Fiercetiger Loze stepped through the inn’s entrance, feeling rather good with his performance during the afternoon. He had racked up nine consecutive victories and won four sets of knights' armor, four mounts, and more than 200 gold Fordes. Selling the spoils he got to a reseller netted him another 200 Fordes, so he decided to treat a few of the friends he made in the wandering knight’s tent to some drinks. He had heard that The Rose, a tavern nearby, had hired a number of wild dancer maidens. They charged so much for their service that few could enjoy it.
Loze patted his money pouch with a lewd smile, thinking of the relaxing time he would have later that night. Since the second round of the competition would only begin in a few days, he wasn't worried that he would be too worn out from the 'workout session'. Just as he was about to head out, he saw Tarkel standing before him angrily.
It's over, thought Loze.
He had been bargaining with the merchant a few minutes earlier and had forgotten to lower his visor again.
Tarkel saw Loze desperately trying to escape his notice and smiled.
"Sir Loze, stop trying to hide. Our Lord already recognized you when you were fighting this afternoon. He wants you to see him during dinner, you know the place. Good luck,” advised he.
Currently, Loze was standing curled up in front of Lorist, as if it would make him invisible. Lorist was angered and amused at the same time at his pathetic state.
"Stand properly. Don't shrivel up in the corner like a turkey. Loze, what do you have to say about leaving your legion behind to come play in the city? Can you tell me where that your legion is?"
“The legion is fine, Milord, Yuriy is in command. It's just 30 kilometers outside the city. It can make it here in time if anything happens," reported Loze as he stood up straight.
"So that's why you abandoned your post to participate in the tournament?"
"Yuriy wanted to come too, Milord, but he lost in a round of rock-paper-scissors, so I'm the one who got to come," explained Loze in a troubled manner.
"You guys... really get on my nerves," said Lorist, not knowing how he should admonish his subordinates all of a sudden.
Baron Shazin came in at that moment and saved Loze.
"Oh? Loze, you're here too?" he said before he pulled at Lorist without listening to Loze's reply, "Locke, come with me! Let me introduce you to someone. Hahaha, I'm really too delighted today. Did you know that Bonawa finally agreed to be my household knight? Let me tell you, Bonawa..."
Lorist was thusly dragged out of the room by Baron Felim without being able to say anything else to Loze. Howard followed closely behind.
"Well," Els mumbled, "I should rally the guards and follow."
Loze looked at the rest still in the room.
"I should be fine now, right?" asked he.
"Well, given how busy our lord has been over the past few days, I don't think he'll recall that he hasn't punished you yet,” answered Josk.
"I'll go take a rest now. I still have to accept challenges tomorrow,” yawned Reidy, leaving.
"As long as you perform well and don't anger our lord, he might just let you off," said Tarkel.
"I don't care anymore,” answered Loze, rolling his eyes, “I won quite a bit today, so drinks are on me tonight. I heard the tavern hired a few magnificent dancers, how tempting."
"I ain't going, I still have a match tomorrow,” declined Josk.
“I'll go with you for a drink, but you can keep the women,” agreed Tarkel.
The one Baron Felim wanted to introduce to Lorist was Knight Bonawar, whom he had met on the way to Windbury. According to the baron, he had been promoted alongside the man because of his contributions right after joining the second prince. Baron Felim kept charging into the forefront of the conflict and his performance increased as the danger did. Unlike Lorist's deceased elder brother, however, Baron Felim suffered no lasting injuries from his military exploits. Even though the unit the second prince assigned to his command was frequently beaten up, the baron had always managed to lead his household troops back safely.
Knight Bonawar was a different kind of officer. He was raised to the art of war based on the traditional tenets of the Krissen Empire. He focused on military regulation and efficiency, and monitoring casualties. He was one of the most well-received commanding officers among the second prince’s subordinates. Of the three victorious battles that preceded the founding of the Iblia kingdom, two were thanks to Bonawar.
One involved the elimination of the noble army of the first prince's faction. Bonawar had commanded a ragtag bunch against the army, which had numbered 18 thousand, and still managed to emerge victorious after three months. The battle led to the crumbling of the army and the eventual extermination of the houses involved on the enemy’s side. If the battle had not ended as it had, the first prince would have influence over Southern and might even threaten Winston’s peace.
The other battle was when the second prince led his troops to attack the Melein duchy for the first time, only to be defeated by the Fiercegale legion. At the time, Duke Melein led his troops in pursuit of the second prince. When the second prince was at his wit’s end, Bonawar, who had been sent there with some food, managed to arrive in time to save the second prince. The second prince had already given up all hope and even excused himself by saying he'd go to Duke Fisablen's to borrow soldiers for a comeback, intent on leaving the mess of a battlefield to Bonawar. However, the situation did not faze the knight and he ordered the logistics heavy-armored troops to pick another spot and set up camp while he reorganized the remnants of the army. He used the opportunity when Duke Melein pressed his pursuit to cut off their path of retreat and managed to turn the battle in their favor. It ended with Bonawar's victory and the extermination of all 8000 of the enemy. Duke Melein managed to escape but with only ten riders from his personal guard.
Despite being such an accomplished tactician, Bonawar had always been the target of the second prince's jealousy and oppression given his straightforward demeanor and impressive reputation. When the time came to entitle the nobles who had contributed to the kingdom’s founding, despite his contributions, which qualified him for peerage at at least the level of baron, the second prince requested he pay a hefty sum to fill the kingdom's barren coffers before he could be entitled and enfeoffed land. It made him leave with anger and coop up in his manor for a long time.
Since the Lorist's group encountered Bonawar’s group en route to Windbury, Baron Felim had spent a few days looking for his whereabouts in the city and finally managed to locate him. After asking about his situation, the baron learned the knight was not faring too well. The relationship between House Felim and House Bonawar actually went far back, with his ancestor actually being a baron. However, due to an incident at Windbury that caused House Bonawar to lose their peerage, he was left with just a knight's manor in Southern.
Just like how Baron Felim had been, Bonawar was trying hard to revive his house. It was too bad he wasn't as recklessly brave as Baron Felim. While he was also a one-star-gold-ranked knight, he wasn't particularly talented in battleforce training. In other words, he was only a talented tactician.
He had come to participate in the tournament because he didn't have much of a choice. As he put it, he was there to 'sell himself' and find a decent house to serve. The 50 or so young men he had at the manor had a really hard time defending it. Southern had been ruined by the war between the second highness and Duke Melein, and the province was overrun by beggars and deserters-turned-bandits. Even though he came from an accomplished military family, he was helpless before the thousands of bandits and had to consider the safety of the women and children in his manor.
That was why Bonawar finally decided to try his luck in the tournament. Any choice that made his house safe was a good one. Given his lack of martial talent, he didn't think that people would actively recruit him, so he could only rely on those who knew his reputation to come to him.
It was too bad that he had been refused an audience with the queen, whose time was far too precious to spend on a knight. He was similarly unable to meet Duke Fisablen, who was busy with his own matters. On the third day, he traveled around to socialize with the nobles of Southern with whom he was familiar. While they did recognize his talents, given Iblia’s horrid state, there wasn't much room for him to use his skills.
It was at that moment that Baron Felim made his visit and even came over for the next few days. When Bonawar found out that House Felim had formed a legion of 46 thousand in The Northlands, he was finally convinced. Baron Felim made it a point to mention that, while letting the troops of the second prince perish under his lead was fine since they weren't his own, the house’s new legion was one constructed with lots of effort and funding, so the baron wasn't willing to just throw it away. Bonawar’s style of command was cautious but effective, so Felim felt he was the perfect man for the job.
Felim was completely elated when Bonowar pledged allegiance to his household. He held banquets for three days straight. Lorist was present throughout and even made some suggestions. He offered to have Reidy, Josk, and a thousand of his own guards go along with the baron’s own guard to transport the knight’s family to their new home safely after the tournament concluded.
Windbury regained some of its former livelihood thanks to the tournament. It was far livelier than before, at least. Even the marketplace looked rather prosperous. The nobles had also partially gone back to their previous leisurelY lifestyles. A large feast was held at the Rose Palace once every three days and a smaller party in
between. Every night, there would be a ball where elaborately dressed noblemen and ladies would dwell throughout the night.
It all felt pointless to Lorist, which further exacerbated his boredom. Not only was he forbidden from participating in the tournament, he didn't like to interact with other nobles either, especially those at the balls who greeted each other superficially wearing their fancy masks. The noble ladies flocked about him were more than willing to share his bed, but not without some sort of remuneration. Lorist was no saint either and had sexual urges like everyone else. However, his current situation made it inappropriate for him to sleep around. He had come to the city to win the princess's hand, after all. Should he act promiscuously and carelessly, rumor would no doubt spread across the city only to incite the princess's anger.
But for some reason, even after 12 days passed, Princess Sylvia had yet to return to Windbury. Duke Fisablen was visibly angered, which prevented Lorist from meeting with him and making his proposal. It frustrated Lorist greatly as well. The silver lining was that the house’s reputation grew by leaps and bounds during the tournament. To no one's surprise, Josk had become the champion of the archery segment. Reidy managed to defeat a gold rank with his silver rank battleforce in ten-odd minutes, much to the shock of the audience.
The jousting segment, which was the largest among the three, had also just entered its second round. Two of the top ten were knights of House Norton, with Fiercetiger Loze obtaining the champion's seat. Lorist decided that, as reward, he wouldn’t be punished. The other winner was Els. The two had successfully defeated their enemies in quick succession and earned the right to enter the third round, which would begin in a few days and would decide the ultimate winner.
During the second round, Loze was faced with Count Dalek. The two had clashed many times and exchanged hundreds of blows before Count Dalek surrendered. That evening itself, Lorist received word of Count Dalek and Count Chujway's departure for their dominions.
Was my gut wrong? Lorist thought, stroking his chin, Weird, those two seem like they came for nothing but the tournament, they left the moment they lost.
Perhaps, he was being over sensitive about everything because he was worried about Princess Sylvia.
When the jousting’s third round began, Tarkel came to Lorist.
“Milord, Duke Fisablen left with a squad of guards for Eastwild early this morning. We think he's probably there to bring the princess over. After all, many of the nobles participating in the knighthood tournament want to witness her famed beauty. Some of them have already started complaining and some rumors are floating about that the princess left because she was scolded by the duke. That's probably why he has no choice but to go fetch the princess himself."
Duke Fisablen managed to rush back before the third round was over. He was just in time to present Fierceger Loze first prize. During the ceremony, Duke Fisablen didn't look particularly well; his laughter seemed a little forced but everyone knew the reason was the princess's refusal to follow him back.
The moment they left the stadium, Lorist saw one of the duke’s guards who said that the duke wished to meet him at the pavilion.
"Your Grace, I wonder if I can be of service in any way?" asked Lorist when he saw the worn-out duke.
Duke Fisablen breathed a long sigh before he said, "Locke, I know why you've come. You want to form a union with House Fisablen by marrying Sylvia, right?"
"That's right, Your Grace," replied Lorist straightforwardly.
"Time really flies, to think that lass is of marriageable age already," the duke mused, "It must be because I spoiled her so much when she was young and caused her temper to develop like that. It has been incredibly embarrassing for me. You guys must have had a great laugh at my expense."
Lorist merely listened on, speechless.
"I don't oppose an alliance with your house, nor a marriage between you and my granddaughter. In fact, I am looking forward to it," said Duke Fisablen.
"Oh," Lorist started, "Your Grace, does that mean you agree?"
"That's right. I hold you in high regard, Locke. The moment the matters are settled, you'll have to call me grandpa, haha" the duke said before giving a hearty laugh, "However, I'm a little curious about the kind of price House Norton is willing to pay in exchange for my precious and beloved Sylvia."
"Your Grace, please feel free to state your demands. As long as they are within my house’s capabilities, we will definitely not let you down," promised Lorist as he thumped on his chest.
"Alright, I like how frank you are. I only have three requests. First, I will require House Norton start ten new factories in Wild Husbandry so House Fisablen will be self sufficient in two years. Don't worry, I won't force you to build refineries, only factories for daily necessities. Can that be done?"
"No problem,” Lorist nodded.
Duke Fisablen stared at Lorist with his hawk-like eyes, stretched out his second finger, and said, "Second, I want ten thousand sets of the armor your personal guard wears. That's the minimum."
“Your Grace, we only managed to produce three thousand sets of these ourselves, yet you're asking for 10 thousand! That would amount to more than two million gold Fordes already and is incredibly troublesome! But for Princess Sylvia's sake, you have a deal!" agreed Lorist.
"Haha, good," Duke Fisablen cheered, "My last request is not even worth mentioning, to be honest. You know that Sylvia is the treasure of our household, so I wish for her to not suffer any discomfort when she goes to you. How about this, all you have to do is to have your concubines and illegitimate children leave House Norton to spare my Sylvia the pain of not being your one and only."