When Second Highness Auguslo received word of Count Norton's visit, he was in a rather good mood. Five years back, he used the northbound convoy to regain his power and influence and later even tossed the burdensome vagabonds to them. He had also used the convoy to raid the nobles that didn't listen to his summons and managed to build up his own Royal Family's Local Defense Force with the resources he gained. In the end, with the cooperation of the Nortons, he managed to establish an impressive track record of victorious battles, causing his name to spread far and wide and establishing a firm foundation for the mighty Andinaq Kingdom.
Nowadays the Second Highness was no longer the poor little bug that had to rely on the northbound convoy's forces. He had 300000 soldiers under his command and the slightest move made by him would be able to profoundly affect the situation on the continent. All the nobles within the kingdom were already under his control and incredibly obedient. That goes without saying that he felt that the Norton Family that was located far in the north should do the same as well.
But after feeling good about himself for a bit, he recalled the scene of destruction wrought by the forces of the Norton Family convoy and knew that for a noble family like them with such a strong force to submit to him, he must first earn their respect.
That was especially the case when he received word some time back about the conflict between the nobles of the Northlands and those of the Iblia Kingdom as well as their battles. However, information was hard to come by in the Madras Duchy and the news he heard from the Melein Duchy was not that detailed. So, he felt that Count Norton's visit was a good opportunity for him to better increase his chances for the war of unification.
Thus, Second Highness Auguslo organized a grand banquet to celebrate Count Norton's visit to signify that he valued the Norton Family a lot and he hoped to unite the intentions of the nobles that attended the banquet to join forces under his leadership to unite the empire.
The Second Highness believed that Count Norton would definitely submit to his will and be willing to fight at the forefront of the war to contribute to the unification of the empire.
And if the Second Highness did manage to ally up with the Norton Family, many more unexpected strategies and tactics would be made available to him. He would use the forces of the Norton Family as shock troops to barge into enemy lines and attract their attention. After that, he would be able to use that opportunity to encircle the enemies with his troops and have the Norton Family crush the enemy from the inside while he stopped the enemy from escaping outside, effectively crumbling the main force of the enemy in one go and gain victory with the smallest sacrifice.
Naturally, the Second Highness didn't even bother to consider the casualties of the Norton Family forces as he felt that dominion lords of the Andinaq Royal Family must have the self-consciousness of their due obeisance to the royal family and that it was their duty and responsibility to serve the royal family.
With his 'script' completely drafted, the Second Highness didn't expect that Lorist would not play according to his lines. To put it in a more direct manner, Lorist was visiting to ruin his plans altogether.
The banquet was held in one of the halls of the royal court and the grand and luxurious decorations belied the sour and heavy atmosphere within. The impressive columns within the hall were a reminder of the glory days of the empire which was now in shambles, causing one to feel much pity and shame from viewing them.
The Second Highness introduced the various nobles that attended to Lorist in the friendliest manner possible as well as his trusted subordinates and generals, many of whom Lorist had already seen before such as the handsome Davey, and the delicate flower, Princess Carey, who carried an overbearing aura that couldn't be violated in the slightest. Naturally, both of them were clothed this time around. There were also some military officers that Lorist could recognize from the Paradise Gathering based on their physique and movement.
Having seen many of them stark naked before, Lorist almost felt like laughing out when he saw them dressed so properly. Even he wore a bright smile, he merely nodded to the people the Second Highness introduced to him without regard at all to their status or power. Even when the Second Highness introduced Princess Carey to Lorist, he pretended that he didn't see the princess's outstretched hand for a hand-kiss and merely nodded towards her before turning away to mind his own business.
Lorist's behavior shocked many of the nobles present and they were appalled at how rude he was even though he was merely a count from the rural Northlands. Even the princess was so enraged that her face flushed red as she had never experienced something so awkward all her life. Thankfully, Davey reacted quickly enough and kissed her hand lightly, saving her from the shame of having to take her hand back because nobody bothered to kiss it.
The Second Highness on the other hand didn't take note of that as he was chatting with some other nobles and only saw Lorist move further away to appreciate the murals within the hall. Those murals depicted the might and achievements of the founding Krissen Emperor, with most of them being scenes of him triumphing over his foes or commanding his troops.
The Second Highness hurriedly said, "What's up? You're interested in these murals? It won't take long until we succeed in our own endeavor that's every bit as impressive as those of the founding emperor. I will definitely have the warriors who have contributed greatly to the effort painted on a mural as a memento too."
Lorist laughed and said, "Your Highness, after seeing this mural, it reminded me of this saying. 'For a general to become renowned, thousands of bones will have to crumble'..."
Huh? What does that saying mean? As the Second Highness was pondering over it, a manager of the palace came to report that the banquet is already ready and that the Second Highness should be the first to head in.
Within the hall wasn't the kind of long table that nobles would usually use to receive their guests, but instead many smaller ones that could seat two people each. For example, if a noble brought along his spouse, the couple would occupy one table for themselves. Naturally, for single nobles like Lorist, another noble lady would be arranged to be his partner.
As the Second Highness wanted to express his goodwill toward Lorist, a guest who had come from far away, Lorist's seat was arranged right next to his. What surprised Lorist however was that the female partner the Second Highness arranged for him was not his cousin sister Glacia but rather, the cold and fuming Princess Carey.
What's going on? Lorist wondered with surprise, but he didn't let it show on his face. After slightly bowing to the princess, Lorist sat down without a care in the world and heard a dissatisfied humph.
At that moment, the musicians started playing a relaxing tune to lighten up the banquet's mood. The Second Highness proceeded to raise his golden cup and began to praise the heavens and the founding emperor before he began a long-winded speech about his hopes for the near future. Lorist merely shook his head slightly and thought that no matter how nice the Second Highness made it sound, he didn't bother to pay the slightest attention to the present. The Second Highness didn't even know that Lorist was about to blow up like a volcano even though he was right in front of him, so he had no right to speculate about the future.
"...In the not so distant future, during our struggle to unite the empire, I have high expectations for all of you to rake in some great achievements. The royal family will definitely not be stingy in giving ranks and land as rewards, so the future of your families will depend on your own performance," said the Second Highness as he finished his unnecessarily long and nonsensical speech before the seated audience called out 'Long live the Andinaq Kingdom!' loudly three times. There were some of them who called out 'Long live Auguslo!'. After that, everyone began to gulp down the wine in their cups and the banquet formally began.
Hmm, this mutton sausage made by the royal family looks rather good. I was just getting a little hungry from following the Second Highness around all day just now, thought Lorist as he took up his fork and brought a piece of sausage into his mouth, but before he did, he heard Princess Carey's bell-like voice resound beside him.
"Count Norton, when His Highness was giving his speech just now, I saw you shaking your head disapprovingly. Do you have any thoughts or objections to His Highness's speech just now?"
"Ack..." Lorist almost choked and he thought, in the end, women have the potential to be the most dangerous... He had only chosen to not give the promiscuous princess due respect because he had already lost all respect he could have for her after seeing her perform those carnal acts completely naked in front of everyone else. Also, he didn't feel like kissing the hand that has probably touched more than a couple other men's manhoods. He didn't think that the princess would hold that gesture against him and start causing trouble for him just when the banquet was beginning.
When the princess started speaking, everyone cleared their ears to hear what she had to say. At that moment, Lorist felt that he had been thrust into the center of attention.
Sigh, there's no such thing as a good banquet... Lorist stood up without giving the princess so much as the slightest glance and walked to the center of the path before bowing towards the Second Highness. "Your Highness, I have come on this trip for two reasons. First, it's to express the loyalty of the Norton Family to you and the royal family. Additionally, I have a few questions for you, Second Highness..."
"Tell me, what questions do you have?" The Second Highness was a little annoyed and wondered, what does he intend for me to address in public in front of everyone else? What's important right now is to see how I can get the Norton Family to agree to participate in the unification war...
"Your Highness, I've apprehended a few people and I need to bring them for you to see. Only after that can I punish them," Lorist said.
With his curiosity piqued, the Second Highness nodded and said, "Bring them in then."
Freiyar and two other guards then proceeded to escort the descendants of the nobles they captured from Seaview Manor. During the past few days, they have suffered quite a bit. Not only did they have to endure that night of caning, after that, they only had black bread and vegetable soup for food and if their behavior was the slightest bit poor, they would be pummeled to the point that their faces bruised up. The moment they entered the room and saw their family, they began to sob and cry out daddy and mommy as loudly as they could.
Great, the banquet is completely ruined now, thought the Second Highness with a grim expression. "Count Norton, could you please explain to me what is going on?"
"Your Highness, may I ask you whether Silowas Island is considered the dominion of the Norton Family?" Lorist asked.
The Second Highness froze before he said, "Of course it's the dominion of the Norton Family. There is no doubt about that."
"But these eight descendants of noble families occupied the Seaview Manor of the island for five whole years and even chased away the supervisors sent by my family to manage the manor, forcing me to have to go there personally to settle the issue. I would like to question these eight families involved about whether they are declaring war against the Norton Family. My family forces are already prepared to repeat what happened when our convoy crossed the three provinces of the Andinaq Kingdom," Lorist declared without the slightest hesitation.
The Second Highness's rage instantly soared as he thought, Count Norton, are you here just to cause trouble? Even if you are in the right, you can't be so forthright about this. Why can't you just talk it out properly? Is it because you think that the Andinaq Royal Family is still as weak as it was a few years prior? Even if your convoy forces from before come again, faced with my 300000-strong army, do you think you'll be able to run around unabated?
Beside them, an old man stood up and said, "Count Norton, I understand that our young ones hasn't been well-taught by us and even went to your dominion on their own accord to cause you much trouble. I hope that you can consider their immature age and forgive them just this once. Right now, His Highness is preparing to unite the empire with his forces and as nobles of the kingdom, we shouldn't be causing any unnecessary trouble. We must all stand united and play our part to contribute to the unification of the empire..."
Second Highness Auguslo almost praised that noble's speech out loud. Listen to his sensible words! He has made it incredibly clear that it isn't that we fear your forces. We're only too busy with preparing to unite the empire and can't be bothered to deal with you! Look at how reasonable he's being...
"May I inquire who you are?" Lorist asked.
"I am Marquis Reid and that young child over there is the unbecoming member of our family. I hope that Lord Count, you, can be merciful and spare them this once," said the old man.
"Your Highness, what do you think of this matter?" Lorist said as he turned back to the Second Highness.
Second Highness Auguslo said with an expressionless look, "Taking their young age into account, I believe that they're only causing trouble because they're not mature enough. I hope that you won't fuss with them about this matter."
"Very well, I'll release them with respect to Your Highness's wishes," Lorist said magnanimously before instructing Freiyar to release them.
And so, the eight foolish noble descendants ran back to their family members and began complaining about the treatment they've received and even asked their family members to set matters right for them.
Blind idiots, won't you even consider the situation? Do you still think that you are the precious members of our family? As expected, there were a few of them who were instantly rebuked and lectured by their parents and were escorted back to be grounded to have them reflect on their mistakes.
As the Second Highness attempted to say something to warm up the atmosphere again, he heard Lorist yell, "Bring him in!"
There's more? Everyone widened their eyes to see which unlucky fellow was next.
This time around, Els came in with two other guards who were escorting the captured Gold ranked knight Ferwemant.
"Your Highness, this is your subordinate, the commander of the Third Division of the First Royal Local Defense Legion, Gold ranked knight Ferwemant. He brought around 100 soldiers to Whitebird Town of Silowas Island and tied up the mayor to threaten the townsfolk for wealth and was captured by us. I want to ask Your Highness whether he acted personally on his own accord or per your orders."
Bam! Second Highness Auguslo thumped on the table harshly and stood right up. "Very well, Ferwemant. The First Legion had already reported your disappearance for days... So you were actually at the dominion of the Norton Family being a bandit! My men, come over here and drag Ferwemant out for 100 canes! He will be instantly stripped of his position as division commander and serve within the third division until he makes up for his crimes!" The Second Highness acted quickly and came up with a way to deal with the matter without giving Lorist any chance to react.
Sol, how ridiculous, Lorist cursed in his thoughts. Even though the punishment sounded harsh, it was actually already extremely forgiving. Lorist was really dissatisfied that he had no choice but to let the knight go off scot-free. Very well, if you deal with Viscount Aslan in the same matter, I will flip out in your face right away...
"Bring in the next one!" yelled Lorist with rage.
The Second Highness gasped and thought, there's still more?!
Viscount Aslan was brought into the hall by Jim and two other guards, causing chatters and murmurs to break out right away. Is that feather-covered monster actually a person? It took them quite some time before they recognized him as the tax collection official appointed by Second Highness Auguslo himself, Viscount Aslan.
When the Second Highness recognized the kneeling man, he could no longer hold his rage and roared, "Count Norton, on what grounds are you treating a noble like him like this? He's even the tax collection official I personally appointed! Are you looking down on the Andinaq Royal Family?!"
"Your Highness, I just confirmed with you before that Silowas Island was the dominion of my family. You should be well aware of the income your own principality generates, right? It's 2000 gold Fordes each year, am I wrong? And you said that this man here is the tax collection official sent by you? I even thought that he was the dominion lord you appointed for Silowas Island. On what grounds was he collecting 6000 gold Fordes' worth of taxes for three consecutive years? Not only did he increase the taxes on his own accord, he almost caused the residents to revolt! This is definitely an infringement of the honor of the Norton Family!
"I would really like to know why he wanted to collect the taxes that included that of our original dominion from that island. Is that per Your Highness's orders as well? He even threatened that if they don't pay up, you will bring your 300000 soldiers to wash the island with blood. Is is true that Your Highness is going to punish my family? It's precisely because he claimed to be appointed by Your Highness that I brought him to you like this. Otherwise, I would've long hanged him back on the island," Lorist talked back with full force, not the slightest bit intimidated by the anger the Second Highness displayed.
It was at that moment when Second Highness Auguslo understood that Lorist was not there to cause trouble and was instead there to give him a harsh smack in the face. However, he thought, what a piece of talent... Viscount Aslan is actually able to squeeze 6000 gold Fordes out of the poor islanders even though I only received a third of the official sum of 2000 gold Fordes, only around 600... I must definitely punish this fellow harshly and make him cough up all the gold Fordes he put into his own pocket. After this, I'll let him be in charge of tax collection elsewhere, then I'll no longer have to worry about military funds.
But now, he had to think of a way to convince Lorist to let Viscount Aslan go. After all, the viscount had indeed been overly excessive in his actions and had violated the honor of the Norton Family. The Second Highness was well aware that if he hanged the viscount, he would be able to make up to the Norton Family. But the issue was that he wanted to preserve Viscount Aslan's life.
A sudden shout reverberated within the hall at that instant. "You actually dare to humiliate my brother like that... The Aslan Family will definitely not forgive the Norton Family no matter what!"