"I pitty those who think negotiations come after the war is over. They will be slain by their enemy's words and lose even a war they had been winning in the field." ~ Kenmays
The envoy Duke Handra sent was the familiar Count Chujway. However, this time he looked paler than the last, with a gloom on his face. Upon entering the tent, he respectfully bowed to Auguslo.
"Count Chujway of Handra pays his respects to the king of Andinaq."
Auguslo's expression was stern. Lorist's refusal to obey his order to attack had enraged him a lot. He didn't really react much to Chujway's greeting. He only came back to his senses when Duke Fisablen coughed a few times beside him.
"Well, you whatchamacallit... Just say what you want. What does that traitor Handra want you to tell me?" he said, waving his hand annoyedly.
Chujway's face reddened immediately. Auguslo's nonchalant attitude and impolite words nourished his anger. He stood up and glared at Auguslo.
"Your Majesty, please honor the dignity of nobles. I have a name and it is Nordingham Chujway! Our duke isn't a traitor either! He's never betrayed the empire!"
"Haha, traitors never admit their sins. As for you, a count appointed by a traitor, you should be grateful that I even acknowledge your presence," said Auguslo with a snark rather than blowing up in anger.
"That so? Then Your Majesty considers your ancestors traitors as well? I have nothing to say in that case. However, I really wonder how a person who considers their own ancestors traitors can claim he wants to further the empire's glory!" argued Chujway, not holding back.
"What did you say?!" barked Auguslo angrily.
He was most concerned about his family's legitimacy. Chujway's accusations enraged him so much he was about to draw his sword and end the envoy.
Chujway smirked without moving.
Fisablen had no choice but to step in to keep the situation under control.
"Your Majesty, please calm down. The envoy is the current head of House Nordingham, a descendant of Blood Knight Nordringham Jadeweis. His title is bequeathed by Krissen VI, not Duke Handra."
Stunned, Auguslo stood absentmindedly for a few moments.
"Blood Knight Nordingham Jadeweis? Why is he with Duke Handra?"
Auguslo understood he had spoken wrongly. While he could call Duke Handra a traitor, he didn't have any right to say the same of House Nordingham. If word of this really got out, it would become a massive joke. In the history of the Krissen Empire, Krissen VI was a rather ordinary emperor who was in power for only 17 years. Within that term, he resumed Krissen V's policies of invading the Union. And during that time, he only led his armies to the Union once.
House Nordingham had risen to fame in that single march. Krissen VI's invasion was one of the biggest military failures in all recorded history. Not only was the army completely defeated, even Krissen VI was completely surrounded. Fortunately, the Union's forces didn't know and tried to pursue the escaping forces before dealing with those they had encircled. One first had to bite through the meat to reach the bone.
Baron Nordingam, arriving late to the invasion, came onto the battlefield with 1300 men, most of his retinue, in that time. The battle had already passed its climax and there was no way to change the outcome. He could only help cover for the retreating forces. The surviving nobles gathered in the evening and realized Krissen VI was not among them.
They were so terrified of the Union, however, that no one wanted to save the emperor. They argued incessantly about who should save Krissen VI. Baron Nordginham Jadeweis was infuriated and led his forces back onto the battlefield to look for the emperor on his own.
No one knew how many engagements he and his men fought, but they eventually returned, triumphant. But of his original 1300 men, only thirteen remained. The baron collapsed, a bloody mess, the moment they reached friendly forces. He had suffered 46 wounds and it was a great struggle to save him.
Looking at Nordingham Jadeweis's bloody form and thinking back at the heroic sight of him charging into the enemy formations to make way for himself, Krissen VI was greatly touched and named the baron his blood knight and made him a count. The emperor's failed invasion had cemented House Nordingham's reputation as a house of loyalty. They became the idol knights strove to mimic.
Auguslo hadn't heard Chujway's self-introduction properly and had mistaken him as a count entitled by the traitor. He had slighted his own reputation. Krissen VI was his great-grandfather, and it had been that emperor that had entitled House Nordingham. It was common knowledge to every noble in the empire.
"Your Majesty, House Nordingham's dominion is in Wesstwood. During the civil war, Duke Handra was given jurisdiction over Wesstwood by the late king. So, House Nordingham is a vassal house of Duke Handra," explained Fisablen.
Upon hearing the explanation, the king did something shocking. He walked up to Chujway and bowed incredibly respectfully.
"Apologies, Lord Nordingham. I am truly sorry for my rude behavior. Please forgive my ignorant transgression."
Chujway was moved and hurriedly pulled the king upright.
"There's no need for this, Your Majesty. I apologize for not being clear when I requested an audience. This apology is too heavy for me to accept."
"I shall correct my errors. It's alright as long as Lord Nordingham doesn't fault me."
Chujway hurriedly waved his hands.
"Please address me by name, Your Majesty."
"Oh? May I know why?"
"Before my father passed away, he handed me the dominion. His last words were that while the house was now loyal to House Handra, its name belonged to the empire. So, until the empire is restored, I cannot in good conscience use my family name. As such, I will only be known by my title and given name."
"House Nordingham truly is an exemplary noble house! The symbol of loyalty indeed!" the king exclaimed.
The king glanced at Lorist as he said so, making the latter pout.
"Come, take a seat, Lord Chujway. Men, bring us some refreshments! Have the butler arrange a banquet! I wish to properly welcome the lord count," yelled Auguslo.
"Lord Chujway, I wonder for what reason you have requested to meet me?" sked the king once everyone was seated
"I have come on the instructions of Duke Handra. He wishes for peace."
The king shook his head.
"Lord Count, I cannot forgive the traitorous actions of the four dukes. I respect House Nordingham's loyalty and would be more than glad to welcome you to the kingdom. I hope you don't remain entangled with those traitors."
"You are mistaken, Your Majesty. The four dukes aren't traitors. They never betrayed you," argued Chujway.
"Never betrayed me? Haha! Had the duchies agreed to come back into the fold when I asked them to after I'd conquered Redlis, the empire would've been united again by now. But the traitors didn't want to give up their independence and refused to rejoin the empire. Instead, they got together with the Union and the Redlissian traitors and continued to resist. They are the ones who prevented the empire from reforming by taking Frederika from me. They are traitors and I have sworn an oath to bring judgment down on them. They will not extinguish my dedication to reforming the empire," said the king, standing furiously.
"I really look up to your efforts and I'm sure the empire's nobles also understand it. But you are wrong that the four dukes betrayed you. They are not traitors.
"Everyone knows their houses have remained loyal. From quelling revolts to sending forces to attack the Union, they've always played a huge part in maintaining the empire and have never disappointed. Many members of their houses have sacrificed themselves on the battlefield for the empire's sake.
"Even when the civil war broke out, the dukes supported King Andinaq and believed he was the late emperor's true heir. They resisted the pressure and temptations the first and second princes laid on them to get them to join their sides. They even sent their forces out to help the late king quell rebellions and suffered retaliation from the other kings as a result. These retliations have ruined most of their dominions. Their loyalty is what prompted the previous King Andinaq to grant them jurisdiction over their provinces. I'm sure Your Majesty won't deny this.
"It was thanks to the dukes' continuous support that the late king's forces could defeat his rivals. Duke Madras rebelled just as everything was about to calm down and the duchies were cut off from the kingdom. The land and the people were too exhausted to go on another campaign, so the dukes had no choice but to hunker down and rebuild, waiting for the kingdom to expand its borders and meet up with them again.
"Your Majesty knows the war stopped when the Union intervened. But they did not allow the four duchies to become part of the kingdom, and instead declared that they were to be independent. The dukes secretly contacted the king and let him know that if the opportunity ever present itself for them to rejoin the kingdom, they would do so. Somehow King Redlis learned of this and invaded.
"The war lasted three years and left the duchies exhausted again. King Andinaq suffered an assassination attempt and everything fell apart. It wasn't until Your Majesty took power that the situation stabilized. Your Majesty was preparing for battle and the dukes answered your call with supplies and funds despite how poor the last war had left them.
"When Your Majesty launched a surprise attack and conquered Frederika, all the nobles celebrated the renewed hope for the empire's restoration. But then you demanded that the Dukes give up their land, be move to Madras and accept a demotion. On what grounds? Your Majesty, what have the four central duchies done to upset you and the kingdom? What sin have they committed for you to treat them so poorly? Just because they didn't send their forces to reinforce you? Is that a justification others would accept?
"When they heard about it, the duchies' nobles were in an uproar. You hadn't even shown us the courtesy of telling us yourself, you just sent a knight with the message. We could not accept such disrespect, so we broke with the kingdom. We are not traitors, we are resisting an unlawful command. Every noble has the right to do so in good conscience!"
Chujway became more charged as he spoke. Lorist laughed. He had already heard the story once, but hearing it again as an accusation against the king was novel indeed. The king was indeed the kind of person who'd make such an unreasonable demand, especially considering that he had been on a roll. He had just conquered Frederika and had 300 thousand men in his army. He had let his successes go to his head.
Auguslo glared harshly at Lorist.
"Apologies, Lord Count. I was injured from crossing Greatsnow Mountains and had been recovering in bed after the surprise attack on Frederika. I've never given such an order before. My subordinate knights must have misinterpreted my decree and caused such a misunderstanding."
Auguslo pushed responsibility for his ridiculous actions on his dead knights. Though it was true that he had been suffering from an illness and hadn't revealed himself to anyone.
Chujway, not expecting such a reply from the king, froze for a moment.
"If it was truly just a misunderstanding, may we discuss peace sincerely? This war only harms the empire's vitality. We have never been against becoming a part of the empire again. We wish to see the empire restored."
Auguslo remained silent and sat back down.
"Lord Count, I'm sure Duke Handra told you their requests before you left. Let me hear them."
"The dukes are willing to relinquish their sovereignty and submit to you, they will also pay a tribute of three million gold Fordes. Their only request is to be allowed to remain in their hereditary dominions."
Lorist shot Fisablen an eye with the intent of conveying something along the lines of 'the one million gold Fordes they promised the two of us have all gone to Auguslo now'.
"... Rest here a few days, Lord Count. I will consider their request seriously," offered the king politely.