Come on, Zollo's a sword-wielding hero... When did he become a magus? thought Lorist with dissatisfaction.
He had forgotten that he didn't use his sword even once while he was dressed as Zollo. The mysterious self-lighting flames and his arcane unarmed combat techniques naturally led others to assume that he was a magus instead.
Lorist was having breakfast. The Morante Daily, just delivered to the Red Grace Inn, was in his hands. The main headline read: The Mysterious Case of the Magus of Luxcrimson Winery!
Six days had already passed since the incident. Word had been passed to the journalists of the Morante Daily from the Teribo Kingdom, whom promptly exaggerated almost every detail about the story. Not Zollo, the magus, not the mysterious lights, not the weird techniques used to incapacitate the guards, nor the Z left on their chests escaped the treatment.
The article even included an interview near the end with one noble youth who had been there in person when the incident happened. According to the interview, the 'Z' mark on his chest would hurt slightly every time midnight arrived. He said that he felt as if there was a mysterious power calling out to his soul, and that he would expend lots of mental energy combating the urge to head the power's call so that his soul wouldn't be dragged into the hellish abyss of the magus.
This journalist could probably start writing a long-running fantasy novel series... Perhaps he used to work as one? Lorist guessed the truth unwittingly.
That particular 'journalist' of the Morante Daily had never actually met Viscount Sirwa. The count was rotting on the gallows in front of the palace by the time the journalist finally made his way there. He had even wondered who the unlucky fool was, obviously he had angered or displeased the king.
As for news about the missing glassmith, the Teribo Kingdom had restricted the spread of the information. It was only after visiting multiple inns that the journalist managed to approach one of the noble youths involved in the case. Upon hearing his testimony, the journalist felt a spark of inspiration and began fashioning his own fantasized version of the account. Thus was born the tale eventually published in the Morante Daily.
Lorist put newspaper down and began to read the Falik Weekly. In that paper, the report on the Luxcrimson Winery case was far more reliable. As opposed to the fantasized account written by the journalist from the Morante Daily, the journalist of the Falik Weekly, who wrote the report, gave clearer sources, they ranged from the winery's workers he interviewed, to the investigators of the case, and even included the security official of the Teribo Kingdom that was put in charge of the case.
The headline of the Falik Weekly read: Zollo - Magus or Magician? After some thorough investigation, the journalist realized that Zollo was not really a magus but merely a daring bandit who knew a couple of magic tricks and theatrics. For instance, the investigator of the case noticed that the mysterious ignition of the candles within the hall was merely a magic trick. In actuality, it was rather simple. An oil-soaked rope was lined across the wicks of multiple candles, so when one end of the rope was lit, the other candles would follow suit.
As for the unconscious guards, the journalist believed that the bandit called Zollo was actually a Gold ranked unarmed fighter. The shattered jaws of the two Silver ranked swordsmen was testament of that. In fact, there were signs that the guards were actually struck down by brute force, rather than being rendered unconscious by magic.
The journalist was of the opinion that the bandit troupe had merely intended to rob the winery. By making the servants drunk, they would erase much of the traces of them being there. The arrival of Viscount Sirwa and his mates was merely coincidental, and they ended up being the unlucky sacrificial lambs.
Zollo, the bandit, then turned his sights on the viscount and the others, as evidenced by them having been robbed clean and even deprived of their clothes. However, the journalist found it weird that four days after the case, Viscount Sirwa, his guards and some of his friends, were hanged by the gallows by the order of Teribo VII for unknown reasons.
The journalist felt that there was a far bigger conspiracy behind the case of Luxcrimson Winery. Even if the ones involved wouldn't divulge anything, the journalist was confident that he could expose the truth.
Good luck to that brave journalist, thought Lorist.
He understood that Viscount Sirwa had been hanged the moment the Teribo Kingdom was aware of the disappearance of Master Mancheny. It seemed that the kingdom was intent on keeping the news under wraps while they investigated the disappearance in secret. Despite that, Lorist wasn't the slightest bit worried. After he finished dealing with some other matters, he would bring Master Mancheny and his family along with him back to the dominion. He believed that the Teribo Kingdom wouldn't even begin to suspect that a glass factory would start in the Northlands.
Currently, Master Mancheny and his family were in one of the rooms on the third floor which had been reserved by Lorist, and was having breakfast as well. There was no way that the Teribo Kingdom's agents would be able to find any trace of them. Lorist had at least that amount of confidence. When Lorist brought them into Morante City, he had them disguised as the family members of some of his guards, and entered the city just like the thousands of other servants going in and out of the city daily. They gathered at Red Grace Inn after making their way through the city gates without attracting the slightest bit of attention.
The only problem was that something seemed to have happened between Els and the lovely daughter of Master Mancheny when they pretended to be siblings during their entry to the city. From time to time, they would give each other yearning glances, which Lorist happened to notice. Even though Els was 16 years older than the girl, it didn't stop the two from feeling attracted to one another. Lorist could only hope that his brother's dreams would come true one day.
Lorist put the matters of the Teribo Kingdom at the back of his mind, and continued to read the other reports in the newspapers while enjoying his hearty breakfast.
Ahh, in the end, I'm still much more accustomed to the life here at Morante City.
The largest disparity between being at Morante City and being in the dominion was the flow of information. In Morante City, it wouldn't take long for one to find out about the recent happenings on Grindia. Even though the reports might be delayed by a few days or even a month, it was still better than not getting to know anything at all. Thanks to the wide influence of the trade union, journalists from Morante City could visit many places to collect information without worrying about their safety.
As for the dominion of the house, even though it had undergone several developments during the past few years, and seemed to be on the road to prosperity, the flow of information there was as stunted as ever. Lorist remembered how he was blind to the happenings on Grindia a few years back when he spent all his time at the Northlands. He only got the occasional news from Count Kenmays, but most of them were just about the conflicts between the nobles at the royal court. He would at best have some rumors about the other things happening outside the Iblia Kingdom.
As a person who came from another world, Lorist understood the importance of information and intelligence. He intended to set up an intelligence network so that the house could grasp the changes of the status quo in the outside world. However, the largest difficulty in carrying that out was ensuring the safety of the intelligence agents. It was something that Lorist wasn't able to do just yet. Lorist thought back to how some of his messengers had been captured and enslaved by other dominion lords a few years prior, he couldn't afford the loss of agents like that.
However, now that he had access to Silowas Island, and the maritime transport it enabled, an avenue for interacting with the world outside the Northlands was finally open to him. Lorist resolved himself to put Lundmorde to good use when he returned. That fellow had been forced to marry seven wives, and he had already sired over ten children in just three years. Most of the time, he had to stay at home to tend to the whims of his wives and children.
Rumor had it that Lundmorde was slaving away for his wives and children. He even got the moniker of a saint when it came to treating women and children. His reputation in those fields was such that it was said that the moment he applied the salve, the sickness would disappear right away.
Once, when he met up with some of his fellow alumni, he cried out after drinking a lot and regretted not being careful with his lower body, ending up in the situation he found himself in now. Before he finished complaining, he was hauled back home to reflect on his mistakes by two of his wives. His fellow mates could only mourn for his suffering in silence.
He was a knight of the House after all, he couldn't afford to waste away like that. All seven of his wives had awakened their battleforce as well, and even had potential to be the leaders of the female unit. They were actually quite talented and able. Lorist decided to have Lundmorde head to Morante City to start a herbalist clinic that would double as a base of operations for House Norton with a few of his wives. That way, he could gather information about the happenings all around Grindia, and even recruit much-needed talent for the house to stay ahead in terms of technology.
Lorist sighed as he wondered how long it would take for the dominion to achieve the level of prosperity Morante City had. It was definitely a daunting undertaking that would take a long time to achieve. Compared to the dominions of other noble houses, the dominion of House Norton was already better and more prosperous than most. For instance, Count Kenmays, Baron Shazin and Baron Felim all envied the dominion of the Nortons, given their understanding of their dominion. They were impressed that Lorist was so willing to invest so many gold Fordes in the development of the dominion and the improvement of his subjects' lives.
But to Lorist, the apparent prosperity of his dominion was only skin-deep. If it didn't persist in his efforts, then, over five or six generations, the dominion would return to its former state. He had many plans; establishing basic education to improve the skills of the folks in the dominion and increase their loyalty to the house was just one of them. He was also considering decreasing taxes. The Norton family had no need to oppress and exploit its subjects, unlike other noble families. There were many ways the family could prosper, and Lorist could use a number of tricks he learned from his past life to do so at any time he chose. However, to achieve his goal, he would have to put in much more effort.
Lorist laughed bitterly. Many of his plans wouldn't be able to be executed because of practical restrictions. In the case of education, if the family wasn't able to come up with a breakthrough to make paper, given the high price of beastskins, there was no way that the family would be able to sustain an education system. If he managed to obtain cheap paper like what he had in his past life, the house could not only improve the educational standard, they could also start their own newspapers. They would then be able to control public discourse, and instill in the peasantry a sense of pride in being the subjects of House Norton.
Lorist didn't notice Howard's arrival, given his state of deep thought.
"Milord, milord..." Howard called out.
"Oh, it's you. Why didn't you go to the library today?" asked Lorist after he snapped out of his thoughts.
Rolling his eyes, Howard said, "Milord, we've been to the library for the past few days and got to know what we need. It was you who told me that we don't have to go there anymore yesterday."
Lorist said apologetically, "Sorry, Howard. I was in lost in thought just now. Is there anything you want to tell me?"
"Milord, the person in charge of the shipyard you visited yesterday, Mister Millinor, is here. He said that he had to meet you to discuss something," said Howard.
"Oh, is there a problem with the ship I ordered? Have him come to the third floor, and tell Els not to let him see the Mancheny family," instructed Lorist.
"Understood, milord," said Howard as he left.
On the day before, Lorist had headed to the Wedeley Shipyard and struck an agreement with Millinor to have a large-class merchant vessel constructed at a price of 6500 gold Fordes. Lorist had paid 1000 gold Fordes as deposit. The construction of the ship would take four months. He also had to pay another 3000 gold Fordes after the main keel was laid down. The rest of the fees would be paid on the ship's completion.
In a few quick moments, Millinor arrived before Lorist.
"Welcome, Mister Millinor. I wonder what is so urgent that you have to see me in person so soon?" asked Lorist.
"My deepest apologies, Sir... Due to some factors out of our control, the Weledey Shipyard is unable to complete your order. This is your deposit and the payment for the voided agreement. I hope you forgive us, we have no choice but to cancel the agreement," said Millinor in a rushed manner, before he left without negotiating the possible reinstatement of the agreement at all.
Ten gold Forde notes each worth 100 gold Fordes were laid on the table. That was the deposit Lorist had paid. There was another sack filled with coins, 100 gold Fordes in total, ten percent of the deposit, paid as the compensation for the voided agreement. According to the order contract, if the shipyard was unable to carry out the agreement within ten days, the deposit would have to be returned with ten percent interest.
Within only three days, Lorist had gained an extra 100 gold Fordes. If Lorist was still the same instructor working at Dawn Academy, he would've been so glad that he would lose sleep over it. However, he no longer regarded 100 gold Fordes with the weight a normal person would. He had come to Morante City to spend money, not to earn it.
With 100000 gold Fordes, Lorist had planned to purchase or order 12 large-class merchant vessels to form a trading fleet. However, he didn't expect that the first shipyard he contracted would default on the agreement.
Just as Lorist was pondering the 'uncontrollable factors' Millinor had mentioned, Howard knocked on the door to his room again and reported, "Milord three of the people in charge of other shipyards are here..."
After a few moments, the eight private shipyards with which Lorist placed his orders during the past six days after returning from the Teribo Kingdom all rejected it, with the same nonsensical reason. All of them paid the deposit back with an interest of 100 gold Fordes. After Lorist's intense questioning, one of the shipyards revealed a slight hint: "Your people have got on the bad side of a person we can't afford to offend."
Lorist wore a solemn expression as he thought, who is behind all this? Who's this person that even the skilled shipwrights and laborers of the shipyards along Hidegold Bay didn't dare to offend?
Lorist really couldn't recall anyone of note that he could've crossed.
"Els, go see Jindoz and ask him to look into this and find out who is acting against us. We need some kind of lead. As for the rest, don't leave the inn without a good reason. We have to keep our guard up right now," instructed Lorist.
A day later, Jindoz arrived at the Red Grace Inn. According to his investigation, it was the Chikdor Merchant guild that forced the shipyards to return Lorist's deposit to revoke the order. The person in charge of one of the shipyards was right. The Chikdor Merchant Guild was indeed someone they couldn't afford to offend.
The Chikdor Merchant Guild? Why would they want to interfere with my purchase of large-class merchant vessels? Didn't their president come to apologize to me already? Why would they act against me now, given that I'm backed by the Peterson Merchant Guild?
Lorist continued to think with his brow furrowed. He must've missed out on some key variable. At that moment, Howard came over and reported, "Milord, President Peterson sent someone over to inform you to meet him at the guild headquarters. He has something urgent he needs to discuss with you."