"Duke Fisablen has made Princess Sylvia his representative to sign the trade agreement with House Norton to purchase 70 thousand sets of Rider Gear Number 103, 50 thousand sets of tessellated warrior armor, and various other products of daily necessity for a total of 1.27 million gold Fordes," announced an old goateed supervisor.
He passed the list in his hand respectfully to Howard, who then passed it on to Lorist.
Lorist stared at the list for a good while before he looked at Princess Sylvia, who was sitting by his side.
"Your Highness, the trade deal we have with House Fisablen will only conclude next year. You've signed it yourself, so I'm sure you haven't forgotten about it, have you?" inquired he.
"Even if I discount your new order, each set would still cost around 65 gold Fordes. 70 thousand sets would amount to 4.6 million. The tessellated warrior armor would cost 35 gold Fordes each, for a total of 1.8 million for 50 thousand sets. The daily products you've ordered amounts to 8 million. Your Highness, can you tell me how Duke Fisablen plans to pay for all this?"
"With horsehoof gold," the princes explained, smiling.
Horsehoof gold?! thought Lorist, surprised.
Horsehoof gold was the standard currency of the grassland barbarians. Normally, they only bartered among their own tribesmen, but when there were large purchases to be made from merchants not from their land, they would use horsehoof gold. The exchange rate for each piece of horsehoof gold was 100 gold Fordes.
Even if House Fisablen eradicates 100 tribes of grassland barbarians, it wouldn't be able to gather that much money. I don't see why the barbarians haven't been hunted to extinction long ago if that really were the case. Then again, given how House Fisablen has occupied the grasslands for decades, it's not surprising for them to have at least that much in their treasury...
So, the matter I should concern myself with is why they are buying so much equipment at this kind of time? What is that old fox, Duke Fisablen, planning?
After finishing his train of thought, Lorist asked the princess, "I heard the duke has already formed two legions of 92 thousand men each. The speed with which our house has been supplying the equipment wouldn't hinder the growth of your army, and given the quality of our products, I doubt you would have so many wear out and spoil during your battles with the barbarians. Can you tell me the real reason why House Fisablen wishes to purchase 70 thousand more?
"Forgive my frankness, Your Highness. It's not that House Norton is unwilling to agree to this deal but it's obvious that Duke Fisablen is trying to expand his military. Even though your house already has two standing cavalry legions, the purchase of another 70 thousand sets of rider armor foretells the formation of yet another. As your neighbor, it's inevitable for us to be wary of your movements. I don't wish to meet you on the battlefield but before we know who the duke's target is, we cannot agree to your request."
Princess Sylvia chuckled.
"My grandfather was right. He said that if I didn't tell you the real reason, you wouldn't agree to the trade. House Fisablen has no wish to change the present or the future of Iblia. He might have wanted to make my younger brother, Hollycost, the king in the past but ever since he was diagnosed with congenital heart disease, my grandfather has cast away all such thoughts."
Hollycost truly was Iblia's legitimate heir. As the king, Second Prince Iblia had gone to Duke Fisablen to request support for amassing his army to storm the Madras duchy. But it ended up with him locked up together with the duke's daughter, the current queen of Iblia. Both were drugged with aphrodisiac to produce an heir, Hollycost.
It was common knowledge that the marriage between the second prince and Duke Fisablen's daughter was purely political. The second prince was known to be rather lecherous, even during the days of the empire, while the duke's daughter was also famed throughout the grasslands for her promiscuity, to say the least. Each had their own personal life, the two didn't interfere with each other's. The queen had given birth to two illegitimate children, while the second prince sired three out of wedlock.
In the end, the duke was no longer able to bear the state of affairs and forced the couple together and used an aphrodisiac to stimulate their 'interactions'. However, when Hollycost was born, the second prince did not even acknowledge his existence. He considered him a product of his drug-infused passion. Hollycost was left behind at the Fisablen house and was raised by Princess Sylvia.
"Oh? What condition does Little Prince Hollycost have?" asked Lorist with surprise.
"Prenatal heart disease," Princess Sylvia, sighing, "My grandfather deeply regrets it and insists it was his fault for forcing the king and queen to mate under the influence of aphrodisiac. It probably was one of the factors for Hollycost's condition. The herbalist said that it would be hard for him to even live past 20. Even doing activities like reading for long periods are dangerous for his health. This is a condition he was born with, and there's no known way of treating it."
Tears welled up in her eyes as she spoke. She had raised Hollycost with her own hands, so finding out that he had such a disease was no small shock to her.
"My apologies, Your Highness," consoled Lorist.
"It's no big deal. I'm already used to it," the princess said as she received a white cloth from Blademaster Xanthi, "Supervisor Polo, please bring the map over."
Polo was the goateed old man. He was also the supervisor for the princess's trip. Upon hearing her summons, he hurriedly brought the map over and held it open with the help of another maidservant on the other side.
It was a complete map of the northeastern grasslands, and easily one of the most detailed Lorist had ever seen. Even every spring on the grassland was marked.
The northeastern grasslands were described by some geography books as starting at the foot of the Magical Dragon Mountains. It was the northeasternmost area ever settled by humans on the continent. It had relatively level terrain and was almost five times The Northlands' size. It was said that one would require a whole month to travel from the southernmost part of the grasslands to the northernmost part on horseback.
Just like the mountain barbarians living in the Magical Dragon Mountains, the grassland barbarians were the northeastern grasslands' biggest pests. They had branched off from the mountain barbarians some time ago and turned into nomadic, herding tribes. From a young age, members of the grassland tribes would be taught horse-riding, herding, hunting and raiding the others living near the grasslands to obtain manpower and resources. The mounted barbarians were called 'the dread riders of the grasslands' and were the most elite warriors of the tribes.
They were quite a problem for Winston and Southern before the empire. Their largest invasion involved more than 100 thousand riders. They managed to make their way into the Great Andalou Plains and across Egret Lake, causing the nobles nearby to hide in their castles, unable to resist the horde at all. They had to watch helplessly as the horde crossed their lands. It was one of the worst incidents, but it was also their last moment of glory.
Following the empire's formation, the founding emperor, Krissen I, led his armies across the grasslands. After half a year of war with the barbarians, suffering huge casualties, he successfully managed to eliminate 100 thousand. He conquering what was now Wild Husbandry in one fell swoop and isolated the barbarians from the rest of the empire. Besides Eastwild, he made sure to station soldiers around the borders to ensure that the barbarians would never again encroach on imperial territory.
When Duke Fisablen did the same and conquered the barbarians again, they no longer had much vitality left in them. Apart from occasionally raids on with about 20 thousand riders, most of the time the grassland barbarians would be engaged with the two divisions of cavalry troops the duke had stationed there. Even during the civil war barbarians were unable to cross the borders defended by House Fisablen's troops.
Princess Sylvia stood up and walked to the map.
Stretching out a finger, she declared with pride, "During the 21st day of the 6th month this year, House Fisablen's 70 thousand elite soldiers successfully eliminated more than 200 thousand of the Hubet tribe's members. They suffered only 18 thousand casualties and conquered the greater and lesser golden creeks. My grandfather announced that the unified area will be a new province, named Goldcreek. The province will be ruled by our house now on."
No one present could help but gasp, especially Count Kenmays, who darted in front of the map immediately.
"You actually passed through the dense forests and Ghostshriek Cliff?! No wonder you were able to assault the golden creeks. House Fisablen literally struck gold..." stammered he.
While the terrain around the northeastern grasslands was mostly level, it was not without its hilly areas. The greater and lesser golden creeks were rather close to Eastwild but there was a natural barrier separating the two: the forests surrounding Ghostshriek Cliff. Once lost within, one would find it exceedingly hard to make it back out. Whether they be the barbarian riders or the cavalry troops of House Fisablen, going through the forests around Ghostshriek Cliff was nothing but a suicidal endeavor, and both sides viewed it as a natural, impassable barrier.
The greater and lesser golden creeks' are was famed for its gold. The magi had surveyed the area and recorded their finding in an atlas which was still passed down to the day. Gold was not a precious material during the magic civilization's era, however. Magic metals were far more useful and valuable. Even though they knew of the existence of the gold veins, no humans bothered to go mine them.
During the thousand-year dark age, the greater and lesser creeks became infested with barbarian riders that fought each other to conquer the place. In the end, the three greatest tribes managed to gain permanent occupancy. The Hubet tribe was one of the strongest, with around 360 thousand riders in their ranks. No one would have imagined House Fisablen would eliminate them in one go.
Lorist finally understood where the money came from. It was obvious that House Fisablen obtained more horsehoof gold than they could use as spoils. To think that house was busy conquering the barbarians and taking the golden creeks when the Nortons were exterminating Hanayabarta; it seemed their neighbors weren't slacking off.
"Locke, my friend, it seems House Fisablen is rich. Our salt merchant committee can increase trade volumes with them without worry. Did you know the golden creeks generate at least 1.5 million gold Fordes' worth of gold every year? That's 300 thousand gold Fordes more than our house makes in our best years!" Count Kenmays stammered.
Lorist looked at the map.
With Eastwild at the center, Goldcreek and Wild Husbandry are like two horns on its flanks. So the duke wants to purchase equipment for the new cavalry legion he's going to form in Goldcreek. The golden creeks' hilly terrain is more suitable for the settlement of normal humans than grassland barbarians. The grassland barbarians will never be able to enjoy the golden creeks again if the duke builds a few well places castles and citadels.
"My heartfelt congratulations to House Fisablen, Your Highness," Lorist congratulated, "I agree to the trade and will hasten the equipment's production to show our admiration. Please pass on my respects to the duke, especially for how he has not abused his power and stormed into the inner continent.
"To show my sincerity and concern for the brave soldiers of House Fisablen, I will donate a million gold Fordes' worth of daily necessities. I hope the duke will give them to the families of those who gave their lives during the campaign."
Donating a million gold Fordes' worth of goods was a rather generous move. Even Princess Sylvia was shocked.
"Thank you, Brother Locke..." she finally managed to squeeze out.
The agreement was signed soon after. Lorist promised to fulfill his end over two years. House Fisablen would also make a downpayment of 20 thousand horsehoof gold up front.
Only after the deal was signed and Lorist gave his word to participate in the knighthood tournament was Princess Sylvia relieved enough to travel around the dominion for leisure. She hunted, picnicked, attended dance balls, and fished in the sea until the 11th month before she left ever so unwillingly without forgetting to remind Lorist to be present for the knighthood tournament.