So because yesterday's chapter was late, here's today's chapter early!
"Catch a man a fish, and you can sell it to him. Teach a man to fish, and you ruin a wonderful business opportunity." ~ Charade
"You're back, Locke." Auguslo was really busy and only briefly greeted Lorist, who had just entered the hall. In front of him stood a thick stack of documents which he gave some thought before he started penning.
"Good afternoon, Your Majesty," replied Lorist with a bow, stealing a quick glance.
His eyesight was pretty good and he could clearly identify that the documents contained personal information about nobles and their houses. It had to be information about the nobles who had followed the four dukes. The king was in the midst of deciding what he would do with them.
Seemingly not noticing Lorist's greeting, the king continued to focus on the document in his hand. Lorist didn't mind much, though. He straightened himself before checking the palace that was now the king's residence. It was one of the ten famed palaces of the old empire, Inkcuby Palace. Cuby was a thumb-sized fairy that existed in Grindian folklore said to bring bliss and luck. Legend had it that there was a black-haired fairy among the cubies who liked to make dresses out of black-colored flower petals, it was called the ink cuby. It liked brave and battle-hardened warriors. If a warrior was lucky enough to gain an ink cuby's favor, he would be endowed with courage and endurance and dominate the battlefield.
One of House Handra's heads was a warrior that frequented the battlefield and rarely emerged with any injuries, rumors quickly spread that he had gained the blessing of an ink cuby. The lord didn't waste the admiration his people, he used the wealth he gathered to commision Inkcuby Palace in his old age.
The artisans of the famed palace had hidden a thousand different ink cubies among its engravings. Legend was that, should a person find the thousand ink cubies, they would receive its blessing.
Inkcuby Palace used to be House Handra's residence, but now it was being used by Auguslo. Lorist stared at the decor. He wanted to see how many ink cubies he could count.
"What are you up to?"
Auguslo came to Lorist's side after a while and stared at the roof as well, curious to see at what Lorist was looking.
His effort was wasted. Though he had managed to count 53, Auguslo's disturbance made him forget whether he had already counted some of them.
Whatever. There's only about 60 in this hall anyway. Counting them is a waste of energy and effort.
Auguslo almost lost his wits from laughter.
"You believe that legend too?"
Lorist shook his head.
"No, I only counted them out of curiosity. The legend is a trap."
"A trap?" Auguslo hadn't expected Lorist to respond thusly. "How so?"
"The effort required to count the ink cubies would be better spent training oneself. Training will naturally elevate one's strength to the ranks of indomitable warriors."
"Makes sense. Actually, House Handra has records of such an incident. Around 70 years ago, one member made an oath to find all the ink cubies and gain their blessing. He scoured the palace for thirty years but could only find 997. No matter where he looked, he couldn't find the last three. He finally lost his sanity, what little he clearly had to begin with and spent the rest of his days wandering around the palace muttering to himself incoherently. He fell into a pool one night and drowned. What a sad end."
"A tragedy indeed, Your Majesty."
"Yes. House Handra forbade any searching for ink cubies. Auguslo looked at the engravings above. "Just as you say, if he had spent those 30 years on battleforce training, no matter how average his talent, he would've reached the gold rank. It would've been a great result for both himself and his house."
Lorist chortled lightly. Auguslo was acting rather weird, as if he had completely let go of the matter of his non-compliance with the king's orders. Currently, he appeared as friendly as he used to and completely let go of his seething hatred.
"Alright, enough with the idle chatter. You're here to claim your reward, yes? I already wrote it down for you. I'm really reluctant to see you depart, you know," said the king as he returned to his desk and handed Lorist a beastskin.
It was the proof he needed. Both the seal and decorative border proved Auguslo didn't plan to mess with him. He had already been completely prepared. However, as Lorist scanned through the date, he felt surprised.
"Your Majesty, did you get the date wrong?"
Though the exemption was agreed to last three years, the document in his hands presently put it at five years. Weird... Had the sun risen from the west today? Why was Auguslo being generous all of a sudden? It had to be a mistake. Auguslo waved casually it off casually.
"It's what you deserve. It was thanks to you that we were able to wrap this campaign up so quickly and easily. Nobody contributed as much as you. We've had our fair share of difference, but it is because of our differing views. Time has proven you right. I am the king; I cannot afford to hold grudges when I was clearly in the wrong, I must keep the bigger picture in mind and act in accordance with what is best for the kingdom. You contributions merit a reward greater than what you demanded, so I adjusted it accordingly."
"I am grateful for Your Majesty's generosity."
"Drop the pleasantries. I'm just trying to be a king whose judgment isn't clouded."
"Do you then not agree that your treatment of Duke Shazin is a little unfair?" Lorist took the opportunity to confront Auguslo.
"Well..." the king was a little taken aback. He was a little troubled, but maintained his composure and smiled as he shook his head. "I see Duke Shazin went to you to complain, which is totally in order. But think about it. I already gave him two choices, yet he didn't accept either. Can you really blame me? I already did what I said. Rimad and Messen are both provinces with rich mineral resources that produce more income than his current county. He just needs to invest in his chosen dominion a little. I can't do anything if he doesn't want my offers."
"I'm sure Your Majesty understands Messen and Rimad's current situation. It's obvious that Duke Shazin wouldn't want such provinces. He isn't very good at management so how could he choose dominions that require exactly that?"
"Hahaha, you can't blame me for his shortcomings, though," Auguslo laughed, "Who was it that ravaged Messen and Rimad? It certainly wasn't done by my order? Consider this: Duke Shazin wanted Kribia, yes, but do his contributions merit such a reward? Is he not satisfied that I've given him the title of duke? Even if I give him Kribia, can he accept it without feeling any shame at all?"
Lorist shrugged. There was nothing he could do about it either. Auguslo was right in that Shazin's performance had been mediocre at best. He was a character cheering from the sidelines. He had followed Lorist closely, yes, but he didn't contribute much. Lorist could argue little with such a reason.
"Fine. Your Majesty is correct. Duke Shazin shouldn't have had such blind ambitions. I take my leave now."
Lorist felt he should leave now that matters had been settled.
"Locke, wait. There is one more thing I wish to discuss."
"Oh?" Lorist thought, the show's finally starting. He definitely has something in mind, he would not have increased reward otherwise. Wise, objective king my ass. I knew he had something in mind. What exactly does he want, though?
"What is it, Your Majesty? Do you have any instructions?"
"Well, it's like this... You've been hunting magic beasts in the demonic lands for the last month, correct?"
"Yes... You were surveying your new lands and I didn't want to sit around in Hans until you returned. So, I went to demonic lands to train alongside my legion. The hunting was to put some meat in my men's diets."
"I have no intent to fault you for your actions. I just wish to know if the furs are still here."
"They are indeed, Your Majesty," Lorist replied, slightly reserved, "Would you like a few? I just recently put together a selection of the best ones. I'll send someone over with a few."
"I can pay for them."
"No need, Your Majesty. There are only ten. Just consider it a gift," said Lorist generously.
"That's not quite what I had in mind, Locke. I wish to purchase all the furs."
"All the furs?"
Can you really afford it? Lorist wondered, Apart from the more precious ones I shipped back to the dominion last year, all the furs are still here. All together they should be worth at least a million gold Fordes—
A spark suddenly lit up in his mind.
—Of course! You just took four duchies. Funds are the one thing you don't lack right now.
Three of the dukes had paid him 1.5 million each. He had also taken a million gold Fordes left behind in Duke Farkel's camp. There was also the money the minor nobles had paid to avoid further prosecution. The king was a complete tycoon now. He looked at the man with blazing eyes like he was looking at a statue made of gold.
Then again, what does he want with the furs? Some clarity returned to his mind immediately. Maybe he's trying to train a unit or legion that can act during winter as well?—
It didn't take long for him to guess the king's intentions.
—Whatever, I'll sell them first. It's only a waste not to profit. I'll regret it if I miss this chance. Does he think training a winter force is easy? Does he really think winter clothing alone is enough to let men move around freely in the middle of a blizzard? Hehe, your thinking far too simply.
Auguslo nodded slightly.
"Very well. The furs I have on my should be worth about 1.45 million. Since my client in Your Majesty, I'll lower the price to 1.2 million. How's that? I'll also throw in a few dozen precious pelts as a gift."
Alright. I'll just give him all the precious furs if that's what it takes.
"Wait, how many furs do you have? 1.45 million gold Fordes? Do you really have that many?" Auguslo was a little taken aback. He hadn't expected Lorist would have that many. How many magic beasts did he kill?!
He was going to form a small legion named Blizzardblitz. He would train them to use skis and launch surprise attacks in winter. His march on Frederika had taught him a harsh lesson. Of the 30 thousand troops he mobilized, only eight thousand made it to the city. He didn't think he'd need so many if their casualty rate could be lowered with their equipment and training. He only planned to purchase 10 thousand sets. He wasn't going to train every soldier under his command in winter combat. It would be a waste.
He had known of Lorist's hunts for a year now. He didn't really mind since it let the men eat more meat and bewildered the enemy. Personally, he believed sacrificing soldiers to hunt magic beasts was incredibly wasteful and foolish. He had no idea the Nortons had begun their rise to power with killing magic beasts. Lorist had shipped most of the valuable furs back home. Only the lower quality dire wolf and magic goat furs were left.
He thought Lorist only had furs worth 400 thousand and enough to outfit his new detachment; he might even have some left over. That was the only reason he had not specified a number but had offered to buy them all. The difference between his expectation and Lorist's quote shocked him.
"Naturally, Your Majesty. I have been hunting for a whole month and those are the furs I brought back from the hunt. Don't worry. The furs are in great shape. I wouldn't throw in any torn ones to inflate the number. I can assure Your Majesty. Then again, I didn't think Your Majesty would be so adept at business. I'm sure you will resell them for quite the profit in the capital." Lorist pushed the sale with all he had.
"This... well..." Auguslo had forgotten about the new furs. He had over-promised and found it hard to deliver.
"Surely Your Majesty wasn't joking around with me?" asked Lorist gloomily.
"Of course not. I have to keep my word as king, after all. I'll send someone over to appraise the furs later." Auguslo forced himself to swallow the pill.
"Very well. I'll take my leave. I'll wait for your men in my camp."