So it's already the 1st month of the year 1772, Lorist thought as he looked at rows of stars drawn on the wall. The barbarian that was responsible for keeping time was the bushy-haired barbarian witch doctor. Even though Lorist wanted to know only the date, he had spent lots of effort to get it out from the witch doctor who frequently talked in riddles, much to Lorist's frustration.
During the past 30 or so days, Lorist and Reidy basically stayed within the small wooden house, apart from occasionally going out to clear the snow or empty the latrine, as well as one occassion when they went on a fishing trip when the snow stopped temporarily. Despite getting up to 50 kilograms of fish, they met with a barbarian patrol group on the way back and half of their gains were confiscated.
But it was precisely because of that encounter that Lorist discovered a huge weakness of the barbarians. Their military force during the winter was incredibly lacking. During the past two years around this time, Lorist was leading the family forces in their struggle against the magical beast wave and it was quite common for them to operate within the snowy lands at temperatures around negative 20 to 30 centigrade. The main reason his forces were able to do so was their emphasis on winter gear that had incredible heat insulation, which included a fur coat, fur cap, a pair of gloves, an outer windbreaker as well as a face mask. They could be said to be equipped fully from head to toe.
Naturally, a large part of that success was thanks to Lorist's experiences in the frozen frontiers during his past life and his willingness to use the precious furs of the magical beasts to make warmth-retaining clothing for his soldiers without the slightest hesitation. Even though the cotton plant didn't exist on Grindia, these magical beast furs were far better than them in regards to retaining heat. In addition to the fact that the Norton Family soldiers have awakened their Battle Force, their increased circulation also helped to stave off the heat.
Compared to the fur winter gear of the Norton Family soldiers, the barbarians only wore a few layers of beast fur casually tossed over their upper body. They merely hung a few of them on their upper body but left their legs bare. Not only that, the fur clothes they wore also had large sleeves. It was no wonder that an Eight Ringed Ulay, which was the equivalent of a Two Star Silver Battle Force user, was so cold that he felt like dying. They were already complaining badly about how they had to come out to patrol in that weather.
During the days when the snow didn't fall, the barbarians who hid within the cave would send out around a hundred people to patrol the stockade during morning and night, mainly to check if there were any carnivorous magical beasts hanging around. That's why when they met with Lorist and Reidy who were returning from their fishing trip, they were incredibly surprised because the both of them left the stockade without permission. Lorist told them that he had no choice because they were running out of food and had to capture more fish to sustain themselves.
The barbarians were troubled as leaving the stockade without notice was considered to be a grave crime. But it wasn't that they wanted Lorist to starve to death either. After the bearded leader of the patrol team discussed with his teammates, he decided to confiscate half of the fish as punishment. Even though they disliked fish because of the bones, it was still quite pleasing for them to be able to drink a huge bowl of fish soup during the winter. And so the matter was settled and the bearded leader even sent someone to bring Lorist a huge sack of kudzu roots after he returned to the cave. In that regard, the barbarians weren't that bad.
With the passing of the 30 or so days, Lorist had almost recovered halfway from his injuries and managed to save up a third of his full amount of internal energy within his dantian. In another ten plus days, he would be able to completely repair his damaged meridians, and the thought of that relieved him greatly. Also, of the many blood clots within Reidy's brain, only one large one remained as Lorist had been using his internal energy to gradually remove them over time. He believed that Reidy would return to his former self after that last one was removed.
The weather outside on that day was rather bad with a huge snowstorm covering the whole area.
Lorist sat cross-legged above the fire pit on the stone slab with the temperature within the house was as warm as spring. He had just finished another round of treatment for Reidy and the latter was already sound asleep in a corner. After every treatment session, Reidy would turn really sleepy and sometimes would be out cold for tens of hours a time, causing Lorist to sometimes worry that he would never wake up again.
After circulating another major cycle to recover the internal energy he expended on Reidy's treatment, Lorist shut his eyes and recalled the moments when he was fighting Blademaster Zarinan. He found it really laughable that he had felt so confident after defeating Blademaster Xanthi. At that time, he truly believed that no one else within that world would be able to force him into a corner when it came to swordplay and was really full of himself. But an assassination by an old Blademaster had been able to shake him up so badly with no warning. Not only was he personally injured, many loyal soldiers of the family also perished, causing Lorist regret that was hard to put into words.
He had believed that with his good swordsmanship and mighty family forces, he would be invincible and would be able to mess around unabated. But in retrospect, Lorist found that he had been too arrogant and ignorant. If a rank 3 Blademaster was able to push him into a grave corner, what would he do if he was faced with a Sword Saint? He would no doubt lose everything he cared about. He realized that only with personal strength could he be confident and without worries in this world.
Having acknowledged his errors, Lorist gained a newfound realization to take himself seriously from now on and train even harder than before. Currently, even when he was sitting cross-legged to rest, he was recalling every strike of the Blademaster with clarity and mentally simulated how he would block them and make counters.
Bam bam bam! The door of the house was knocked on loudly and Lorist opened his eyes immediately. Weird, who would be coming here on a stormy day like this? I should be careful, it may be some magical beast that's banging on the door. I'd be dead meat if I really opened the door for a magical beast.
"Who's this?" Lorist shouted out.
"It's me! Open the door!" said the person outside.
Lorist then opened the door and the one who rushed within was the hunchbacked old man who wrapped himself with so many furs he looked like a huge meatball.
"So cold... so cold..." he muttered with his face almost green like rusted iron. Some frozen streaks of mucus could also be seen near the old man's nose as he stomped around to rid himself of the cold.
"Why have you come here?" Lorist asked coldly.
"Why? Hehe, kid, this place belongs to me now! You two, scram!" said the old man as he snickered wildly.
As the old barbarian man could no longer resist the cold within his shabby old house, he had decided to get his hands on Lorist's own small wooden house.
"Have you forgotten that time when you were whipped? Also, with the furious snowstorm outside, where would we go?" Lorist said as he stared at the old man without actually considering him a threat.
"I don't care where you go. It'll be even better if you freeze to death. I still haven't paid you back for that time I was whipped. You actually dared to rat me out... I'd like to see if you can find anyone to complain to right now! There is no way that the mountain chief will leave the cave in this weather. You'll have to wait for another two months if you want to complain to her! Now, get out quick!" roared the old man as he raised a thick whip up with his right hand.
The old barbarian man swung the whip against Reidy's back, causing him to wake up and look at the old man, confused at what was happening.
"Are you still gonna stay here?!" shouted the man angrily at Reidy as he raised his whip again for another swing.
It was then when Lorist stepped forward and held the whip tightly with his hand.
"Cursed slave, you dare resist me?!" shouted the rage-filled barbarian man.
Without saying a word, Lorist landed a harsh punch right onto the old barbarian man's chest where his heart was.
"Ugh..." groaned the man before he stopped moving altogether.
Lorist did not use that much internal energy when he punched that old man as he only needed him to stay put for ten minutes or so. After removing the two thick cow skins the old barbarian man wore without any regard, he tossed the old man outside the house onto the snowy grounds. After closing the door, Lorist said to Reidy, "Don't worry, get back to sleep."
"Oh..." Reidy muttered as he lied back down.
After half an hour, Lorist put on one of the cow skins and opened the door to take a look. The hunchbacked old barbarian man had already frozen to death and Lorist removed the snow from the old man's corpse before he brought him back to the shabby old house.
The old house was freezing cold and there was a broken earthen pot within that the old man used as a brazier, but the firewood inside were all cold and wet. Lorist also realized that there were a number of large holes around the walls of the house. Originally, they were covered up by mud and clay, but they had probably fallen off after being frozen stiff, allowing the snow and wind outside to gush into the house from the holes. No wonder the old man wasn't able to stand being in his house and desperately tried to occupy the one Lorist built.
There was a pile of dried grass where the old man probably slept and Lorist tossed his corpse upon it and placed the cow skin he brought with him on the corpse, making it seem like the old man was sound asleep.
After that, he searched the house for a while and discovered that under the pile of grass was a rusted longsword. Apart from some trash and random goods within the house, there wasn't anything else worth noting. The old man still had quite a lot of food remaining, but Lorist didn't touch that and only cut off a wooden plank from the house with the longsword and used it to smudge his tracks when he returned to his own house.
The snowstorm continued for four days and three nights. When it cleared up, Lorist and Reidy immediately proceeded to clean off the snow that had gathered on the roof and after a long while of work, they saw the patrol team emerge from the cave.
The leader of the team was the same bearded man who led the previous patrol. He greeted Lorist when he approached.
Lorist pointed to the hunchbacked old man's house and said, "During the past few days, the old man would ask me to help clean the snow off his roof every time the snow stopped falling. But this time, he still hasn't come out yet. I wonder if something has happened to him..."
And so, the bearded leader made his way to the old man's house and it didn't take long for a commotion to break out.
Lorist went there to join the fray and when the bearded leader saw him, he waved his hand and said, "The old man has already frozen to death. Come here, there are a few skins and furs that you can use as well as a few sacks of kudzu roots. Take them."
Lorist happily returned to his house with the furs and kudzu roots before bringing Reidy along with him to clean up the snow around the broken old house. After that, he dug a huge hole in the ground and buried the old barbarian man within it.
Now that the old barbarian man was gone, only Reidy and Lorist remained within the stockade as all the other barbarians stayed within the cave. Had it not been for Reidy's current state, Lorist would've left the place right away since nobody would be able to stop him.
During the chilling-cold days wrought with snow and storm, apart from helping Reidy heal and further repairing his damaged meridians, Lorist also used the skins obtained from old barbarian man to make leather pants, gloves, cloaks, masks as well as some eye shields to prevent the eyes from freezing over using a small, razor-sharp blade, a long needle and a few fish hooks which he kept hidden within his old outer robe.
Even though his sewing skill wasn't that good, Lorist did manage to make leather equipment for two people in less than ten days. After that, he preserved some food for the upcoming journey and also made some wooden skis for his travels. All he had to do next was to wait until the day Reidy returns to his former self.
In the following days, Lorist would train his swordsmanship in a borderline insane fashion even during stormy days. Even during nights when snowstorms ravaged the stockade and covered the ground completely white with snow, the moment he recalled a scene during his battle with Blademaster Zarinan, he felt as if he gained some insight and would work himself to exhaustion outside in the snow. Just like that, Lorist refined his swordsmanship step by step as the days passed.
By the time the wooden wall within the house was filled with three other rows of small stars marking the days, Reidy's treatment had already reached its last stage. As Lorist tapped on Reidy's pressure point behind his head with his left hand, he used his right palm to support Reidy's back from behind and injected some of his internal energy into Reidy's head in small pulses against the last remaining blood clot. When it was finally disintegrated, Reidy lost consciousness.
But this time around, he woke up within only four short hours. When he opened his eyes, he saw Lorist sitting beside him and said, "Milord, it was as if I was dreaming for a long period of time..."
Lorist laughed out and said, "Do you remember what you dreamed about?"
After furrowing his brow for a few moments, he shook his head and said, "I can't really recall. I think there were many other people around us, but you were always by my side, milord. Oh, weren't we on that cliff back then? I remember shooting that old bastard in the back once. After hitting my head when we fell off the cliff, I can't recall anything else. Milord, where are we right now?"
"We are currently the slaves of the mountain barbarians." Lorist proceeded to briefly explain the recent events to Reidy before he ruffled his head and said, "If you didn't lose your memory, we would've back at the dominion long ago."
Reidy shook his head and said, "Milord, I think you made a mistake. You should've returned to the dominion as soon as possible. While the family can do without me, it definitely can't go on without you..."
Passing the small silver container with rank 2 medicine to Reidy, Lorist said, "Don't worry about things that don't concern you. Do I look like the kind of lord that will abandon my own family knights? Within the container holds the last two or three drops of rank 2 medicine. After you drink it, circulate your Battle Force immediately. I will give you three days to prepare and we will head back to the dominion when you recover. After all, you won't be able to survive the cold outside if you can't use your Battle Force."
Catching the container, Reidy said, "Milord, have your injuries recovered?"
"Don't worry, I'm already fine. All that's left is for you to patch yourself up. Consume the medicine and begin quickly," Lorist said with a smile.
Three days later, Reidy looked at his silver blade glow excitedly and said, "Milord, look! My Battle Force seemed to have grown with the blade glow even lengthening a bit."
Lorist however continued to draw on the wooden wall with a piece of charcoal without saying anything.
Putting his sword down, Reidy asked, "Milord, what are you drawing?"
"Oh, I promised the leader of the barbarians here to build a canteen for them. But since we're leaving soon, I won't be able to fulfill that promise. That's why I'm drawing up a set of diagrams and procedures for the construction here. I only hope that they can understand it well enough to finish the canteen on their own. I'll be done soon, so you should go pack up. After this, we will make our leave," Lorist said as he continued drawing.
When Lorist placed the charcoal in his hand down and brought up the torch to get a better look at his drawings, he told Reidy, "Even the mountain barbarians should be able to understand these simple drawings, right?"
Right after that, a loud knocking on the door cut their conversation short.
Reidy opened the door and saw a person wearing thick furs walk inside. After that person removed the furs, Lorist realized that it was that thick-lipped female barbarian.
Feeling the humiliation well up in his mind, Lorist looked at her with a cold gaze and asked, "Why have you come here?"
The thick-lipped barbarian woman smiled as she said, "I'm pregnant. The witch doctor said that it's your child..."
As if a bolt of lightning had struck him, Lorist began shivering all over. Reidy was completely flabbergasted by what he has just heard.
The barbarian woman continued, "My husband died last year in battle and now I even have your child. That means, I can get married to you and you won't have to be a slave anymore! You can join our tribe and I'll definitely treat you well..."
Before she finished, Lorist's figure swerved to reach for his sword that was placed above the fire pit before he pierced it straight through the thick-lipped barbarian woman's chest.
She lowered her head gradually and looked at the longsword that had passed through her torso before slowly turning her gaze back to Lorist with an expression filled with despair and agony as life slowly left her body. Her pale lips twitched as she struggled to say something with great difficulty. "W... Why..."
Lorist was still shivering as his grip on his sword loosened. He stepped backwards slowly before collapsing into a sitting position atop the fire pit and said, "You... you are the cause of the greatest... humiliation I have ever suffered in all my life..."
As the thick-lipped woman fell backwards, Reidy stepped forward to catch her, only for her to say one last thing before she breathed her dying breath. "My... my child..."
The atmosphere within the small wooden house was so chilling that it almost felt like time itself was frozen. After a long while, Lorist raised his head and said, "We'll leave immediately..."
Reidy looked at the corpse of the barbarian woman in his hands and said, "Mi-milord... What... What do we do about her..."
Sighing, Lorist said, "Bring her with us and find a place to bury her."
Atop a lone mound, Lorist dug through the frozen earth without regard to amount of internal energy it consumed to make a pit to bury the barbarian woman within. After that, he sat by the grave marker for a long while.
"Forget this matter. This has been a long nightmare for me as well," Lorist said as he finally stood up.
Reidy merely nodded.
"Let's go. We should be heading home," Lorist said, before he swung his hands to gain some momentum to ski down from the hill, with Reidy following behind. The two of them streaked through the snow-covered plains as quickly as lightning...