Soon after, Count Kenmays came to visit again and from the size of his escort, it could be inferred that he was planning to spend winter at Gildusk City, Duke Loggins's dominion.
"Lord Baron Norton, this time, I have received the order of our king to invite you to Gildusk City to attend the new year's celebration and matters relating to marriage..." said Count Kenmays in a formal tone.
Given that Lorist had not bothered to pay the Second Prince a visit yet, his title of a count was not recognized and the Second Prince still considered Lorist to be a baron. Additionally, even though the Norton Family's dominion was technically within the area of the Iblia Kingdom, Lorist had accepted the title from the Andinaq Royal Family.
Lorist's hand shook and he almost spilled the macks in his cup onto the table before him. Just a few days back, he had blessed the marriage of Lundmorde and his seven wives. But now, Count Kenmays was going to talk to him about that again, causing him to wonder if karma is here to bite back at him.
"Come and have some hot drinks, my friend. Tell me, what's our king up to this time? For him to have a count to come talk to me of matters relating to marriage... It seems that the family of the bride is quite influential," Lorist said as he invited Count Kenmays to try the macks he had just made.
"Even though I know this messenger duty will be a pain in the butt, I have no choice but to carry it out. The Second Prince has written me a personal letter and it's a pretty long one at that," complained the count as he relaxed himself by pacing about.
"Aren't you gonna address him as 'His Majesty the King'?" Lorist said as he snickered.
With a smug tone, Count Kenmays said, "Does he behave like one to be deserved to be called that? Ptooey! Definitely not!"
"I don't understand why the Second Prince bothered to write you a letter just to have you come over here... Instead of being so roundabout, couldn't he have just written me a personal letter?" Lorist said, annoyed.
"That's because he has his pride, you know. You've already refused his invitations a number of times, even though most of those invitations were also made through me... Now that the Second Prince has such a strong army, his arrogance has gone through the roof. If you had refused his personal messenger outright, how would he be able to step down from the humiliation? Apart from punishing you with his soldiers, he has no other way to save his face.
"Quite a number of other nobles within the Northlands can't wait for you to start fighting against the Second Prince so that both of you will end up crippled. That would be the ideal outcome for them. The might the Norton Family had shown two years back made quite a deep impression in their hearts. To those nobles, they can't wait for the hungry wolf that was the Second Prince to fight against the Family of the Raging Bear and wear each other out."
Pausing to take a sip of macks, Count Kenmays continued. "The Second Prince understands that as well and even though he has an army of 56000 troops, if he can't make your family submit to him, the other nobles will remain loyal to him only on the surface. Even the taxation orders he issued recently was resisted by those nobles, some publicly with most others doing so behind his back. Even so, the Second Prince still wouldn't dare to antagonize your family which is famed for having defeated the duke in one fell swoop.
"The reason he wanted me to pass his message to you on his behalf was because he knew that the relationship between our two families decent. He wants me to encourage you to at least visit him once at Gildusk City so that he doesn't have to lose face over this issue. The other reason was because he wanted to check on my family's might. I'm sure the rumor of my family's formation of a 30000-strong force has already reached his ears. That's why his messenger was accompanied by many other attendants who snuck around in my army camps and even gathered information in the taverns. Did he think I wouldn't notice?
"You wouldn't even be able to imagine the expression of the Second Prince's messenger when I told him straight up that my family formed the force to defend against unpredictable mountain barbarian skirmishes. Hehe, it's still funny now that I think about it," said Count Kenmays triumphantly.
"Haha, every noble in the Northlands know that you have good relations with the barbarians. Your trade with them and have exclusive monopoly on the goods the barbarians produce, causing many merchants to be incredibly jealous. Nobody would believe that the barbarians were the reason for the formation of your army," Lorist said as he shook his head in laughter.
"It's their problem whether they believe it or not. That will be the official reason used by my family anyways. Also, here's the letter the Second Prince wrote to me. Read it yourself," said the count as he brought out a thick bunch of beastskins and handed it to Lorist.
In the letter, the Second Prince expressed his greetings to Count Kenmays as well as his feelings of apology towards the Norton Family after he recounted the death of their First Young Master, who was Lorist's elder brother, Gold ranked knight Abelyde, who had so valiantly fought and died for the Second Prince. He sincerely requested Count Kenmays to invite the current head of the Norton Family, Baron Norton Lorist, to attend the new year's celebration he would be holding at Gildusk City. He added that he heard that Lorist was single and that he would be willing to introduce Princess Sylvia to Lorist and encourage them to form union in marriage.
"Huh? Who's this Princess Sylvia? I thought the Second Prince only had three illegitimate daughters who are not of marriageable age yet," Lorist said curiously.
"Tsk tsk tsk..." Count Kenmays clicked his tongue. "The Second Prince has truly went out of his way to make a huge offer for your family's sake and even put Princess Sylvia on the table! To be honest, Locke, you really should head out and see the world instead of staying cooped up in your dominion, ignorant of all else that is going on like a little bug in a small corner.
"Princess Sylvia is one of the most prominent roses of our Iblia Kingdom and is even known as the brilliant pearl of the grasslands," Count Kenmays said grandiloquently.
"Never heard of her," Lorist said.
"You..." Count Kenmays was speechless as he turned to Lorist and stared at him. "As expected of a bug. Do you know who Duke Fisablen is?"
"I do," Lorist said as he nodded honestly.
"Duke Fisablen has 3 sons and 1 daughter. That daughter of his is the beautiful queen of our Iblia Kingdom and is also the Second Prince's wife. Duke Fisablen's eldest son passed away at a young age, leaving behind his only daughter, Princess Sylvia. She is the beloved granddaughter of the duke and is the only niece of our queen and was given the title of a princess by the Second Prince. Do you understand now?" Count Kenmays said angrily as he schooled Lorist about the princess.
"Gosh, why are you so agitated?" Lorist asked in confusion.
"You wouldn't understand... Princess Sylvia is the goddess that holds an absolute place in my heart. With the incredible beauty and impeccable bearing she showed during the time I was fortunate enough to see her at Windbury City, she has made a lasting impression in my heart and I always find myself missing that mysterious, forlorn smile she showed at that time, as well as her enchanting, emerald-green eyes," Count Kenmays described.
"And then you proceeded to expel your desire and lust for her onto the noble ladies you met with in secret, right?" Lorist interjected.
"You..." Count Kenmays was struck speechless yet again.
"Since you're still single, I'm sure that you can afford to ask for Princess Sylvia's hand in marriage given your family's influence," Lorist said nonchalantly before he took another sip of macks.
"Sigh, you wouldn't know..." Count Kenmays said, crestfallen. "That time I met her was already four years ago. Back then, she was only 16 and was already one of the most beautiful women I've seen my whole life. A family with a merchant background like mine definitely wouldn't impress her one bit. She is the glowing pearl of Duke Fisablen and according to some of the rumors told by the princess's handmaidens, the princess had always wanted to be wedded to a peerless hero since long ago. Do you know why so many young knights were willing to follow the Second Prince to the battlefield? They wanted to rack up some achievements there so they can gain the favor of the princess."
"Oh, so there's something like that going on, huh..." Lorist said, before he suddenly thought of something. "I thought the Second Prince was a person who was too lustful for his own good. How could he bear to not touch a person as beautiful as Princess Sylvia?"
Count Kenmays looked around the study to make sure there wasn't anyone else near by. Even though he ascertained that only Lorist was within the room with him, the count still lowered his voice as he said, "The Second Prince doesn't dare. It's no secret that his relationship with our queen is not that good and the both of them have various affairs of their own. However, if he ever dares to stain Princess Sylvia with his filth, then it will be the end of him as Duke Fisablen will definitely not forgive him.
"Let me tell you something. The Second Prince and the queen have never really bothered with one another and they both lead their own private lives. The Second Prince has three illegitimate children while the queen has given birth to two children, both of whom are not the Second Prince's offspring, and they are being raised by the knight families of the duke himself. There was once when the Second Prince went to the duke to request for aid against Duke Melein who had crippled his forces badly. In the end, he was locked up together with the queen and Duke Fisablen didn't let either of them out until the queen had gotten pregnant with a successor.
"You must understand how painful it must be for them to be forced to have intercourse despite their hatred for one another. Even so, the duke steeled his heart for the sake of the continuation of the royal bloodline Iblia Kingdom and even provided some sexual stimulants for them. This was also the reason the duke lent the Second Prince his three Frontier Legion units to the Second Prince to fight against the Madras Duchy.
"Just last year, the queen gave birth to a boy who is destined to be the successor of the Iblia Kingdom in the future., However, that child is neglected by both the Second Prince and the queen and was only brought up by his nursemaid. It was like the Second Prince and the queen had fulfilled their duty by giving birth to him and left him to fend for himself. Right now, the one in charge of raising the child is Princess Sylvia."
"Hehe, nobles truly are a confusing bunch!" Lorist exclaimed.
"What do you mean?" Count Kenmays said before he scratched his head in thought, only to slightly comprehend the meaning of Lorist's statement.
"Don't forget that you're part of that bunch as well," Count Kenmays said in annoyance.
"I'm different from you lot. I'm a proper landed noble and my family has hundreds of years of tradition and virtues which we hold very highly," boasted Lorist.
"Tch, don't think that I don't know that you have something going with that scholar Miss Telesti. I could tell from a glance by the way you looked at each other," Count Kenmays said as he exposed Lorist's affair and dispelled his claims of virtue.
Pointing at the Second Prince's letter, Count Kenmays said, "Well, you should at least give me some face this time around and pay a visit to Gildusk City, even if it's only for the sake of meeting Princess Sylvia. The Second Prince said that he would encourage the union of the both of you. If you can pick this rose for yourself, you'll definitely profit big time and have Duke Fisablen at your back. That way, the Second Prince will really cease to be a threat to you."
"I won't go," refused Lorist flatly as he thought, hmph, with my power and might, why would I need Duke Fisablen's support? He's looking down on my family a little too much.
"My friend, can you at least tell me the reason for your refusal? After all, the Second Prince did invite you sincerely for a number of times already. It'll be a little too much to refuse without a good reason, right?" Cout Kenmays said as he couldn't figure out what Lorist was thinking.
"If you're worried about the two Blademasters by his side, you don't have to. The Second Prince only wants to use his Blademasters to teach your Gold ranked knight subordinates a lesson using 'educating' them in battle as an excuse. However, they won't go too far since the Second Prince only wants to show off the superiority of his Blademasters to suppress the ambitions of the other nobles by reminding them he that has the might to keep them under control.
"In my case, I didn't bring any of my knights there, so the Second Prince couldn't use that as an excuse to teach me a lesson. Naturally, you would want to bring some of your Gold ranked knights with you for safety, so you just have to endure it for a bit while you're there. With me there watching over you, you have nothing to worry about. I promise that you won't regret this trip. Even if you don't kick it off with Princess Sylvia, I can still introduce you to many beautiful and great noble ladies. Even though they're far from Princess Sylvia's level, they are cute and gentle all the same and are very adept at soothing your mental scars by spending a sensual time with you through the cold, lonely night," said Count Kenmays with a teasing and magnetic tone in his attempt to entice Lorist to go to Gildusk City with him.
Laughing out, Lorist said, "My friend, thank you for your kind intentions. However, I have my own reasons for refusing your offer. Perhaps you are unaware of it, but while you spend your time enjoying magnificent wine with those fine noble ladies as you witness the beautiful snowflakes fall from the sky with music playing in the background, I will be bringing my knights with me at great risk to fight for our lives within the wilderness of my family dominion..."
Seeing the count's surprised look, Lorist continued. "My friend, where do you think the 1 million kilograms of magical bull meat came from? You should ask your barbarian friends about the magical beast wave, they should know about it. Every winter, there are almost 1 million magical beasts that come from the wilderness into my dominion to lay our yearly farming efforts to waste. That is why we were willing to trade metal armor with you for huge amounts of food."
"Magical beast wave? I think I've read about it from some book before," Count Kenmays said. "I think I read a journal written by someone who traveled around the Northlands before. That book described that during winter, huge numbers of magical beasts from the wilderness would travel to the wildlands of the Northlands, causing the people there much fear and grief. Our family however has never noticed such a phenomenon during our time in the Northlands, so I thought that it was just something the writer of that journal made up. So, the magical beast wave only passes through your family's dominion and not the whole of the Northlands..."
"That's right. For two years back to back, my family forces have been busy fighting against the magical beasts in the wildlands for domination and this year won't be any different. I will have to leave in another 20 plus days, so, I hope that you understand that I have no choice but to refuse your offer. As the dominion lord, I can't stand back and party when my soldiers are out there fighting against those ferocities. I must stand there at the frontlines with them so that my forces will have the courage and morale they require to hold on," Lorist said with a solemn expression.
"Your family forces must suffer quite a huge casualty yearly, right? Should I skip out on the celebration as well and see the beasts for myself then?" Count Kenmays said after he gave it some thought.
"While I appreciate your kind intentions, it's best if you forget it. It's nothing but a barren wasteland with us having nothing but dried rations to eat and icy-cold water to drink, not to mention the freezing weather. In the darkness also lurks countless other magical beasts and you'll never be able to imagine how it feels to be chased by tens of thousands of those red-eyed magical bulls as well as the sight of those 6-meter-tall mammoths that crumble our formations. Just thinking about it sends chills down my spine! However, I have no choice. This is the dominion of my family, and, by extension, the territory of humankind. The Norton Family will not allow the beasts to roam free within our lands!" Lorist proclaimed.
"It's especially tough because we can eat nothing but dried preserve food. The moment we light campfires to cook meat, we will attract the carnivorous magical beasts like the magical wolves and panthers, causing us to be unable to sleep well at night! Winter is definitely not a good time for the people of our dominion!"
Count Kenmays lost all interest in going along all of a sudden. While he personally didn't mind the cold, not being able to eat and sleep well was something he would never be willing to subject himself to at any cost. He then said, "I guess it's better for me to go to Gildusk City and enjoy some fine food, wine and music. That kind of lifestyle definitely suits me better..."
Lorist laughed out as he said, "No worries my friend, this is but the burden the Norton Family has to bear. Back then, our ancestor pledged to protect the borders of the empire. Naturally, as his descendant, I must carry out my responsibilities according to that pledge. That is the ultimate calling of our family which we will not abandon. As your friend, I only hope that you can remember that I am engaging in bloody fights against the magical beasts while you enjoy your time during winter. That much is enough for me."
"No worries, my friend, I will definitely spread the heroic tale of the Norton Family to the rest of the world so that they don't forget the contributions your family has made to protect the borders of the empire," Count Kenmays said as he thumped on his chest to reassure Lorist.