Even Lorist couldn't have predicted that things would turn out this way. Just that morning, he received a report that Knight Hennard had occupied Gildusk City with his troops, and just now during the night, he got wind that Knight Hennard had become a prisoner. That was too drastic a development! And so, Lorist had no choice but to head straight for Gildusk City.
By the time he arrived there, it was already the evening of the next day. Baron Felim who had his troops encircle the duke's manor came forward to receive Lorist and Count Kenmays had one of Knight Hennard's subordinates explain the details of the situation.
It all began because of Gold ranked Knight Tabik's rude mouth. As he had received orders to take control of the duke's manor, when he met with Princess Sylvia, perhaps because he believed that the Second Prince had completely lost and the princess no longer had anyone to rely on, he began to flirt with her. That caused the princess's rage to well up before she challenged the knight to a fight immediately. In an unexpected twist, the princess actually knew how to use Battle Force and was a Gold rank at that. It must be known that Princess Sylvia was only 20 years old that year, and 20-year-olds who had trained up to Gold ranked Battle Force were few and far between. It was something that usually wouldn't be possible even with exceeding talent.
The poor Knight Tabik never would have dreamed that the stunning beauty that was the princess was actually akin to a female dragon in strength, causing him to be caught completely off-guard. Not only was he captured by her, he was pummeled thoroughly first in front of everyone present.
When Hennard heard about it, he instantly rushed over to negotiate with Princess Sylvia for Knight Tabik's release and apologized on his behalf. He also promised that he definitely would not touch the princess's residence and would allow her to roam freely as she wills within the Northlands.
Initially, the talks went well. However, the princess suddenly drew her sword and pointed it at Hennard and said that she would only release Tabik if Hennard defeated her in a duel. Having no other choice, Hennard accepted the duel reluctantly.
As Hennard was an experienced knight that had partaken in many battles with Two Star Gold Battle Force, his techniques were naturally superior to that of the princess, allowing him to gain the upper hand right away. Even though he was fighting at a disadvantage because he was afraid to accidentally wound the princess, he believed that she would eventually give up, so Hennard's family knights merely watched the duel calmly.
But, when Hennard decided that he wanted to knock the princess's sword away with one blow to force her to surrender, his foot suddenly slipped. Not only did his strike miss, he even exposed his chest completely, causing Princess Sylvia to be able to have the chance to put her sword up to his neck.
Seeing that, the other Silver ranked knights immediately drew their swords and rushed forward, only to see Knight Hennard toss his sword away and shout at them to look for Baron Felim and Lorist to come over to solve the problem before being guided into the duke's manor with Princess Sylvia.
When Baron Felim first heard about it, he was greatly shocked and instantly sent his troops to surround the manor and demanded the princess to release the two hostages. However, the princess said that she would only comply if she was defeated in a duel and said that if the baron dared to send his troops into the manor, she would kill off the two knights immediately.
The reason Baron Felim didn't want to confront the princess himself was because he felt that he wouldn't be able to take her on. He was also warned to refrain from doing so by Knight Hennard's subordinates because if he was captured as well, there would no longer be anyone there to take charge of the situation. Additionally, Knight Hennard's loss was a little weird as making a simple mistake like that was unlike the performance of a Gold ranked knight.
"And that's how we arrived at a stalemate here. Princess Sylvia has sent someone to request for some fresh fruits and vegetables and we've satisfied that demand of hers," said Baron Felim as he laughed bitterly.
After patting his attire, Lorist turned to leave and said, "I will head to the duke's manor to take a look."
At that moment, Baron Felim and Count Kenmays hurriedly stopped him and said, "Lord Norton, Locke, don't be hasty. We must discuss this in detail..."
With a mere turn of his body, Lorist evaded Baron Felim's outstretched arm and said, "Don't worry. Princess Sylvia is a Gold ranked swordswoman and she wouldn't go out of her way to cause trouble for an Iron rank like me..."
On the other hand, Count Kenmays was being restrained by Reidy.
The count shouted angrily, "Are you going to just watch as your lord walks to his death?"
Reidy snickered and said, "Don't worry, Lord Count. My lord has yet to lose a single battle so far. And, Gold ranked Knight Chevany had died because he was defeated in a duel with my lord..."
"Is that true?" Count Kenmays said, shocked. Baron Felim who was beside them also had his interest piqued. Both of them knew that Knight Chevany and Knight Hennard were the ones who were ordered by Duke Loggins to lead the 4000 Northland Army soldiers to invade the Norton Family dominion. In the end, their army was utterly defeated with Knight Chevany dead on the battlefield and Knight Hennard captured. Apart from that, no other detail was made known to anyone else.
Reidy pointed to the guards beside them and said, "It's true. Just look at our guards who are not even nervous in the slightest. That shows the confidence they have in our lord. Before this, our lord led the soldiers himself in every single battle we fought and usually charged at the very front. We're already used to seeing him slaughtering the helpless enemies while not even getting injured himself. That's how we managed to capture Knight Hennard in the first place and that's also why he's thoroughly convinced of his loss."
In a few moments, Lorist arrived at the entrance of the manor and he lightly pushed open the main gate.
Beyond that door was a small courtyard where the guards of the manor trained and changed shifts.
Standing at the gates, Lorist took a deep breath and announced his presence. "I, Count Norton Lorist of the Norton Family, have come to pay Princess Sylvia a visit! Please grace me with your presence!"
Even though Lorist wasn't shouting, his voice was clear as thunder and echoed throughout the skies of the manor.
All of a sudden, a commotion seemed to have occurred within the manor before a large group of guards scrambled out of it to face Lorist as if they were going to fight a formidable enemy.
Not long after, a loud call could be heard. "Princess Sylvia of the Iblia Kingdom has arrived..."
This was Lorist's first encounter with the princess and he finally understood Count Kenmays's obsession with her looks. She did in fact possess beauty that rivaled that of a goddess. Despite the fact that Lorist had lived two lives and met his fair share of beauties, he was still quite impressed when he saw the princess. Only one word popped up within his mind at that moment: fairy.
She did indeed look as beautiful and elegant as the fairies depicted in ancient folklore. Lorist sighed in marvel slightly and calmed his mind to stop focusing his attention on her stunning looks.
Princess Sylvia was also checking Lorist out herself. Ever since she arrived at the Northlands, she was curious about this dominion lord who had yet to show himself publicly and her first impression of Lorist was that he looked really common. He didn't wear the shiny Sid Steel armor that his family soldiers wore and was only dressed in a common grey-colored linen short coat on the outside with a black shirt underneath. He wore a pair of long black pants and a pair of black leather boots. He also donned a layer of silver wire mesh armor on his upper body.
At a height of 1.8 or so meters, Lorist was considered of slightly above average height among the people of the Grindia Continent and his looks didn't stand out at all. He didn't look particularly handsome nor was he any ugly, just normal. Princess Sylvia who has definitely seen her fair share of handsome men would definitely not even be able to recall how Lorist looked like had she met him on the street. He practically looked like a forgettable extra in a movie scene.
However, what made Princess Sylvia feel that Lorist was more than meets the eye were his rich, black eyes that were filled with spirit which inspected herself with perfect clarity, radiating a sense of calm and security, much unlike the glazed stares of other nobles which seemed respectful on the surface but actually gave off a lewd vibe. Lorist's long, black hair was tied up in a ponytail at the back of his head, and his brows seemed to give off a sense of confidence, giving him a unique aura that made others feel that he would never cave from any challenge, which was quite unusual among nobles.
Lorist lowered his head and bowed down slightly with his right hand clutching his chest to make a salute among nobles of equal standing and said, "Your Highness, revered Princess Sylvia, the current head of the Norton Family, Norton Lorist, pays his respects."
"As a noble of the Iblia Kingdom, how dare you not submit yourself to the princess? Are you refusing to acknowledge her superiority?" Before Princess Sylvia even said anything, one of the guards harshly reprimanded Lorist.
"May I inquire since when has the Norton Family been a noble family of the Iblia Kingdom? Why don't we know about it? If the Norton Family did in fact pledge allegiance to the Iblia Royal Family, then please show me the document of proof! Otherwise, shut your pathetic mouth!" Even though Lorist still remained smiling, the rage in his eyes forced the guard to take two steps back without being able to make a retort.
Princess Sylvia stepped forward in front of the guard with a cold expression and said in a cold tone, "Does that mean that Baron Norton does not acknowledge that he is a noble of the Iblia Kingdom?"
"Naturally. Your Highness, everyone knows that the Norton Family of the Northlands only promised the Krissen Royal Family to defend the empire's borders and we have carried out our duty for the past 300 years without rest. After countless generations of effort, we brought peace to the Northlands. However, the empire fell into chaos with the three kings fighting for power, breaking what we used to know as a strong, formidable empire into shambles. Despite that, the Norton Family continues to carry out our mission to protect the borders of the empire and refused to participate in the chaotic internal affairs of the empire. Let me ask you then, Your Highness, whether the behavior of the Norton Family qualifies and unswerving loyalty?"
"Are you sure? Don't forget that your family pillaged the duke's dominion like bandits a few years back. Even though the empire has fallen, does that allow you to act wantonly like that?" Princess Sylvia retorted coldly with a smile.
"Your Highness, even though the empire is gone, the Norton Family is still fulfilling its mission and is upholding the burden by defending the rest of the lands from the magical beast wave. As for the unfortunate incident that occurred a few years back, it was sorely due to Duke Loggins's reckless greed that prompted him to stretch his claws maliciously towards the Norton Family. What we did was merely self defense. As for the citizens of the duke's dominion, they have followed us back to our own dominion on their own accord to flee from the flames of war and begin their peaceful lives anew. Your Highness, think about it, has the Norton Family occupied any inch of land that rightfully belongs to others? No. We have only stayed within our dominion and continued on with our lives. Even so, there were some that didn't want to let us rest in peace, forcing us to retaliate in kind," Lorist argued.
Princess Sylvia's fair, white cheeks reddened as her anger welled. "You truly have a cunning mouth, Baron Norton. Did you rely on that mouth of yours to fight against the magical beasts, I wonder?"
Even though her insult was harsh, Princess Sylvia had already been embarrassed to the point of rage and could no longer care less.
Lorist merely smiled calmly and said, "Don't forget, Your Highness, that I have already satisfied your request for some corpses of the magical beasts. You should know how much our heroic warriors have suffered after seeing the corpses yourself. Need I remind you that the Norton Family currently holds the rank of a count as well? Because of the efforts of our generations of ancestors in protecting the borders, the Andinaq Royal Family, true heir to the blood of the Krissen Imperial Family, has entitled us with the rank of a count, and we have accepted it as we believe our efforts merit the promotion."
Even though Princess Sylvia didn't have anything to say about the first part of Lorist's statement, when she heard the rest, she snorted and said, "I see that your family has colluded with the Andinaq Royal Family... No wonder you dare to be so defiant to the King of the Iblia Kingdom and has refused his demands multiple times..."
Lorist burst out in laughter before he took out a piece of paper from his breast pocket and said, "Your Highness, perhaps you should hear for yourself the three demands your king issued to my family."
So Lorist recited the demands word by word out loud, and with each sentence, the face of the princess paled. She understood that no noble would ever agree to demands as preposterous as those. Those demands in essence wanted the Norton Family to jump blindly into an endless abyss! This time around, the princess truly felt utterly humiliated.
"No, I don't want to hear it anymore! I don't wanna..." muttered the princess as she stomped her feet on the ground repeatedly, throwing a massive fit.
"I've finished reciting them, Your Highness. Let's put aside the grudge between the Second Prince and I, since the 100000 soldiers he brought to attack us has already been wiped out and his whereabouts are currently unknown. The reason I'm here is to discuss with you about the release of Knight Tabik and Baron Shazin, both of whom you have imprisoned. On what conditions will you grant them their freedom? You should know better that there is much to attend to after a huge battle and that there are many responsibilities waiting for them to fulfil," Lorist said.
Now that they have returned to the topic at hand, the princess regained her calm and said, "It's simple. As long as you can defeat me, I will let them go."
After taking a closer look at Lorist, Princess Sylvia clicked her tongue and said, "Count Norton, you shouldn't have any business here since you're an Iron rank. Have a Gold ranked knight of your family fight in your stead."
Lorist merely laughed out loud and drew his sword. "I might as well give it a try..."
"How dare you?!" shouted the guard who stood by the side of the princess as he charged over with his longsword that emitted a silver blade glow.
Thud! A moment later, that Silver ranked guard fell flat on his face right at Lorist's feet.
Swoosh! Two other Silver ranked guards rushed forward with their swords as well, only to suffer the same fate as their comrade.
By the time there were tens of guards by Lorist's feet, he got annoyed and said, "Your Highness, how many more guards do you have? You might as well have all of them come at me so that I can save more time..."
With a serious expression, Princess Sylvia drew her sword and waved it at the guards who wanted to rush forward and said, "You're not his match. Let me..."
"Neither are you, Your Highness Princess Sylvia. Have that person hiding behind you step out. Don't think that I didn't notice it just because that person is hiding beneath the shade of the tree," Lorist snapped candidly before turning to look at a huge tree near the walls of the courtyard.
"I've never seen a sword style such as yours and I don't know how you managed to discover me. I can only say that your style must be of a very peculiar origin," said a woman with a hoarse voice as she stepped forward from the tree, dressed in a loose, black robe.
It was the first time Lorist revealed a nervous look. His dynamic vision was actually unable to pinpoint the location of the person, who seemed to be standing beneath the tree. He just couldn't sense the human presence from under that robe.
Lorist licked his lips and said, "I believe you're Her Highness's adoptive mother, Blademaster Xanthi. No wonder Knight Hennard had lost during his fight with her. I see that you have been giving her a hand. I knew that something felt weird... The princess is definitely talented, no doubt, but given her young age and her One Star Gold Battle Force, how could she have defeated a Gold ranked knight who had experienced multitudes of battles?"
"You dare to look down on me? En garde!" shouted the princess in rage as she launched herself towards Lorist with her sword drawn, emanating a golden blade glow.
"Stop!" shouted the woman wearing the black robe. It was unclear whether she was asking the princess to stop or for Lorist to not resist and allow the princess to expel her rage by striking him.
Naturally, Lorist did not pay that voice any heed. Bending his body backwards, the princess's sword pierced only thin air. And as if he was a spring, Lorist bounced back up and approached the princess quickly.
The princess was shocked as she previous thought that Lorist would dodge or parry her strike. But she didn't expect that he would remain at the same spot despite dodging and even spring back up to get so close to her. The poor princess had never had another man so close to her face within her personal space and instantly lost her cool and panicked with the only thought in her mind being to stretch out her hands to push Lorist away.
Lorist's body swerved once more and now, he appeared behind the princess and caught the sword-hand of the princess with his own. His other hand reached for his own sword and pressed it against the fair face of the princess, causing her to stand completely still upon feeling the cold flat of the blade against her face.
A glint from a sword suddenly manifested mid-air and headed straight for the princess's pale face...