"A successful marriage requires falling in love many times… Always with the same person. I suppose Lorist has failed already." ~ Charade, reading quotes in preparation for his speech at Lorist's wedding.
Regardless of how savage the war in the south was, it wouldn't affect the factions in the north. As some officials and knights had gladly put, the territory that used to be part of the empire had burned with the flames of war for decades after the three princes' power struggle. Now, it was finally the other nations' turn to suffer.
Lorist didn't feel inclined to focus on the two warzones. He was busy moving from Firmrock to Ragebear. Though he could order thousands of soldiers around without a problem, he was completely helpless when it came to dealing with household matters. Fortunately, Sylvia was around and performed as one would expect of the matron of the house. She coordinated the servants with great efficiency, keeping what should be kept and throwing out what wasn't needed. It didn't take too long for them to finish packing up and leave.
He praised her handling of the matter with admiration.
"I'm used to moving. This isn't anything to be surprised over," replied she nonchalantly.
On the 21st day of the 9th month, Lorist arrived in Ragebear with the administrative departments from Firmrock. From that day onwards, Ragebear was the Northlands' capital and the center of administration for the house. It was built on a flat piece of land with no difficult terrain or moas. A few hundred years earlier, there was a hill that wasn't taller than a hundred meters there. An unknown noble had built a run-down stronghold and made it his headquarters. After a few different owners, the cruddy place gradually developed into a large castle built of stone. It wasn't until later that House Loggins was entitled Duke of The Northlands and given a fief there. The first Duke Loggins didn't fancy living in the cold, lone castle and hired two well-known architects to build the largest city in the region with the castle at its core.
The city came to be named after the two architects and it developed into the first city to have a population over 100 thousand in The Northlands. As a result, the southern part of The Northlands became the most prosperous area of the province. Before Lorist returned to the dominion, it was the most prosperous and merry place to be. Compared to the magnificent city, Maplewoods in was but a little bastide in a little rural corner.
Duke Loggins only had himself to blame for making the wrong enemy. He had designated Lorist an easy and plentiful target on which to prey, resulting in the ultimate burial of his house. Following Duke Loggins's defeat, the regional capital attracted the ravenous second prince. The founder and ruler of the kingdom not only confiscated Duke Loggins's property, he also sent the duke to Windbury with the excuse of letting him stay there to recover from his sickness. The poor duke fell prey to bandits right after leaving The Northlands and his whole family was exterminated. Thus, a house of the former empire with hundreds of years of history met their demise.
When Lorist once again defeated the second highness and the 100-thousand-strong allied noble army of The Northlands, he formed the alliance of four houses and Gildusk became part of Baron Shazin's dominion, with the duke's manor falling into his hands. However, the capital of The Northlands had already been Lorist's two sieges. The rich had fled to House Norton's dominion. While Shazin did control the city, the income it generated wasn't much. Given that he didn't have enough money to sustain himself, Shazin didn't bother to take the extra mile in managing the place.
With the dominion relocation, Shazin's title was raised to that of a count and he moved his household all the way to Delamock, causing the capital to finally fall into Lorist's hands. Given its strategic location convenient for traffic, Lorist decided to move the headquarters there. He also ordered Grandmaster Ciroba to reconstruct the castle which had already stood for centuries and to revitalize it once more.
Lorist wasn't too satisfied with the first city blueprint of Ragebear Ciroba brought him. He had requested he design a city that could accommodate at least 300 thousand citizens. Even though the current population was less, he believed it wouldn't take long for it to turn busy after the house's various departments moved in.
Ciroba found himself was rather troubled because the city was originally designed to be only able to hold 100 thousand people. That was how wide the old city was. Lorist thus decided to have a central castle constructed at the center of the city as the main base of operations for the house and his residence -- just like Firmrock. The protected areas beyond the walls would be where the rich and members of the peerage would stay. As for the rest of the land, it would be split into plazas centered around business areas, military camps, and other facilities. As for commoner residences, they would be built outside the walls. That would essentially double the area of the city and avoid the trouble of having to reconstruct the city from the ground up.
Currently, the east of the city was already connected to the two special noble areas, separated only by a man-made canal three meters wide. Clouds of dust could be seen from a distance. It was apparent that the nobles who bought their land there were busy building their own manors. Carriages and people filled the streets and gave the city a merry atmosphere.
The duke's manor at the center of Ragebear had almost doubled in size. The old manor was designed with the concept of a garden in mind, but Ciroba had built a five-story-tall castle as per Lorist's request. The old and new designs were fused without damaging the gardens. Out of consideration of safety, Lorist's residence was built atop the hundred-meter-tall hill where a new castle was constructed. It was connected to the administrative center through the walls. It almost seemed like there was another citadel built within Ragebear itself.
By the time everyone had settled down, it was the start of the 10th month. Lorist saw himself becoming busier as he hurried around to welcome the nobles who had arrived at Ragebear early to attend the wedding. On the 17th day of the 10th month, Lorist's elder cousin, Gold-ranked Knight Glacia, brought her family along.
Glacia returned to The Northlands with her mother and two younger brothers. According to young Lorist's memories, his second uncle's wife, his aunt, was a sickly beauty. She looked more or less how he remembered, just much paler and older. She was still sickly as usual and feared cold winds or strong light. After a short chat, she retired to her chambers. Lorist really wondered how a person like that had managed to survive the turbulent times of civil war.
It was Lorist's first time meeting his two cousins, however. One of them was 28 and a two-star silver rank. He was obviously not as talented as Glacia when it came to training. The other was 22 and at the two-star bronze rank, a little worse than the former. Glacia claimed they were more academically inclined and would serve as officials in the future.
Glacia herself had changed a lot. Not only did she look much paler, she had also lost a considerable amount of weight. It didn't take Lorist long to pick up on something, so he asked her about the second highness. At first, she wasn't really willing to discuss the matter, but she later helplessly confessed that she had broken up with him. That was why she had lost her position as the leader of the city guard. She had brought her family back to the house and said she wouldn't go back.
Why? Lorist wondered, Why did the second highness break up with Glacia? Doesn't he know this means he will no longer get our aid? He might even be cautiously regarded as a potential hostile. Putting aside Glacia's father, who has loyally fought as an imperial knight and served as a brigadier-general before perishing on the battlefield, Glacia followed the second highness loyally for more than two decades as well... Not only did she charge into one dangerous battle after another, she was also his lover. How could the second highness put an end to such a long-lasting relationship?
Glacia didn't reveal any details no matter what. With a completely cold expression, she said that she was worn out and wanted to spend the rest of her life quietly. She had returned to the house mainly because of her two younger brothers, the imperial capital was not a good environment for them to grow and develop. Given how House Norton was at its peak, she wanted to entrust the elder to Lorist and send the younger to Dawn Academy. Though he was a little older than the rest, the youngest sibling was smart and curious and would definitely be quite capable in the future.
Lorist was still fraught with curiosity but there was no way he could force Glacia to tell him anything she didn't want. As for their quarters, Glacia could pick one of the six remaining manors. Even if she said she wanted to live in peace without agreeing to serve the house, she was still a gold-ranked knight and a member of the house, she deserved one of the manors.
Lorist didn't suspect for a moment Glacia was sent by the second highness to spy on him. Pulling off an act like breaking up to sneak into the house as a spy was nothing but a joke. He was sure the defeated look on her face came from true emotional shock. Otherwise, she wouldn't say anything like wanting to live in seclusion. The simple arrangements for the brothers were nothing about which to be suspicious either. The elder would join the local defense brigade while the younger would attend Dawn Academy.
Two days later, Lorist put the matter behind him. Apart from instructing Tarkel to send people to the imperial capital to find out the specifics, he was busy receiving the visiting nobles. There was one day he had to meet 16 different nobles… his face was sore from all the smiling. The date of the grand wedding had already been decided. It would take place on the 8th day of the 11th month. It was the reason for the sudden influx of nobles who came forward to present their gifts. There were also many merchants with honorary noble titles coming over to better their relations and ask Lorist construct two more special noble areas so they could buy land and build their manors there too.
When Charade came over, he told Lorist something to which he didn't know how to react. Some time earlier, the house had released a notice stating that honorary nobles from other nations could spend a sum to convert their honorary titles into those recognized by House Norton. However, given that the fee was rather high, many merchants were unwilling to pay. So, many of them cut corners by becoming honorary nobles of Andinaq because House Norton was also part of the nation. They headed to the imperial capital to purchase noble titles from the second highness which were half the cost of conversion, allowing the second highness to earn more than 100 thousand gold Fordes for doing nothing. It also made The Northlands see an influx of near a hundred honorary Andinaq nobles.
Charade said to teach those who cheaped out a lesson, the third special noble zone soon up for auction should only be sold to nobles that converted their honorary titles to those of House Norton. After all, those of the house should look out for themselves first, even if they were of the same nation. Naturally, while the other honorary nobles from the kingdom couldn't purchase any land, they could still buy smaller villas. It was the only way they could raise their status. It was a given that they would be inferior in comparison to those that purchased their own land to build their manors though and it was the lesson they would be taught.
Lorist agreed and left him in charge.
I wondered why there were so many new honorary Andinaq nobles lately. So they came over from the imperial capital, huh... Explains how there were more people than I could spare the time to greet...
During the last three days of the 10th month, Duke FIsablen's two envoys, Aridok and Napole showed up once more. They brought the duke's reply: the armistice would last for three years. The duke had already signed and sealed the document, but Aridok didn't seem happy. When he presented the document, he mocked House Norton for downgrading their mighty Firmrock to a mere garrison.
It seemed House Fisablen had realized the banners of Firmrock, currently stationed at the borders, had 'garrison' appended. In essence, House Norton exploited a loophole in their agreement, but House Fisablen couldn't do anything about it. Lorist wasn't embarrassed in the least. 'Firmrock had always been a garrison legion', were his words. Before the war, they had guarded Firmrock Castle. They were only moved to the borders to 'defend' them.
The two envoys didn't think Lorist would be so shameless as to insist that Firmrock was a garrison legion. Their faces darkened with anger. Apart from signing the armistice, they also came to carry out two instructions. The first was to negotiate the ransom of the 40 plus thousand soldiers of Third Frontier. Last time, they only managed to ransom the household knights and household members. Now, they believed that, since the armistice was signed, Lorist should allow the soldiers ransomed to reunite with their families.
Lorist refused without even thinking about it.
Are you kidding me? If I release the 40 plus thousand soldiers, Duke Fisablen can build another Frontier right away! There's no way I'd be crazy enough to agree!
Fortunately, the two envoys knew their request had touched Lorist's baseline and weren't too stubborn. The other mission was to visit Princess Sylvia. They said they had brought something to her per the duke's orders. Out of curiosity, Lorist sent for someone to bring Sylvia over and went to see what Duke Fisablen wanted to give her. He didn't think that after checking the three large, four-wheeled carriages, Sylvia would actually hug Lorist and start crying. The carriages carried all her possessions, ranging from the toys with which she played in her childhood, to clothes, other daily necessities, and the decorations she used in her quarters including even a small cushion and rug. Apart from that, a dozen servants came along and they were all those who had taken care of her since her childhood.
Sylvia resisted the urge to continue crying after a while before she thanked the two envoys and instructed the servants of the castle to bring the three carriages to the back. She brought out a sack of gold coins and heavily rewarded the dozen old servants, but she refused their request to stay and serve by her side before returning to the backyard.
Lorist had the two envoys taken care of after telling them they would be welcome to attend his wedding before rushing to the backyard. To his surprise, he found Sylvia starting a fire and tossing everything from the three carriages into it as she cried.
Lorist asked her what the stuff was out of curiosity.
She leaped into his embrace and whimpered.
"Locke, all I have right now is you..."
Feeling a rush of emotion, he finally understood what was going on and hugged Sylvia tightly.