"The real act of marriage takes place in the heart, not in the ballroom, church, or synagogue. It is a choice you make." ~ Norton Lorist
"Your Grace, this won't do. You can't do this. I strongly object to this decision of yours!" said Charade with a jump.
He had come over to bring a stack of documents to be signed. After putting down the documents, he reached for a bottle of fruit wine from the rack. He heard Lorist talk about the decision he made right after he sat down and instantly voiced his objections.
Lorist had said he wanted to get married to Princess Sylvia and wanted Charade to start preparing a grand wedding ceremony to take place in half a year. He believed the time would allow Sylvia to recover from her mental scars as well as her malnourishment. He didn't think the moment he revealed his intention, he would receive an instant objection.
"Why? Weren't you guys in agreement about this before?" asked Lorist a little angrily.
"Your Grace, it was a matter of timing. Right now, House Fisablen is our enemy. While I believe Princess Sylvia's qualities more than qualify her to be your wife and the house's matron, given that she bears the Fisablen name, I cannot allow it."
Lorist shook his head.
"This is a personal matter. I won't take anyone but her as my wife. Whether you agree to this or not. This is none of your concern. I've made my decision. Just do as I say."
"No!" Charade said desperately, "A duke has no personal matters! Your Grace, you don't just represent yourself. You are the face of the house and the representative of our 1.6 million subjects as well as our loyal household knights! You must consider the house's reputation!"
"Hehe, is that so? Why didn't I know I represented so many things? Did anyone ask me whether I was willing to represent them?" Lorist said without holding back, "You're telling me I have to go through you lot to even pick a wife? So if you're against it, I can't be with the woman I love? What do you treat me as? A mannequin you can push around? Must I do everything according to your will?"
"Well..." Charade realized he had used the wrong choice of words. "Your Grace, you know that I didn't mean it that way. Nobody dares to treat you like a mannequin. You are truly the Duke of The Northlands and this is a fact that everyone recognizes. What I'm against is only your decision to take Princess Sylvia as your main wife. Before, we were more than happy to accept her because House Fisablen wasn't an enemy. Your marriage to Princess Sylvia would also gain us a strong ally.
"But now, not only is House Fisablen our enemy, they also suffered such a huge loss at our hands and no doubt consider us their archenemy. Most importantly, they've already been defeated and forced to stay in their dominion. Our generals are currently mocking them and no longer take them seriously. We're still in preparation to take revenge against them for Jaeger's loss in Wild Husbandry. Do you think it's appropriate to marry Princess Sylvia now?
"Think about the rumors about the reason of the war being Duke Fisablen's refusal to allow you to marry Sylvia, and Duke Kenmays's joke about how our three allied houses are joining in on a battle to secure you a wife. If you take Princess Sylvia as your wife now, you will only be validating the rumors. What would the family members of the sacrificed soldiers think? Would they get the impression that their loved ones died because of your marriage issues?
"Also, how should our soldiers face House Fisablen in the future after Princess Sylvia becomes the house's matron? Do we treat them as in-laws? If House Fisablen launches another invasion, I suspect our men wouldn't know whether to retaliate or not. Your Grace, if you make this decision lightly, you'll cause lots of chaos in the house. Most of us will not support you in this decision."
"Nobody would be as stupid as you say and not resist when an enemy is right in front of them," Lorist said disheartedly, "So what if I marry Sylvia? It's not like House Fisablen will stop being our enemy."
Despite his continued counters, Charade had made a few good points he hadn't considered yet. As the head of the most powerful house in The Northlands, he would have to think this through properly. However, his decision was already made and he would not change it. He would definitely give Sylvia, who loved him so much, a reliable place to which to belong.
"Here's something you don't know about. On the surface, the duke sent Sylvia as an envoy, but she told me she no longer has to return to the dominion. Didn't you notice she didn't bring any guards? Only two of her personal maids came along. Also, the one in charge of the talks is someone else. Do you understand? The old guy is insulting our love. I have to give Sylvia a proper resolution and take her as my wife," insisted Lorist.
"Sol, this old man is far too cruel."
Charade finally realized why Lorist was so set on marrying Sylvia. He recalled that when he was a child, the store near his house had gotten some new wooden dolls. One of them was a colorful clown with a long nose. It was incredibly beautiful and rather expensive. As he'd wanted the toy a lot, he begged his father to buy it. But his father said he could only get it through his own efforts, so he let Charade take care of some chores in exchange for pocket money.
Charade, who wasn't even ten years old at the time, worked hard to earn the money copper by copper. The days passed one after another, and by the time he finally saved up enough, he learned the shop's owner was organizing a stock-clearance. According to the owner, he was going to go back to his hometown and would no longer run the shop.
Seeing Charade come over, he said with a smile, "You still want to buy that doll? Since it's no longer worth anything, I'll give it to you as a parting gift."
The experience left the deepest impression on him. Seeing the thing he pined for day and night just abandoned by someone else, he looked at the pouch of coins he had saved up after working hard for three months, and looked back at the toy the shop owner had tossed to him. It made Charade feel incredibly vexed, and he left the toy in a corner of the house when he got back. He never played with it.
Lorist's current situation was similar. Perhaps, it was even worse. Duke Fisablen was practically giving Sylvia away as a gift to express his willingness to submit. 'Here you go. Didn't you start the war for her in the first place? We'll give her to you now that we've lost hopes that you'll spare the house.' Either Duke Fisablen didn't really consider the emotions of the two involved, or he was intentionally mocking their relationship. 'Didn't you guys want to be together? Alright, you don't even need to ask to marry her or spend so much money on this anymore. I'll just give her to you. Do with her what you want. You're satisfied now, right?'
"...You two can be together. We'll host a wedding ceremony in a few years, once the matter subsides, but please don't invite too many people. We have to keep the effects of this as small as possible. Is this alright? In fact, you can make Princess Sylvia the house matron right now if you want. She'll only not be one in name for the time being," suggested Charade after some thought.
It was the best solution he had for now.
"No," Lorist refused right away, "I can't let Sylvia live with me just like that. How different would that be from making her my concubine? I know you're taking the house into consideration, but Baron Charade, did you consider how the princess would feel? It's already bad enough her house abandoned her. If I treat her this way, she would really become a gift House Fisablen tossed our way. I want her to have a grand wedding.
"It will give a huge face slap to that old man at the same time. Did he think I would treat Sylvia like a female slave? I will publicly make Sylvia my bride and the house matron. She'll be Duchess of The Northlands. I'll have everyone feel envious of her and let House Fisablen regret their decision. I trust Sylvia will be quick to forget the Fisablen name after marrying me and take on the Norton name proudly."
"B-but Your Grace, we have to answer the men..."
"No worries. This will be easy. I will express my gratitude to them for their courage, for making House Fisablen submit and send Princess Sylvia. We two lovers were finally united thanks to the great contributions of our troops."
In essence, Lorist was trying to affirm the rumors that he had exterminated Iblia for Princess Sylvia, taking on the active stance instead of remaining passive. That way, not only would he be able to pin the war between the two houses on a juicy legend, the gossip lovers would surely spread it around as a tale of war for the sake of love.
"Our men will be proud. When they are old, they will be able to boast to their descendants how they fought for the sake of the Duke of The Northlands's marriage and crushed House Fisablen so badly they had no choice but to hand over the princess. They brought the tragic lovers together. This way, House Fisablen will be painted the villains. Hahaha, this idea sounds rather decent!
"Also, our house has conquered the Goldridge mine and obtained more than two million gold Fordes. We should use some of it to make commemorative badges with Sylvia and my name on them and the saying 'Love Persists till the End'. We'll distribute them to everyone who participated in the war, including our allies. Everyone who took part will get one. I believe nobody will complain about fighting for the sake of my wife after receiving these," said Lorist with both his legs against his desk gleefully, greatly satisfied with the excuse with which he had come up.
"Your Grace, isn't this a little too shameless..." Charade was both humored and troubled at the same time.
"Don't sweat the small details," replied Lorist lazily before he leaned back and started napping.
It was only to be expected since he hadn't slept when he was accompanying Sylvia throughout the night.
"Baron Charade, I'll leave the preparations. Give me a budget and the rough timeline. We still have half a year, so set it at around the 11th month. Don't forget the guest list. I want a grand ceremony, understood? If there isn't anything else, you may leave. I'll get some shut-eye."
"Hey, not so fast. I came here for official business, you know. These documents need your signature urgently. You've wasted enough of Howard's time on your wedding. Howard, splash some cold water on His Grace. Howard, Howard! Where's he?"
Charade called out few times, but nobody answered him.
"Stop calling him. He's not here. He should be on his way to Northsea to pick up his junior," Lorist said after recalling his conversation with Howard the previous night, "Also, I wasn't joking with you about the wedding. I'm serious."
"Understood. I'll make sure everything's in order. Don't worry. Just sign these first. Stretch your face a bit while I get someone to bring you a basin of water," said Charade before he left the room.
He returned a moment later with a basin.
"What's the matter? You mentioned Howard going to Northsea to pick up his junior?"
"Did you forget I told Senbaud I'd take his son as my disciple? Now he's 16 and has awakened his battleforce, Senbaud wrote me a letter to remind me of the promise. I had Howard go to Northsea to pick him up. He'll serve as my attendant in the future. I'll see whether he's worth training or not," said Lorist.
He submerged his whole face in the basin to wash his fatigue away.
"I did hear you mention it once. Isn't his son the silly brute that follows him around all the time?" Charade had gotten the same impression of Jinolio because Senbaud always brought his son along to the dominion when he made reports on Oceanic Legion.
"That's the one," Lorist affirmed as he picked up the stack of documents, "What's with all this? What's so urgent about it?"
"It's regarding the local defense legion's reorganization and expansion. The expenditure and rationing all require your signature before they can be arranged. Also, you have to appoint the four other legion commanders to the new legions."
Local Defense would be reformed into four new legions. Each would be comprised of four divisions, subdivided into four brigades. Each legion numbered 48 thousand, with there being at least 100 thousand captive soldiers drafted. The captives had already served a little more than two years and were the main contributors to the transportation routes and irrigation construction efforts in Delamock. They would regain their freedom at year's end. According to the traditions of the house's military, captives of war could freely join.
"How about this, call Baron Freiyar and Baron Belnick back and have them deal with reorganizing the legion. You focus on the marriage," said Lorist as he signed one document after another.
"By your will, Your Grace," said Charade with a shrug and a look of frustration.