The sudden anthem blown from the horn resounded throughout the crowded plaza. There was one long note, 2 short ones, followed by another long one and that pattern repeated three times in total, signifying the arrival of the dominion lord. The people all turned to look and started chattering all over, all wanting to know what was going on.
As the crowd slowly stepped aside, they revealed a path straight to the center of the plaza. Faced with the fully-armed family guards, the crowd of people revealed looks of fear and automatically shirked to the sides to make some way as they understood that a person of high standing was present.
The battalion leader of the guards, Jim, and 9 other guards held up their spears, each with a swallowtail flag bearing the crest of the Norton Family upon it, and lined up into two rows, protecting Lorist and the others at their middle. Els and Patt stood in front of Lorist whereas Howard stood to his right, carrying a horn. Behind him were Charade, Josk, and Dulles. Freiyar on the other hand ordered the 10 other sailors to line up in four rows to follow the rest from behind.
"You, come over here," Lorist said to the sailor who was gradually stepping backwards. "What's your name?"
The sailor slumped to the ground limply and said, "Mi-milord... Please forgive me... I shouldn't have offended you..."
A shiny gold Forde was tossed in front of the sailor. Lorist waved to him and said, "This is your reward. You didn't offend me in the slightest. Stand up and lead the way."
Looking at the gold Forde beside him, the sailor was sent into a daze. However, he quickly snapped out of it and took the coin before taking a bite on it with his teeth out of habit. After that, he saw that the guards who were staring at him were trying hard not to laugh and hurriedly stood up before bowing towards Lorist. "Milord, I'm called Porter. It is my pleasure to be of service..."
Lorist didn't say anything and merely pointed to the front. Conscious of his role, Porter moved to the front of the troupe and began to call out loudly, "Scram, make way! The dominion lord is here!"
"Porter, what did you say?"
"Dominion lord? From where?"
"What did you say? Count Norton, our dominion lord, is here?"
The center of the plaza was surrounded by lots of people. Porter was waving his hands and saying something to a few other guards armed with pikes and shields but wearing no armor. Els stepped forward and called out, "Who are you people? Why are you blocking the way?"
Porter hurriedly said, "Sir, this is the garrison force of Whitebird Town..."
"Since they're the garrison force, step aside. The dominion lord is here, why aren't you getting in line to receive him?!"
The few unarmored garrison guards hurriedly stepped aside and bowed towards Lorist and the others who were passing by.
The center of the plaza that was surrounded by people wasn't that big and right in the middle was a wooden structure on which an old man looking to be around 60 with white hair was tied up naked. He had a rather well-built physique, but at that moment, three long bleeding whip lashes could be seen on his body. Beneath the wooden structure, around one hundred or so grey-armored soldiers equipped with pikes, swords and shields could be seen standing off against around 200 other armed members of the garrison force who didn't have a standardized uniform who stood in front of the rioting civilians with ten or so other garrison soldiers trying to maintain order.
"Eh? The garrison force here is not bad. They actually know enough to bother to maintain the order of the crowd," Lorist mused in a surprised tone.
Currently, everyone within the plaza had their eyes focused on Lorist and the rest's arrival.
Pointing at the old man who was tied up on the wooden structure, Lorist asked, "Porter, is that man Mayor Hugo?"
Porter hurriedly nodded and said, "Yes, milord. Old Hugo is a fair and just person and every one of the townsfolk have deep trust in him. Five years ago when the Second Highness departed, he left behind a huge pile of trouble. It was all due to Old Hugo's efforts in leading the rest to rebuild Whitebird Town and restoring its order that the rest of us have somewhere to rely on. That's why everyone chose him to become the mayor..."
Lorist nodded and said, "Els, Patt, go and fetch Old Hugo over here."
Els and Patt walked casually over to the wooden structure as if they couldn't see the people surrounding it, causing some of the intimidated armed guards to step aside gradually.
Patt slashed the ropes tying Old Hugo up with his sword, causing the old man to start falling. But Els stepped forward and caught him as he said, "Are you alright? Can you walk?"
Old Hugo said, "I'm fine for now. I just feel a little stiff after being tied up for so long, but it won't stop me from walking."
Patt said, "Come with me. Our lord wants to see you."
A few of the armed guards snapped out of their stupor and attempted to obstruct them. Els didn't even bother to look at them and shouted, "Scram! Those who block our path will die!"
"Those are big words coming from your mouth! Who are you people? Leave the old man here obediently!" said a knight who stood to the forward left direction of Els and Patt wearing green-colored armor. With a loud hum, he drew his sword and projected his golden blade glow onto it. He was actually a Gold ranked knight.
"Huh? Locke, isn't this the official armor of the Andinaq Royal Family's Local Defense Legion? So they really are sent here by the Second Highness?" Charade muttered.
"Joe," Lorist said, "Be careful. Don't hurt the bystanders."
The long arrow shot out like a bolt of green lightning and knocked straight onto the center of the golden blade glow of that knight. His sword snapped immediately with the arrow deflecting off it and burrowing itself into the ground not far away. The knight wearing the green armor stepped three steps back as if he had received a huge blow and spat out a mouthful of fresh blood all of a sudden. Never would he have imagined that a single arrow could be so mysterious and arcane to the point that it could snap the sword in his hand while sending a huge wave of Battle Force into his body at the same time, gravely injuring his internal organs.
The injury of the Gold ranked knight greatly startled the other soldiers and the men who obstructed Els and the others' way quickly dodged to the side, being able to do nothing but stare wide-mouthed as Els and the others returned to Lorist.
"Milord, I pay my respects to you. May I know who you are and why you have come to Whitebird Town?" Old Hugo said as he clasped his chest and lowered his head to Lorist.
"I am Count Norton, your dominion lord. Are you the mayor that was chosen by the people of Whitebird Town, Old Hugo?" Lorist said as he eyed the healthy and fit 60-year-old man.
Old Hugo revealed a look of surprise as he stared at Lorist and said, "Milord, are you really Count Norton? Forgive me for my insolence, but could you perhaps show me the proof of your rank and dominion?"
Howard kept the horn he was holding and took out the certificate Lorist received when he was entitled from a leather bag. As Old Hugo had learned to read, he inspected the documents and breathed a sigh of relief, before bowing to Lorist and saying, "I welcome your arrival, dominion lord. I am indeed the mayor that was elected by the folk of Whitebird Town, Hugo. I shall hand the right to rule Whitebird Town to you right now."
"There's no need for that. Continue to fulfill your role as the mayor of the town. I will adjust your position as I see fit after I understand more about the situation of the dominion," Lorist said, before turning to look at the garrison force. "Old Hugo, who's the regiment leader of this unit? I'd like to meet with him."
"Erm..." Old Hugo said as he turned to his back and looked at the garrison soldiers of Whitebird Town. "Victor, get your ass over here right now! Are you not going to greet our dominion lord who has just arrived?"
A man wearing a set of torn, old leather armor limped forward from the group of soldiers and walked towards Lorist. He casually greeted the group as he said, "Leader of the Whitebird Town Garrison, Victor, reporting for duty, milord."
Lorist looked straight at the man called Victor, causing the latter to feel intimidated by Lorist's sharp gaze and lowering his head to avoid direct eye contact.
"You have done rather well and managed to remember to instruct your men to maintain the order of the situation despite facing off against the enemy. That is extremely praiseworthy," Lorist said.
"Milord, Victor used to be a military officer of the Fiercegale Legion. Had it not been for his injury that caused him to retire from that army, he would definitely qualify as a regiment leader," Old Hugo added.
"What about you, Old Hugo? You seem to have the look of a military man yourself," Lorist said with a smile.
"Milord, I used to be one of the logistics officers of the Whitelion Legion and I came back here after it was disbanded. Whitebird Town is my hometown and I have left it for 35 years to serve as a soldier. It's already incredibly fortunate for me to be able to survive and return here compared to my other comrades who died on the battlefield," Old Hugo said as he sighed.
"Oh, the Whitelion Legion, huh? It seems that you're no outsider, Old Hugo. A few of my family knights used to be part of the Whitelion Legion as well, like Potterfang, Lode Wales, and Malek. Do you know them?" Lorist said, with his interest piqued.
"Potterfang? Of course I know him. I heard that his hometown was somewhere in the Northlands. Even Loze has become your family knight too? Oh, that's right, he was good friends with Potterfang after all. But the truly surprising thing is how that iron-faced Malek also became one of your knights... He's always so emotionless and only cares for the regulations and doesn't bother about friendship or favors at all. I recall that there was once when Malek caught Loze when he was drunk and caned him 10 times personally. At that time, Loze cried out that Malek wasn't his friend, but Malek said that it was precisely because he considered himself a friend of Loze that he had to personally cane him to ensure that he remembers his lesson..." Old Hugo described the three perfectly as if they were as familiar to him as his own family jewels.
"Milord, we have lots of time after this to talk. Let's settle the main issue first and disband the townsfolk for now. It's not like we can leave them here like that after all," Charade said as he interrupted Lorist and Old Hugo's conversation while pointing at the other soldiers wearing grey leather armor.
"Alright, Old Hugo. Let's talk later. I want to see what they have to say about coming to my dominion to collect taxes," said Lorist as he made his way forward directly towards the group of armed soldiers with the rest following behind him hurriedly.
"I am Count Norton. Have your leader step out to speak with me."
Even though the armed group numbered around a hundred, not one of them were bold enough to resist Lorist. Other things aside, the mere sight of Lorist's guards who were armed with silvery-grey metal armor had blinded their sights. Additionally, the Gold ranked knight that brought them on the mission was even gravely wounded by a single arrow, completely squashing the slightest remaining bit of their intention to resist. When Lorist said that he wanted to meet their leader, they instantly turned their heads to look at the fallen Gold ranked knight.
"He's your leader?" said Lorist, troubled. He thought that the soldiers were brought over by the so-called Viscount Aslan and didn't even consider that they were led there by the Gold ranked knight wearing the armor of the Royal Local Defense Legion.
Lorist walked towards the knight and asked, "Who are you and why have you brought your soldiers to the dominion of my family?"
The Gold ranked knight looked at Lorist and said, "A bloody count like you actually dared to ambush me? Do you know the consequences of your actions?!"
Lorist spit on the ground without a single care in the world and said, "Well, it's true that I don't know the consequences... All I know is that you have come to the dominion of my family with soldiers without any permission or invitation, and that, to me, is basically a declaration of war. I'll give you one more chance to tell me who you are and where these soldiers are from. Otherwise, I will hang all of you like I would bandits."
"Try it if you dare. Do you not fear the repercussions of incurring the rage of Second Highness Auguslo that will burn your family to ashes?" grumbled the Gold ranked knight stubbornly.
Whack! Lorist gave the Gold ranked knight a slap without warning and said, "The rage of the Second Highness? Hahaha... Wow, I'm so scared. Now that I've touched you, what will you do?"
The Gold ranked knight cried out in an angry frenzy before launching himself with both his hands stretched out. "I'll show you!"
"Ugh!" The Gold ranked knight suffered a blow to his abdomen at that moment and curled up like a cooked shrimp.
"Bffooo!" grunted the knight as his right face suffered another punch, before he spat out two of his teeth.
"Gah..." The knight suffered yet another strike on his chest, causing him to kneel on the ground. Even though he felt like puking, he couldn't do so with his face full of bloody tears.
Lorist stretched out his hand to grab the Gold ranked knight before giving him another seven to eight slaps on the face, causing the knight's head to swell up like a pig's head, before he was tossed to the ground unconscious.
"Discard your weapons. I will count to three and anyone who hasn't done so will be killed without question!" Lorist said as he turned to the black leather-armored soldiers. "One..."
Before he even said 'two', continuous clattering could be heard as the soldiers all cast their weapons to the ground. Given that the Gold ranked knight that was far superior than them was beaten around by the dominion lord like a sandbag, the soldiers knew that Lorist wasn't joking around. Of the hundred or so soldiers, the strongest one only had Iron ranked Battle Force. Anyone who resisted would only be causing trouble for themselves.
Lorist didn't expect that the soldiers would give up so easily and he said with a surprised tone, "You guys are rather wise. And to think I was ready to hang a few of you imbeciles... Can't you even let me release some stress? Tell me now, which one of you here is the squad leader?"
The rest of the soldiers thus turned to look at one man who was sweating profusely.
"Do you want to step forward yourself or do you need me to escort you here?" Lorist said with a laugh.
The man with a fearful looked instantly kneeled before Lorist as he said, "Mi-milord... Please have mercy..."
Why are these soldiers so pathetic? Lorist didn't think that him beating up the Gold ranked knight would cause the rest of the soldiers to be so shocked.
"Tell me about you guys."
"Milord, I am the squad leader of the Andinaq Kingdom's First Legion, Third Division, First Regiment, Second Company's Seventh Squad. I'm called Sillit and our forces are stationed at Jillin Harbor. Gold ranked knight Fewermante is our division commander. That's him over there," said Sillit as he pointed at the Gold ranked knight who laid sprawling on the ground. "We have received orders from him to come assist Viscount Aslan to collect taxes on behalf of the Second Highness. Milord, please have mercy, we are just following orders..."
"Collect taxes? Then where is Viscount Aslan? Why hasn't he come here to meet me? I want to hear why the Second Highness sent him here to my dominion to collect taxes, Lorist said as he gave the rest of the soldiers a look and noting that not one of them seemed like they could be the viscount.
Wait, Viscount Aslan should be coming forward to receive me, the dominion lord. But despite that, the soldiers and the Gold ranked knight here didn't even consider that... Isn't that a little weird, thought some of the soldiers who turned to look around for the viscount. After a few moments, someone cried out, "That viscount has escaped! Curses... We were duped!"
The soldiers all began to cry out in anger.
"Escape? Where would he hide on Silowas Island? Jim, bring two guards and four sailors back to the port to keep watch and tell Wilson to not let a single person board any ship. Anyone who resists shall be sunk right away!"
"Victor, as the garrison force leader of Whitebird Town, have your men lock these soldiers up for now, but don't treat them as prisoners of war yet. I believe that they are also the victims of fraud, so don't treat them badly. Prepare some food for them for now to settle them down, understood?" Lorist instructed.
"But milord, we can't afford to feed them," Victor said.
Lorist laughed and said, "Howard, give this man 10 gold Fordes and have him give his men one small silver coin each as their reward for defending Whitebird Town. I believe the rest will be enough for the other soldiers to have a huge meal."
10 gold Fordes could be exchanged for 1000 small silver coins. With each garrison soldier receiving one, the rest would definitely be enough for everyone to have a huge meal for the next few days.
Victor finally lowered his head and bowed as he said, "Thank you, milord, for your gracious reward. I will settle these soldiers down for now."
"Alright. Old Hugo, disband the townsfolk here. I won't provide food to anyone who stays back."
Old Hugo clasped his chest to salute Lorist and said, "Understood, dominion lord."