Here's this week's second release. Have fun reading!
"It's over here," Glacia said as she pointed to the map of the Redlis kingdom Howard had brought over, "This is a small valley in the Cloudsnap Mountains located 50 kilometers from Greatsnow Mountain. His Highness had us scale across the Cloudsnap Mountains to make it back to the Andinaq kingdom so we could gather our forces and start over. The six thousand men following us were our most loyal and elite.
"After leaving Frederika using the secret path, we crossed a small stream to cover our tracks. We traveled about half a day from the river and turned towards the Cloudsnap Mountains when we were about 50 kilometers away from Frederika. On the way there, we passed through a dense forest where we took a short rest. His Highness wouldn't let us rest there for long, though. He wanted us to find a better spot so we could rest for a few months before we attempted the crossing after the winter. He wanted us to pass over Cloudmist Swamp before it thawed and head for the kingdom from there.
"We were surprised to discover from a map we obtained in the palace in Frederika that the valley near Greatsnow Mountain was actually a noble's dominion, specifically, Baron Krimando's. We later found out that the baron had never shown up at the royal court before, which explains why almost nobody knew of him.
"His Highness decided that Baron Krimando's dominion would be the best place for us to rest. As long as we had someone defend the valley's entrance and prevent anybody from getting in or out, nobody would discover what was going on inside. We headed for the valley and conquered the small castle near it in a night assault. Once we occupied the castle, His Highness instructed someone to advise Baron Krimando to surrender. Bowen Ketty volunteered and marched over proudly to carry out the task. Nobody expected his decapitated head would be hung above the walls of the baron's castle a few minutes later."
Lorist knew the name 'Bowen Ketty'. He was one of the second highness' trusted knights and one of the Five Tigers. Lorist never thought he would be killed as a messenger calling for surrender.
"We were almost driven crazy by anger," Glacia continued with teary eyes, "No sane noble would do something as egregious as murdering a messenger! His Highness instantly ordered us to continue pressing our attack and avenge Knight Bowen. After two months of bloody battles passed, we incurred more than five thousand casualties; even Knight Sisreid died on the walls. Of the 13 gold-ranked knights that left Frederika with His Highness, only I, Ripleid, and Karitoke were left. One of the two blademasters protecting His Highness also perished. The other was heavily injured..."
Lorist's eyes brightened.
"Karitoke's still alive?" asked he.
Karitoke was one of Dawn Academy's alumni who had traveled with Lorist to The Northlands. But midway there, he had been poached by the second highness and became a knight of the royal family. It was a shame that of the 26 silver-ranked knights from Dawn Academy that joined the second highness's banner, only Karitoke and Sander remained. Lorist was more than glad to hear that his old friend survived.
Even though Glacia nodded, tears still fell nonstop from her eyes, perhaps because of the horrible result of the battle.
"Let me guess... Is Baron Krimando the first prince? Has he been hiding in the valley all along?" asked Lorist.
Glacia shook her head at first but nodded after.
"When we finally breached the castle, we got to know from our captives that the baron was actually the first prince's illegitimate son.
"The valley was the last resort the first prince left for himself should he ever require it. Within the valley were three thousand of the first prince's most elite troops. He had been hiding within ever since he escaped from Frederika and watched as the nobles of Redlis kingdom struggled against us, waiting for the opportunity to strike and rebuild his kingdom. I bet he didn't think he'd have to use his trump card early to deal with us, who were about to lock him within his little dominion.
"We killed and killed. His Highness almost broke down as well. We never dreamt of clashing head-on against the first prince there and casualties piled up on both sides. In a fit of rage, His Highness ordered us to kill all the captives and citizens we came across. After all, they were the enemy's families. His Highness also managed to behead the first prince and his illegitimate son personally before he coughed up blood and fainted.
"The six thousand men were His Highness's best. If we were able to bring them back to the Andinaq kingdom, we would have been able to regain control easily. But most of them were incapacitated after the battle, only around two thousand were still alive with varying degrees of injury. By the time His Highness recovered, we received word that the situation was beyond saving. If we returned to the kingdom, our only fate would have been death. That's why we had no choice but to disguise ourselves and head to The Northlands to seek you out for help. We hope that House Norton will be able to aid His Highness in restoring his rightful position on the throne."
Is this first prince finally dead? The one who started the civil war by raising the banner of rebellion was the first prince, and now, both he and the second prince have died by the second highness' hands... Wait, is he the real main character of this story here?!
Lorist breathed a long sigh.
"Glacia, you've been by His Highness's side for almost 20 years now. Did he treat you well, now that you've been his lover for all this time?"
Glacia's face flushed.
"This... Well, he said that he'd marry me after he reunites the empire..."
"Will you be the empress or a mere concubine?"
"What's... what's the difference? I'm fine as long as I'm by His Highness's side."
"Glacia, you're three years older than me. You're not that young anymore. If it were the House Norton of the past, His Highness taking you as his concubine would be a sign of acknowledging all you have done for being his lover all these years. However, given House Norton's current might, if His Highness does the same, it would be a slight on the name Norton. Don't forget that the blood of the Nortons flows in your veins. The only way this would be accepted is if His Highness doesn't take someone else as an official wife and names you his first concubine.
"I'm not saying this for no reason, Glacia. Did you notice that His Highness is incredibly wary of our house's might? He was already like this when he was still the 'second highness'. Despite that, he used the northbound convoy to wipe out the kingdom's nobles that refused to abide by his will. He forced us to pay a price we had not been willing to.
"A ruler should always be fair and just. Has the second highness? He's always been throwing empty promises at us, tempting us with nothing to back it up. Glacia, did House Norton ever harm His Highness in any way? During the time of the northbound convoy, we were almost doomed by him. He poached so many knights from us and how many of them are still alive now? And don't forget what happened at Kobo. We conquered the city and provided him with so much food to solve the hunger crisis of his army. All we wanted in return was that he held the city long enough to buy time for the convoy and the refugees.
"What did he do? Glacia, did you know that His Highness had his army destroy the heavily fortified wall before leaving? He tried to make the convoy bait to attract the attention of our enemies! Even though we helped him out so much, he thrust a blade up our backs instead. It was from that time onwards that I no longer believed in His Highness's character.
"And even though he had already enfeoffed Silowas to the house, he allowed his tax collection official, that annoying viscount, to run rampant without any care at all. He even pretended not to know about the noble descendants that forcefully occupied Seaview Manor. Do you think he really didn't know? When I killed that stupid viscount, his brother sent a division of soldiers and attempted to kill me. Do you think His Highness wasn't aware of it either? I don't believe it. He's pretending all the way while he looks for a way to beat us into submission so we do his bidding.
"I'm sick of all this, Glacia. Did you forget how our four houses defeated the second prince jointly and formed an alliance? That year, I wrote you a letter to tell you about the matter. Perhaps you might've forgotten about it, but do you think the second highness has? His proposition was to make me Duke of The Northlands so that the Norton house can have full control over the province. Do you know what would happen if news of this got out?
"He's intentionally sabotaging the relationship we have with our allies. Currently, House Norton is the leader of the four houses of The Northlands. Think about it, if they hear about His Highness's offer to me, wouldn't they think I'm coming for them next? Even at a time like this when he needs my help the most, he tries to find a way to cause trouble for me. He wants to see us fight till we're nothing but shambles before coming in to sweep up the benefits!"
"No, Locke, you must be misunderstanding His Highness!" Glacia tried to explain, swinging her arms, "There are many things His Highness doesn't know about! Back then, His Highness told me that it wasn't that he didn't want to help you out at Kobo. His Highness simply didn't have enough troops to do so! That's why he instructed the dismantling of the defense walls after seeing your group leave safely. The one who instructed it was Bowen Ketty, the person in charge of the division at the time, and he did so out of concern for His Highness's safety! He ended up being scolded harshly when he returned. I was there to witness it! His Highness knew that he had accidentally wronged the house...
"As for the matter of Silowas, His Highness really didn't know about it. You should know well that His Highness was busy gathering his troops and preparing to reunite the empire. It's only natural for him to not concern himself with small matters like that. The tax official, Viscount Aslan, really didn't have anything to do with His Highness! And His Highness didn't fail to exterminate House Aslan and revoke their title after he heard how Count Aslan set out with his soldiers to pursue you!"
"Whatever, those matters are already history," Lorist replied, shaking his head, "There's no point talking about it now. So, Glacia, are you here because His Highness wanted you to find out my thoughts?"
"Yes. His Highness is afraid you still hold misunderstandings about him, so he had me come over and ask what you wanted in return for your aid. As long as it's within reason, he will agree to all your requests," acknowledged Glacia.
"Tsk-tsk, just look, Glacia. Even at a desperate time like this, His Highness is still holding back. Can't you see? This is His Highness being overly cautious of our house again. I'd like to ask him what he can offer us instead. Tell him to spare us the empty promises."
"Locke, your attitude is a little uncalled for! Don't forget His Highness is your senior noble! A vassal like you should maintain respect and reverence for him!" said Glacia angrily.
"Fine, fine, Glacia. Just go back and tell His Highness that House Norton will not be able to deploy our troops. However, we can provide 100 thousand gold Fordes and equipment for a legion of soldiers. Naturally, I'm talking about the compensation His Highness gave the convoy for eliminating the disobedient nobles of the kingdom: the equipment of the Whitelion Legion. We still have 72 thousand sets, all of which I can give him. That should be more than enough to fulfill a vassal's due and duty," said Lorist, a little frustrated.
The equipment of the Whitelion Legion was taking up quite a bit of warehouse space. Given that House Norton already had far better Sid steel armor, they no longer had any use for the outdated equipment. As the Whitelion Legion was one of the many symbols of the Krissen Empire, their equipment ought not to be sold away so easily. To Lorist, it was something he could do without. The fact that it was made up of alloyed metal also made it far more troublesome to simply melt down in the refinery. It was a far better choice to return the equipment to the second highness and save him the trouble of having to deploy troops to help the second highness restore his throne at the cost of Norton lives.
"Lo-locke... Are you really willing to give the Whitelion Legion's equipment to His Highness?" Glacia started.
Glacia never thought Lorist would offer such a thing. After all, each set of Whitelion Legion armor cost 70 gold Fordes to manufacture, so 72 thousand sets were worth roughly five million gold Fordes! Giving such a thing away without asking for anything in return meant nobody could question Lorist's loyalty and due assistance to his senior noble.
"Yes," said Lorist.
All that junk has been gathering dust and using up precious space. Supervisor Spiel has asked me multiple times to deal with it already.
"Then, we'll have to draft our soldiers from the dominion as well," added Glacia.
"No way!" refused Lorist.
How dare you even suggest that? You have no right!
"You can recruit soldiers if you want, but you cannot use House Norton's name for your cause. We have our own policies when it comes to enlistment, and even His Highness cannot force our subjects to die for his cause!"
No noble had any right to draft soldiers from another's dominion. To any landed noble, their subjects were their source of wealth. If it was an open recruitment, however, no noble could interfere. After all, those who enlisted would essentially be work for hire, and private transactions were not within the jurisdiction of the local house.
"Fine, normal recruitment will do. However, you have to give us the 100 thousand gold Fordes you promised and can't intentionally do anything that will sabotage our call to arms. Lastly, the soldiers we recruited will be fed and sustained by House Norton while they are in The Northlands. Will that do?" pushed Glacia further.
She thought things couldn't possibly get any better. with 100 thousand gold Fordes in hand and the equipment of the Whitelion Legion, the second highness would definitely be able to recruit 70 thousand soldiers. All he had to do was pay each household one gold Forde as pension and people would be flocking to join his army. It was the same tactic the second highness had used to gather his 300 thousand soldiers."
"Fine, whatever you say," Lorist smiled coldly, "I believe you just can't wait to go back to report this to His Highness. I'm sure he'll be more than glad to hear it."
Seeing Glacia leave happily, Howard, who had been standing next to Lorist the whole time, asked in a worried manner, "Milord, aren't you worried that trouble will stir up in the dominion? As if giving His Highness equipment was not enough, you also allowed him to recruit soldiers here."
"I'd like to see how many soldiers he can recruit," Lorist laughed, "Naturally, if there are people who want to join the cause, we'll send their family members away to the army camp along with them and revoke their rights to homes and farmland. Since they want to serve the second highness, he will have to be responsible for their well being. I definitely won't allow them to take advantage of my house."
"Indeed, Milord, You couldn't be more correct," said Howard before he joined in with the laughter.