"You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by avoiding it today." ~ Loze
We're back to this week's first releease, enjoy!
"Great news, Your Grace! Great news!" cried Loze as he ran into the tent with a dozen guards. He barged in it with Dulles hot on his heels. The latter was smiling so brightly he appeared foolish.
"Great news? What news could merit such jubilance?" asked Lorist, somewhat annoyed.
He had been studying Handra's three defensive lines. He'd spent the whole night brainstorming ideas to turn the tables after they'd suffered some casualties in several skirmishes the day before The stalemate had remained unchanged. The three lines' garrisons couldn't do much about the catapults, so they moved their camps a few hundred meters back, out of the weapons' range. It flabbergasted Lorist. Just like that, he had lost all use for the damned contraptions. The things weighed way too much, it was impossible to move them forward up the slope to get them back in range. Additionally, unlike his mobile catapults, these couldn't be quickly set up if they were packed, so they had no way of retaliating if they came under attack during the move. Fisablen had wanted to try his luck, but his catapults were destroyed soon after they started moving. The enemy threw rocks and logs at them down the slope. The men couldn't do anything; a hundred died or were injured before they finally retreated.
Lorist's forces occupied the low ground, his enemy the high ground. The two lines were 500 meters apart, so even though the enemy had pulled back a few hundred meters, they could still react in time to any offensives… and there was nothing Lorist could do about it from his position. The defenses didn't just cover the flats of the pass, but ran up and down the slopes on either side of it as well. No matter how he tried to get around the defenses, he always ran into more. Lorist couldn't do much to the situation personally, either. He may be somewhere between a rank 3 blademaster and a swordsaint, but even he couldn't do much to the enemy's defenses.
He had led a night assault with a small force the night before but everything fell apart very quickly. The first trench was filled with broken glass. Whilst he wasn't personally harmed, his men didn't fare as well. They were clad in heavy armor, but the soles of their feet were exposed. The moment they descended into the trench, men cried out in pain up and down the trench. Arrows rained down on them moments later, followed by rocks flung from the slope above by the enemy's catapults, a few fireballs mixed in. He ordered a retreat the moment he noticed something was off, though, and saved many of his men. He still lost around 400 of the thousand, though. He was so infuriated that he'd lost so many without doing anything to the enemy he almost lost it entirely. He only calmed down after reminding himself it could have been worse. He sent a recovery group in as soon as they had regrouped. They managed to recover all of the downed men. Of the 400 taken down, luckily only a dozen or so were killed, the rest were only injured. He was greatly troubled by how to make up for this loss, so he didn't have the energy or patience to deal with Loze's ridiculous joy.
"A messenger came over from Ragebear. He brings good news."
"What good news?"
"Madame Sylvia is with child. She is two months along."
Sylvia's with child?!
Lorist was dumbstruck.
It's the beginning of the 7th month now, so if she's two months along, it should have happened around the end of the 4th month.
When Sylvia learned Lorist was staying on the frontlines for who knew how long, she stuck to him like glue for several days. She even called all the concubines, including Dilianna and Dixie over and arranged for them all to sleep together. She made sure she was the one in whom he finished each time, however. Her efforts must have paid off since she was now with child.
"Good news indeed! Why should you be happy about it, though?" Lorist wondered, It's not like I don't have a son already. Irina already gave me two, and Anna's child is also a boy. Telesti gave me two daughters as well. It's only natural for Sylvia to get pregnant. What are they so happy for?
"If Madame Sylvia's child is a son, you'll finally have a legitimate heir! The knights now have hope for the long-term future!" explained the foolish-looking Dulles with a beaming smile.
"Buzz off!" Lorist cried angrily, "I'm not even 40 and still full of life! Do you really look forward to my son taking over so much?!"
Dulles knew he had said something better left unsaid. He crouched and hugged his head fearfully. Loze stood beside him awkwardly.
"Hey, come back."
Dulles, who was just about to leave, turned around.
"Your Grace..." mumbled he.
"Where's the messenger?" asked the duke glaringly.
"Why haven't you called him in yet?"
Lorist recognized the messenger, he was one of his three thousand strong personal guard. He had brought just two of the three thousand along to the frontlines. He'd left the rest in Ragebear to look after his family. The messenger, a young man named Wallon, was a lieutenant.
Wallon had with him a letter penned by Sylvia herself. She had written of her pregnancy and her pride at it. Lorist couldn't help but smile when he read her arrogant tone. She also wrote a lot about how much she missed him. She had left the capital for Cherry Blossom ridge where she would stay until the child was born. The place was quite a bit cooler than the city, so it was indeed the best place to stay for the summer.
Once he finished the letter Lorist told Wallon to rest for a while. He would call for him once he had a reply for him to take back. His brows furrowed as the man left the tent.
"I already have three sons. Irina's first is eleven, staying with Malek; her younger is seven and I'm still looking for a good tutor for him; and Anna gave me my third, now four. I don't want for successors and I promised all my children would be on the family registry and thus have a place in the line of succession.
"While it's great Sylvia will also give me another child, it's only to be expected. I certainly am happy, but not ecstatic like you two. Tell me, honestly, how many of the men share your view? How many are skeptical of my concubine's children?"
Loze and Dulles stared at each other for a moment Loze stepped forward.
"I'm not trying to be a busybody, Your Grace. Actually, I believe having the concubine's children registered in the family registry is one of the most important things to ensure the house stays stable across generations If Your Grace hadn't gotten married, I wouldn't have had anything to say about letting all of the concubine's children be in the line of succession. But you're now married, Lady Sylvia is your wife. Her children are your legitimate and primary descendants, they should also be the first in the line of succession. Most of the house, if not everyone, agree with me."
Dulles wanted to say something, but kept silence. Lorist glared at him.
"Speak freely. No matter what you say, I won't hold it against you. Though the house has developed a lot, those willing to speak the truth have become fewer and fewer. Tell me your honest thoughts.
"Think about the hardship we suffered on the way north all those years ago and what we have now. You were my first vassals, I've never doubted your loyalty. Please, share with me your thoughts."
"Very well," Dulles surrendered and raised both hands, "It is not that we don't have our thoughts and opinions, we just feel they aren't appropriate to voice to Your Lordship. You made it clear with Sylvia marriage, after all, that we have no place interfering in your personal matters. However, the matter of succession is not the same, it is at the core of the house's future, something that deeply affects all of us. If you are followed by an incapable or unsuitable heir, the entire house's future could be in doubt. We are very loyal to your majesty, but we also have families to look after, and those of us with land and titles, like Charade, also have to think of our subjects.
"Take the first young master as an example. We have kept a close eye on him. Baron Malek said that he has great potential to become a fearless knight, but he has no aptitude for governance; he won't be a good duke, his personality is too crude and cruel. Lady Malek tried her best to educate him in etiquette and restraint, but he still kills small animals in awful ways. Keeping him as your heir apparent is a disaster for the entire house."
"He's still young," argued Lorist hopelessly.
It wasn't that he didn't know about the reports concerning his first son. Tarkel had sent a few informants to check on the child's progress. The one that left the deepest impression was the time his son was punished by Malek's wife. He went out of the house, shot a squirrel with a bow and turned the poor critter into minced meat with his shortsword.
"This is not something age will solve, Your Grace. A child his age should no right from wrong. Venting his rage on a weaker being is not courage. We believe he became this way because his mother spoiled him too much when he was younger. We don't think his younger brother will be much better. They are not fit to succeed you," continued Dulles.
Lorist kept silent for a while. He knew this was a minor act of rebellion by his vassals. He didn't know when the two factions had come to be, but they were undeniably present. The old faction included the house's original members, specifically Maplewoods' members. They were prideful and looked down on the newer members as being not 'true members of the house'. They were the 'new ones'. They believed only those who'd, like them, been brought up in the house were truly loyal. The rest were opportunists who couldn't be trusted. Hansk was at the faction's head. They believed that despite being only a concubine, as the only of Lorist's lovers to have been brought up in the house, and being the first to give birth to possible heirs, her children were the true heirs to his title.
The new faction was composed of most of the nights and officials who'd followed Lorist to The Northlands or had joined the house since. They didn't see the old members of the house in a good light. They believed they were cowards who could only stand tall because Lorist gave them shade. Just look at the state they were in when Lorist first arrived. They were just country bumpkins barely hanging on to life. The new faction's members believed they'd proven their loyalty through the hardships they suffered on the way north and through their outstanding service to the house since they'd joined. They were the ones who'd walked alongside Lorist to bring the house to its new heights. The old faction's members had overseen the house's downfall and had contributed little to its recent rise, what rite did they have act all high and mighty in front of the new faction and boss them around?
Not everyone had chosen a side, though, many were still neutral. Charade, Potterfang, Spiel, Kedan, and Belnick were among them. They did not concern themselves with the faction of the person who made a proposal, they made decisions based on the options' merits alone. They had worked hard to keep everything between the factions under control.
Lorist knew about the rift between the two factions, but wasn't too concerned. If anything, the rift made the house easier to control. He hadn't thought, however, that the old faction would make so much of a ruckus when he chose to make Sylvia his wife. Now the new faction was trying to get back at the old faction by kicking their candidates from the line of succession. Can't they tone it down a bit?
"What about Anna's child? She gave me a son too, right?" asked he finally.
Dulles shook his head.
"Madam Anna's status is not suitable. She's not even your concubine so the house's reputation will be severely damaged if her child becomes your heir."
Lorist understood Dulles was hinting at him about Dilianna's identity as a widow as well as a participant of Queen Carey's Paradise Gathering before becoming Lorist's concubine. Paradise gathering was famous among the nobles. Though Queen Carey was now dead, and the noble who participated dead, knowledge of the party was widespread, and who knew if someone could associate his concubines with it.
If Dilianna's son succeeded him, she would have to appear before other nobles eventually. Should anyone find out about her past, they could use it to blackmail her or cause trouble by spreading it around, possibly bringing her son's legitimacy into doubt. Dilianna preferred a peaceful life above all. She just wanted her son to support her in her old age; she had no ambition for her son in the line of succession.
Sigh, I didn't think Sylvia's child would cause so much trouble.
News of her pregnancy was both good and bad. No matter his stance on the matter, some things couldn't be avoided. This really wasn't as simple as a personal matter. His decision in this regard affected everyone in the house, he couldn't justify doing this without considering them as well.
"Dismissed. Let's leave it for today. Don't get too entangled with this. We're worried about this a little too soon. Right now I just want Sylvia to give birth safely."
Lorist waved as he sent Loze and Dulles out before he sat in his tent, smiling bitterly. Now that the house had conquered the whole of The Northlands, its future was immeasurably bright. But the way he saw it, he had only gotten strong enough to defend himself. Just as the house's situation appeared good, internal strife brew. This was probably unavoidable. But it didn't make it any easier.
Those bastards! I'm not even 40! If I really become a swordsaint, I'll easily live for another two or three hundred years! They have too much time on their hands. They're not considering my feelings at all... This should've been good news, not a troublesome matter I should worry myself over.
He spent the rest of the day writing a love-filled letter for Sylvia. It was filled with line after line of his longing for her. He also urged her to take care of herself and promised he would go back to spend time with her whenever he could. He had Wallon take the letter back. He deliberated whether he should hold a banquet to celebrate the occasion or keep it private. The decision was only complicated by the fact that this concerned Duke Fisablen, he was Sylvia's grandfather, after all.
Should I invite him? Will he even accept? pondered he.