night to get to know each other more 'deeply', if you know what I mean. That's how nobles like us should spend winter...
"And you, my friend, shouldn't be cooped up within this cold and lonely castle of yours. You should come out to see the city. The Second Prince will be holding a grand event during the winter there and all nobles of the Northlands are invited to attend. By that time, the city will no doubt be incredibly merry with beauties all over the place and that's not an opportunity you should miss. If you attend, I bet the Second Prince would be happy as well. He's been wanting to meet the terrifying Raging Bear that shocked the whole of the Northlands," Count Kenmays said as he tried hard to convince Lorist to join him for the festivities in Gildusk City.
"I'm not interested in attending pointless events like that. I'm also really busy during winter, so I don't have time to play games with the rest of you. Also, you don't have to be too courteous to the Second Prince on my behalf. I have a feeling that he doesn't have good intentions about the Norton Family. So, I am very straightforward in my attitude towards him: no matter what he desires from me, I will refuse it. If he asks why I didn't attend the festivities, just tell him that it's because I'm still bearing a grudge for the fact that he abandoned the family after the death of my elder brother who had served him and tell him that the Norton Family has drawn a clear line to not want to be involved with him any further," Lorist said calmly.
"Whoa, you're really going all out to sever relations with the Second Prince, huh. I really think that there's no need for you to go that far. As long as you be polite on the surface, you will be fine. And if the Second Prince has any unreasonable requests, you can just pretend to be really bothered by it and refuse. As long as you have power, the Second Prince can't do much about you but endure silently," Count Kenmays said as he objected to Lorist's course of action.
"That's far too troublesome. It's better if I let him choose outright whether he wants to be the enemy or ally of the Norton Family. Either way, the Norton Family will always continue the tradition of our ancestors to defend the borders of the empire and will not be interested in the petty power struggles of others. As long as others don't mess with us, it's fine," Lorist said.
"Sigh, your family truly is one of a kind. It's currently a time of chaos where heroes have the opportunity to shine. Doesn't your family have the slightest ambition?" Count Kenmays said as he looked at Lorist.
Lorist shook his head and replied, "No, we don't. The primary objective of the family is to establish a peaceful and stable life for our citizens within the Northlands. We don't have the slightest desire to fight for supremacy and territory and it's not something a small family like us can afford to involve ourselves in. If things don't go well, our family will only head to ruin. I only wish to propagate the glory and honor of the family as that is my main duty as the head of the family. However, your Kenmays Family has deep roots as one of the largest construction merchant families in the old empire. I'm sure you'll have something to gain from all this."
"Haha, you really praise us too much. Our Kenmays Family definitely isn't as sophisticated and deep-rooted as the Norton Family is. To be honest with you, I only wish to stand with the victor. Right now, I'm still deliberating who to side with," said Count Kenmays as he laughed.
Lorist laughed out as well and said, "If you have a good candidate, don't forget to tell me about it. After all, good things must be shared, right? Alright, let's not talk about pointless things like this. Since you've stopped here on your way to Gildusk City, you must have a reason for doing so. Tell it to me right away."
"Well, the Second Prince did ask me to invite you to Gildusk City, but you've already refused it. The other reason I came was to notify you about the green glass and oil glass you ordered, which will be arriving in another half month. My father also asked whether you need any green vine glue. We can sell you 50000 buckets for a low price and if you're lacking in funds, you can trade some metal armor with us for it. We'll definitely give you a great rate for the armor," said Count Kenmays seriously.
Lorist thought solemnly before laughing out loud and saying, "So your family is after my metal armor... How many do you need?"
Count Kenmays lifted three fingers.
"Three thousand? No problem," Lorist said.
"What? No. I want 30000 sets," Count Kenmays corrected.
"Huh? 30000? Putting aside whether you can afford that many, what would you do with all that?" Lorist asked curiously. Even if he sold one set of metal armor at 40 gold Fordes, 30000 would cost more than 1 million gold Fordes. Did the Kenmays Family intend to bankrupt themselves?
Count Kenmays took a deep breath before saying, "I have no choice, friend. My family wouldn't do that either if we had a choice. One of the biggest gains of our family's conquest of the eastern Northlands was a gold mine. Before this, the smaller noble families mined the gold there privately and we've taken over and started proper mining operations. Each year's output is estimated to be around 20000 plus gold Fordes' worth. That's why, you don't have to worry about us not paying back. You can even send someone to audit the mine if you wish."
After a short pause, the count continued, "Do you know how much wealth the Second Prince has siphoned from our family? 120000 gold Fordes. We paid that price so that we would be able to rule over the dominion of Count Lopez legally as well as get promoted to the rank of a count. I've also received reliable intel that the Second Prince intends to form the First Army of the Iblia Kingdom at Duke Loggins's dominion that will number around 56000 soldiers. To avoid being pressured by the Second Prince into giving him more money when the time comes, my family has also decided to form a force numbering 30000 soldiers to make sure that the eastern Northlands will be free from the Second Prince's influence."
Count Kenmays laughed bitterly and said, "The time of war has come and without our own army to rely on, there's no way that our family will be able to survive. The moment the Second Prince makes his move, the eastern Northlands will face assault from both sides. You should know that the iron suspension bridge built by my family is linked to the Wild Husbandry Province that is controlled by Duke Fisablen. In other words, we have also gained another potential enemy as a consequence of building the bridge.
"That's why my family has decided to spare no effort in forming a reliable force and equip it as well as we can regardless of the price so that we can ensure the survival of our family. However, I'm sure you know that the only two iron refineries within the Iblia Kingdom is controlled by the Second Prince, so it's very hard for the equipment that is produced there to make their way into the hands of noble families like us. The Northlands lack metal the most and only you can supply our force with decent equipment right now. No matter what, I really need your help this time, please," pleaded Count Kenmays before he bowed to Lorist sincerely.
Lorist stroked his chin in deep thought for a moment before he said, "I agree to sell your family 30000 sets of armor and weapons. You can negotiate with Knight Charade about the price. You can also use food and other resources to trade for the equipment as well. Also, I can provide around 100 units of military grade ballistas produced in the former empire if you require it."
Count Kenmays stayed at Firmrock Castle for five whole days, with each day being round after round of sharp-tongued bargaining with Charade. In the end, the total price was settled at 1.8 million gold Fordes. The agreement stated that the Norton Family must provide the Kenmays Family with 33000 sets of metal armor and weapons including 143 military grade ballistas. The Kenmays Family would pay the Norton Family 500000 gold Fordes in cash with the outstanding balance being paid with food and other resources of equal value. After signing the agreement, Count Kenmays left with his attendants and resumed his journey to Gildusk City.
After sending the count off, Charade let out a breath of relief and said, "Half of the metal armor and weapons of the northbound convoy has already been sold out. It would be great if there's another person who wants to buy them all up. Now that we have the equipment of the Whitelion Legion, the old metal armor is taking up space unnecessarily. We even thought of smelting it down for the metal to be used in other places..."
Lorist laughed out loud as he said, "Don't worry. I'm sure that business will boom after this year passes. Count Kenmays said that the Second Prince plans to form an army of 56000 soldiers next year within the duke's dominion. To ensure their own survival, the various noble families within the Northlands will definitely be desperate to arm themselves so that they don't end up as free lunch on the Second Prince's plate."