Here's the third release of the week! Enjoy~
"Milord, you have erred," said Charade solemnly.
He had rushed straight to Maplewoods from Firmrock Castle the night before.
Lorist hadn't met the second highness even once since he promised to provide him with 100 thousand gold Fordes and the Whitelion Legion's equipment. The latter had brought his men with him hurriedly to Felicitas' seven towns to start recruiting soldiers. Lorist, on the other hand, lazed around at Maplewoods for a couple of days. But, when news reached Firmrock Castle, Charade could no longer sit still.
Lorist, who was in the middle of teasing his second son, raised his head with surprise.
"What did I do wrong?"
Charade remained silent and continued staring.
"Come on, let's talk in the study on the second floor," said Lorist as he passed his son to Irina.
In the study, Lorist opened a bottle of fruit wine and poured a cup for Charade and another for himself.
Charade downed his in one gulp, breathed a long sigh, before handing his cloak to Howard and saying, "One more cup."
He sat on the sofa and said with his eyes fixed on Lorist, "Locke, do you not know what you've done wrong?"
Lorist raised his brow as he refilled the cup
"I really don't know," answered he.
"You shouldn't have given the Whitelion Legion's equipment to the second highness," said Charade.
"Oh, but Supervisor Spiel has long been prompting me to get rid of them. Not only are they heavy and space-consuming, their defensive capabilities pale in comparison to the armor we developed. It can't be sold either, given what he Whitelion Legion symbolizes. That's why I chose to give them to the second highness so our house no longer has to help him restore the kingdom."
"Sigh, Locke, you still don't understand? I didn't say it was wrong for you to give the equipment. The act of giving wasn't the problem. Your mistake was that you gave it away like you were returning it. Other things aside, even though the 72 thousand sets of gear are not much use to us, we can still sell them to House Fisablen or the four central duchies for 5 million gold Fordes. Your giving them away is like tossing that amount of money down the drain. And did the second highness express any gratitude for your generosity? No! nothing! He just rushed to Felicitas to start recruiting his soldiers! He's a chronic ingrate to the end!"
Charade had never held a good impression of the second highness and felt he was an underhanded person who tried to act just and fair. The convoy Charade had led had almost been cornered thanks to the second highness' antics. Had it not been for Lorist's timely aid, the consequences would have been unimaginable. Not only that, the second highness had used the opportunity when the convoy was in dire straits to poach 26 members who were Dawn Academy alumni. They were all silver-ranked knights when they joined the second highness, but it didn't take one year for a good number of them to be killed off in battle, much to the dismay and pain of Charade and the other household knights who were also from Dawn Academy.
Lorist smiled bitterly.
"I'm sorry, Charade. It's my fault. I only wanted to shoo them off as quickly as I could so they can't cause trouble. The following two years will be crucial for us, what with House Kenmays and House Shazin's dominion relocation, as well as our attack on the Madras duchy.
"I really don't have the energy to play the second highness's game right now, so I thought I could just give him whatever I had on hand so he would leave."
"Locke, you're wrong to think of the second highness as a dog. If you give a dog a bone, it will shake its tail happily at you. However, the second highness is a wolf. Not only will he not be thankful, he will see our dominion as a ripe piece of juicy meat that's just begging to be bitten," said Charade without the slightest care for the Auguslo's status.
He was worried the fallen monarch would once again cause an uproar within the dominion.
"I don't think you did wrong by giving him Whitelion Legion's equipment since it's not worth that much anyway. What I have a problem with is how you've just promised to give it away without much thought. Ideally, you should've given him the equipment in small batches while you negotiate for the things we need from him. But now, we won't be able to get anything in return!
"Another point I don't really understand is why you've agreed to let them recruit soldiers from our dominion so easily. With money, equipment, and an abundance of people to recruit from, it's only a matter of time until he comes for us. I believe we should send the second highness away as soon as possible so it doesn't come to that."
Lorist laughed heartily before he took a drink.
"Charade, I admit that it was my mistake to give him the equipment so easily. I should've done what you said. However, you are looking at the matter of recruitment the wrong way. Believe me, the second highness definitely won't be able to recruit many people from Felicitas. Hahaha..."
"Why?" Charade asked, "The second highness is the Andinaq kingdom's former king, and the citizens at Felicitas are mostly refugees from his kingdom. They have a high opinion of the second highness and will definitely answer his call if given the chance. Also, that king of ours will definitely make tons of empty promises to seduce the foolish to become fodder."
"Haha," Lorist laughed loudly before, "Charade, you've been put in charge of administrative matters for far too long. Perhaps you've forgotten our house's enlistment policies. Our subjects have to go to the new recruit camp when they are 16 to awaken their battleforce, and those that can't must return home to work as farmers. The process will repeat once every three months until they're 20 and those that manage to have their battleforce awakened can join our forces. Being our household soldier is one of the most desired vocations in the dominion, and those that serve long enough might even be promoted to the ranks of the police brigades or the garrison forces.
"Take, for example, the recently formed Jaeger Legion. The unit has already recruited most of the people in the dominion eligible for military service. Tigersoar and Firmrock have had many of their members transferred over as well, so they've had to run recruitment drives of their own to fill the void. Many people from the town garrisons and local defense brigades have also been recruited, so they'll have to start recruiting as well. As for those who don't qualify to become a member of our forces, they have their own jobs to do at the factories to feed their families. Given the situation, do you think the second highness will succeed in his recruitment?
"I heard he's going to use one gold Forde as payment to the families of the soldiers he recruits. When I heard he was going to recruit more than 70 thousand at once, I almost laughed so hard all my teeth fell out. He didn't even consider the fact that each person in our dominion will be able to earn two to three gold Fordes for a year's hard work and still thinks he can pay for a human life with one gold Forde. Hehe, Charade, the second highness will not be able to recruit any soldiers here. It's already been four days since his departure and he only has around 143! Hahaha..."
Charade breathed a sigh of relief and downed the rest of his wine again.
"I truly have forgotten our policies. Well, that settles that. As long as the second highness is unable to recruit soldiers, there isn't much he can do with the equipment he got. Then again, Locke, you should be careful not to let the second highness use us again like he did with the convoy."
"Don't worry. I've already had Tarkel and Furybear go all out and monitor each and every one of their moves. Oh, and you came here just in time. I was about to head to the warzone at the Metropoulos River's lower bank to see Potterfang. I'll need you to deal with the matter of the second highness. I feel like I didn't offer them enough hospitality..."
A loud commotion rang out on the lower floor, causing Howard to look out of the window.
"Milord, the second highness and Lady Glacia are here and they seem rather mad."
It didn't take long for the study's door to be pushed open. The second highness wore a displeased look while Glacia seemed completely fuming.
"Locke, what do you think you're doing?! Didn't you say you wouldn't get in the way of our recruitment?! Why did you do all that?!"
"What did I do? Can you be more specific?" asked Lorist curiously.
"After we recruited some soldiers, your men sent their family members to our army camp as well! What's your intention? Your men even said that since the ones recruited have chosen to serve the king, House Norton will no longer be responsible for feeding their family members, and it falls to us to take care for them! Tell me, did you order this?" roared Glacia angrily.
"Can you tell me where the soldiers you recruited worked originally?" asked Lorist coldly.
"Well..." Glacia found herself speechless all of a sudden.
"This, Brother Locke, the soldiers we recruited were only a little hot-headed and wanted to serve the kingdom in whatever capacity they can. It's something worthy of praise, we shouldn't trouble the family members," said the second highness hurriedly.
"Is that so? Are you saying that House Norton hasn't done enough already? Don't forget we just paid you 100 thousand gold Fordes and gave you Whitelion Legion's equipment. This alone equates to six million gold Fordes' worth of support. If this doesn't count, then what does? I doubt anyone in the history of Grindia has ever made such a huge donation before, yet we didn't even get a word of thanks in return," said Charade insidiously.
A trace of seething anger flashed past the second highness's subdued expression, but it only lasted an instant.
"Oh, Knight Charade, it's been so long since we last met. Congratulations on becoming a gold-ranked knight."
Charade puffed out the badge on his chest.
"That's nothing to be surprised about. Anyone can do this much with proper training. Your Highness, why haven't you responded to the aid the house has given you over these few days? Are you still not satisfied with what we've done?"
Charade's point struck the heart of the matter mercilessly. Normally speaking, a senior noble must formally respond to the aid offered by a vassal. It could be in the form of a letter of gratitude that stated what the vassal contributed. In some cases where vassals sent their own troops to participate in a senior noble's campaign, the senior noble had to offer some more land along with a rank promotion or some other form of reward as compensation.
Lorist's contribution to the second highness could already be considered one of the biggest donations ever made in the history of Grindia, yet the second highness didn't respond in any way even after a few days had passed. Hence Charade's lack of hesitation to hammer home the point.
"Your Highness, at the very least, a letter of gratitude is due. We've already sunk in a legion's worth of gear, and we don't expect much in return apart from acknowledgment of our contribution. Or, is it because Your Highness feels that our contribution doesn't even merit your gratitude?" pressured Charade.
"Hehe, apologies," the second highness said after taking a deep breath and wearing a pleasant facade, "I formally express my gratitude to Brother Locke and House Norton for giving aid to a fallen king such as myself. As a simple letter of gratitude wasn't sufficient to express my heartfelt thanks, I had intended to leave the acknowledgment for a formal banquet I would host at the imperial capital. That's why I was busy trying my best to make preparations to take back my kingdom. Only then can I raise your peerage and give you the compensation you deserve. However, since you're in such a hurry, I can give you my reply right now."
The second highness nodded to Lorist and said, "Brother Locke, I hope you won't mind if I use your desk."
Without waiting for Lorist's reply, he sat down of his own accord before he started scribbling on two beastskin documents. After that, he removed his ring and sealed the documents with his wax seal near the place where he signed.
"Are you satisfied now, Knight Charade?" asked the second highness sarcastically as he handed the two documents over, intentionally avoiding Lorist.
Charade looked at Lorist only to see him shake his head slightly. Charade proceeded to read the two documents aloud.
The first was the letter of gratitude for Lorist and House Norton's contributions as well as his hopes that they would continue to contribute to the kingdom. It was no different from the average gratitude letter.
After reading out loud, Charade complained, "Your Highness, I feel that you should've stated clearly in what manner House Norton contributed to you. This is something that'll enter the annals of Grindian history as one of the largest donations ever made, so it won't do to lightly pass it over like that. Well, since you didn't bother to write it down, we will make our own records of the matter in our household chronicles."
The second letter was a letter of promotion. As the senior noble of House Norton, and the person who bore the legacy of the Krissen Empire, the second highness officially promoted Norton Lorist to the position of Duke of The Northlands. All nobles within The Northlands would have to submit to House Norton, and any who were displeased were free to bear arms in objection.
Heh, this guy's still trying to give me trouble. It's a shame he doesn't know about the dominion relocation of the three other houses. With this letter in hand, House Norton will be able to rule The Northlands without contest, thought Lorist, smiling coldly.
"Thank you for the promotion, Your Highness. House Norton is ever so thankful," said Lorist with a salute.
He didn't even hesitate to express his gratitude when it was due.
"Well, it's what you deserve, my friend. Also, let's talk about the matter of soldier recruitment," said the second highness.
A knocking on the door could be heard before Howard entered with two letters in hand.
Lorist saw the blue markings on the letters and smiled coldly. "Your Highness, Glacia, is this how you repay my trust?"
Lorist waved the letters in his hand and continued, "While I did allow you to recruit soldiers from the dominion, I never said you could poach the members of the police brigades and garrison forces. They are also considered part of the Norton forces. Your Highness, how do you explain your actions?"
Glacia argued, "Locke, we didn't actively seek them out. It was they who wanted to serve His Highness and contribute to the kingdom of their own accord. Surely, you can't stop them from wanting to do service to the kingdom."
"Since that's the case, what were you so angry about just now?" Lorist nodded, "On what grounds should we take care of their family if they no longer serve the house? You should know their homes and farmland are theirs to use solely because one of their family members are part of the Nortons' military forces. Now that they've abandoned their status as a Norton household soldier, they naturally relinquish the benefits they've enjoyed so far. You can't expect us to continue to care for someone who turned their backs on us, can you? Also, I didn't do anything to stop them from pledging allegiance to you."
"This..." The second highness wore a bitter smile.
Not only did most of the 400 thousand or so citizens of Felicitas not want to enlist, they only managed to recruit a hundred or so mercenaries and wanderers after four days of effort. It was completely unlike what happened in the Redlis kingdom, where people flocked to be enlisted in the military. The second highness had only reached out to the garrison soldiers and factory guards out of desperation, but he didn't think that he would stir up so much trouble after only recruiting a dozen of them. The sight of the family members being sent to their camp was even more unbearable: they had clamored and complained as they chased down their family members who had just been recruited, as well as cursed the second highness and the rest for tricking them to give their lives away.
But, where would I recruit soldiers if not here? It was almost guaranteed for him to be attacked the moment he showed his face anywhere else. To the second highness, his enemies lurked everywhere apart from The Northlands. He no longer had anywhere to go. Since he was unable to recruit many soldiers in the Norton dominion, his best option was to have House Norton deploy soldiers on his behalf. However, they had already offered up so many contributions. It was no longer a feasible option.
Lorist didn't care about the second highness and Glacia's angered looks.
He opened the second letter and put it down immediately before he said, "Your Highness, I have to apologize for not being able to host your stay any longer. I have to rush to the frontlines. Knight Charade will be in charge during my absence. If you need anything, seek him out and he will see that you're tended to."
"What? Is House Norton at war with someone?" asked the second highness, surprised.
"No, Your Highness. It's our allies, House Kenmays and House Shazin. The two houses are invading the Madras duchy, and, being their allies, we have to send our soldiers to aid them in their assault. This is the least we can do as allies."
"You're attacking the Madras duchy?!" said the second highness with a start, before he snapped out of his stupor, "Brother Locke, would you mind if I followed you there for a look?"