"Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned." ~ Lundmorde, husband of seven, father of seventeen.
Please note that the last chapter of the week will be released tomorrow to make up for our missed release a few days ago.
"I've returned, Your Grace."
Tarkel appeared before Lorist fifteen days later.
He had had no choice in his travel to Morante. He'd been sent to the city in the 8th month of the previous year. Knight Lundmorde, we had previously served on the frontlines as a medic, had gone missing along with his secret bodyguard after being ambushed by a unit of mid-southern forces. When word of it got out, the four wives in Morante at the time set out to look for him, causing the flow of information to stop. Tarkel had to check on the situation personally.
"Did you find him?" asked Lorist.
Lundmorde was a legendary figure in the house. He used to be an honor student in Dawn Academy's herbalism faculty, but he was suppressed because he differed from his professor on a key research topic. Coincidentally, Charade was rallying a force for their move to the north. Feeling he had lost his future at the academy, Lundmorde was swayed and became one of the 36 students to join the convoy.
He didn't make any outstanding contributions during the journey. But he was really responsible with the herbalist team of which he was in charge. His capable leadership had won Lorist's trust by the time they reached The Northlands.
After finally finishing the journey, he became a household knight. He refused the appointment to head of the herbalist teams and instead joined the newly formed female knight unit as an instructor. He said he wanted to teach them some herbal remedies useful on the battlefield.
He shocked everyone soon after doing just that. Barely three months after joining the group, he'd already knocked up seven of the trainees. What was even more shocking, was that they all wanted to marry him. Their insistence drove Pesha irate. She dragged him in front of Lorist and demanded he do something about the man. In the end, Lorist decided his punishment was to marry all the women he'd knocked up.
His life collapsed nearly immediately. On top of his suffering, he became infamous thanks to the records he set.
His first was that he had the most wives of all the household knights — seven in total. Fiercetiger Loze had many lovers, but only one wife: Pesha.
His second was being the most surveilled man in the duchy. His seven tiger-like wives always had him under eyes.
The third was being the most virile knight in the duchy. He had 17 children among his seven wives. He had no choice but to work every waking moment of his life to keep them all fed and looked after. No matter how far into the night or how bad the weather, he could always be seen scurrying down the street carrying his medical kit — of to answer some call for treatment. He naturally became known as the most dedicated herbalist in the duchy. Given his 'talent' and his age, many had ongoing bets regarding how many offspring he'd sire before he turned 50.
His fourth was being the poorest knight of all. His entire income went to his wives. They only gave him one small silver a month with which to feed himself. It was more accurate to say he got an allowance from his wives, than a salary from his lord. And he had no say in the matter. The family was huge and the costs of running it immense, and he was the sole breadwinner.
All Norton knights had rather decent benefits alongside their salary. Even if they didn't make much progress in their training, a silver-ranked knight's yearly salary was around ten gold Fordes. To the knights of other houses, that was enough to live luxuriously and free from worry. But Lundmorde would be satisfied if it kept his family fed.
His punishment meant he couldn't take up other posts either, so he had lost the opportunity to earn a higher income and get better benefits. It forced him to wander around as a freelance herbalist for extra income. It did result in him becoming quite well-known and well-loved in the in the duchy, though, especially because he was willing to treat illnesses for food, fur, or just some fruit.
His fifth record was that he was the most abused knight in the house's service. While others only had to deal with one or two wives, he had to deal with seven. All of whom were talented warriors with extensive training.
While his wives took care of his children, he had to toil day and night to earn a living. His house was always merry. Once one of the wives got some new clothes, the others would want some too. When one broke through in her training, the others were quick to catch up. Lundmorde could only resign himself to his position.
When the last of his wives broke through to the silver rank, he was still stuck at the rank's first star. He had not advanced at all since his academy days. He was also only an average swordsman, so his wives had no trouble overpowering if they got into a fight or if he tried to fight back against their abuse. The greatest blow to his hope of ever being free of his seven demons came when they broke through to the silver rank. Pesha offered them another chance at becoming part of the all-female knight unit, but they turned it down.
His wives were, though horrible wives, at least responsible mothers. The biggest issue was that there were way too many of them — as far as Lundmorde was concerned, seven too many. It was very common to see all seven walking around green-eyed. In fact, they hadn't turned down Pesha's invitation because they had no interest in becoming great or famous warriors, but because they were afraid that if anyone didn't join, they would use the opportunity to bamboozle the others out of their share of the house's finances. Besides, they already had a husband to give them the money they needed, so why take the risk?
At one alumni gathering, Lundmorde had recounted his typical day to his fellow students. They were so depressed on his behalf they all cried together. He didn't have a chance to really enjoy a good chat with his old friends, though, because one of his wives showed up and dragged him away. When she burst into the tavern she shouted at him. He jumped back and hopped over like a frightened hare. That was the moment that everyone understood why his marrying the seven women was a punishment.
When Bullhorn Bay was finished and the trade route to Morante established, he was sent to the city to gather information. Lorist had originally relied on the Peterson guild and Red Grace Inn for information, but that dried up quickly. Lorist soured his relationship with the big-seven on his last visit, so he couldn't trust that the guild, being one of the big-seven, would give him crucial information that might not be very beneficial to the Union. And, considering his soured relationship with the Union's leaders, he didn't want to drag old Char into the mess.
The two had a good relationship, the old man was Els's uncle and rather close to Reidy. Lorist, however, was a noble from a hostile kingdom, and had a sour relationship with the Union, so it was likely that the old man and his inn would get into trouble if it was discovered it was being used as a gathering point for Lorist's informants. To avoid involving Charlando and his family in any trouble related to the house, Lorist set up another gathering spot for his informants. The man he sent to set it up and run it? Lundmorde, of course. He was the most suited for the job, after all.
Firstly, he was a herbalist who had some semblance of a reputation in the city. It was also only known that he'd left the city, not that he had pledged himself to House Norton. Most people just assumed he had left because of his falling out with his professor. It was only natural that he would eventually return and settle down in his home city.
Given his profession, he could also set up his own apothecary in the city's commoner sector and his wives could be his assistants and guardians. They were even stronger than him, so there would be no need to send others along.
He thus set out for the city with four of his wives. The other three stayed behind to raise the children. The three weren't very happy about not being able to go to the city, so it was decided that they would rotate annually. Every year one of the four in Morante and one of the three back home would switch places.
Lundmorde's was really efficient. All sorts of information started to flood onto Lorist's deck soon after the man left. At the same time, his apothecary became quite popular. It was a huge change for Lundmorde. The commoners in Morante were far richer than those in The Northlands and all the profit was his to keep. Given his extra income, Lundmorde himself slowly became rich.
He initially used the Peterson guild to ferry his reports to the Northlands, but as the situation between Andinaq and the Union worsened, they could eventually not be trusted with such sensitive information. Lorist gave him an eagle with which to send his messages out of the city, but that was his downfall. The cover story was that a relative of his who lived far away from the city had sent him the eagle to help them keep in touch. It unfortunately caught the eye of one of the Union's new nobles, who forced him to sell it to him. The eagle, luckily, remembered its training and flew back to the dominion the first time the lord took it out on a hunt.
Incensed, the noble ransacked his house to make sure it hadn't returned to its former owner. He found nothing and had to let the incident go. The noble, however, had every intention of getting back at Lundmorde for this perceived wrong. When the war between the Union and its neighbors started, he made sure the herbalist was forcefully conscripted and sent to the frontlines.
His departure cut the flow of information. Luckily two of his wives knew of his mission and were scheduled to return home soon. They informed Tarkel of the situation and he sent two agents to replace him.
The younger of the two was sent to Lundmorde's side as a relative to keep him safe, while the other took over his position in the apothecary. The latter, unfortunately, did not have Lundmorde's more sensitive, well-placed, and important connections, so the information he could get was mostly of only passing interest.
The last year's 8th month saw the war rapidly deteriorate. One of the enemy's armies assaulted a Union logistics center. It was just a skirmish as far as the war was concerned, something the history books would easily overlook, but Lundmorde and his young guard were involved. When the Union sent reinforcements to clean up the mess, they found Lundmorde and his guard missing. The moment his wives found out what had happened, they packed up and left to look for their husband. Not even Lundmorde's replacement in the apothecary could stop them; he could just send a report back home with all expediency.
Tarkel had mobilized several experienced units and had headed off immediately to clean up the mess.
"We've located Lundmorde. He's been captured by the army that attacked the camp. We can't bring them back, however. The Union's declared him a traitor," said Tarkel with a bitter smile.
Lorist felt faint.
"...The Union managed to capture a few of the Jekhano Kingdom's men, among them was the kingdom's eldest prince and heir apparent. He was severely injured and the Union didn't know of his identity. Lundmorde insisted on treating him and managed to save him. The prince's other subordinates attacked soon after, rescued the prince and took Lundmorde and his guard with them.
"The traces they left behind guided his four wives to them but the Union scout saw the reunion. When he reported what he saw to his superiors, the Union ruled that Lundmorde must have been a sleeper agent and declared him a traitor. They blamed him for camp's loss as well so they didn't have to worry about taking responsibility for their failures."
Lorist didn't know how to react.
"So there really is no way Lundmorde can go back to the Union now. We'll have to bring him back sooner or later."
"Of course, Your Grace. It's just that we haven't found a reliable way to do that yet. We'll have to wait for the war to end."
"Learn anything else on your trip?"
Tarkel hesitated for a few moments before he answered.
"I suspect this whole war is a big conspiracy…"