By the time the carriage returned to the bastide, it was already past two o’clock in the afternoon and lunch hour was already over.
Lorist personally carried Belnick on his back to a guest room on the floor where Shadekampf and Patt stayed and went downstairs after helping him settle down.
The young maidservant Irina was currently mending a white gown with a sewing set. Upon seeing Lorist get up the stairs, she started shivering all over again as if she had been standing for hours outdoors during a cold, rainy night.
Lorist sighed in his heart and used the kindest voice he could muster to avoid startling the maidservant to say, “Irina, please go downstairs with me. I have something I need your help with.”
He brought Irina to Belnick’s room on the second floor and said, “Irina, I will leave the care of Brother Beck to you. Later, please go look for Butler Gleis and ask him to assign another maidservant for you to help out with his care. Also, set up a small kitchen downstairs and make Brother Beck’s meals according to the recipes that I will give you. In fact, I think I will have my meals cooked at the small kitchen as well. If you don’t have enough people helping you out, you can find a cooking lady or another maidservant to help out. But remember to look for only the most loyal ones who have no ties to Wildnorth Town whatsoever. Also, make sure to let the maidservants taste everything that will be fed to Brother Beck just to make sure there’s nothing wrong, understand?”
Irina carefully glanced and Lorist before she nodded.
Lorist continued, “If there’s anything that you need, please make a list and hand it to Supervisor Spiel so that he can prepare it for you. You can also leave the setting up of the new kitchen to him.”
Shadekampf entered the room at that moment and said, “Milord, Butler Gleis has sent for me to get you. He seemed to be in a really urgent mood.”
“Alright. Irina, I’ll leave the matters I mentioned to you. Tell me about any problems you have at night, okay?”
Irina bit her lip before she nodded.
“Okay. Shadekampf, go look for Patt. Get him to send a few guards over and have them follow Irina’s arrangements. Brother Beck, please get some rest first. I’ll go see the old butler now,” said Lorist.
Butler Gleis was in a furious mood for two reasons. The first was the fact that Lorist had went to Wildnorth Town without any guards. The old butler kept nagging on about the consequences that would befall the Norton Family should Lorist come to any harm. He mentioned that given that he was already in his final years, a shock like this would be very bad for his heart and pleaded that Lorist pay more heed to his own safety in the future.
Lorist understood the old butler’s worries for his own good and recounted the events that had happened at Wildnorth Town to him as he pushed the butler’s wheelchair along. The old butler was especially enraged at what had happened to Belnick. Had Lorist not had any knowledge in the field of herbalism, the injured knight of the family might have had to suffer for far longer than two years from being fed force-dispersing toxin without anyone knowing better.
However, the old butler made an objection to the expansion of the garrison force and believed that they couldn’t be allowed to further strengthen themselves. Lorist shook his head and thought, perhaps stubbornness is just innate in old people. Though, given that he’s been on his guard against them for such a long time, it wouldn’t be weird for him to be unable to accept this sudden change. Lorist chose to not comment on the butler’s words as he thought it would be hard to explain that his move was made in an effort to lower the enemy’s guard.
Currently, Lorist was pushing the old butler towards the forbidden area of the family. This was the other reason why he was so mad at Lorist. Ever since the day after the inheritance ceremony, the old butler had been nagging nonstop that during Lorist’s first day as the family head, he had to go to the forbidden area to pay his respects to the heroic souls of his ancestors. But Lorist had ended up returning at night after visiting Wildnorth Town instead, causing Gleis much grief and disappointment.
As Lorist pushed the wheelchair forward while listening to the ramblings of the old man, he wondered, what is the forbidden area like? I can’t seem to remember anything like this from the young Lorist’s memories and only heard of the place for the first time when Gleis mentioned it to me yesterday. What is inside? Don’t tell me it’s like the mysterious caves often shown in fairy tales or TV shows where treasures and riches, high-ranked technique manuals and godly weapons are kept? Would there be a spirit of an old sage there as well?
That train of thought only left Lorist disappointed when he arrived at a derelict cliff behind the mountain where the castle was built. Looking around, Lorist thought, the forbidden areas depicted in novels usually have high-ranked experts secretly guarding them right? Why don’t I see even half a soul around here? Is the Norton Family’s forbidden ground really left unguarded?
After fumbling around on the wheel chair for quite some time, Butler Gleis finally brought up an old bronze key which he gave to Lorist and indicated for him to use it on the small keyhole on the wall of the cliff. After turning it twice as per the instruction of the butler, a clack rang out from beyond the wall.
“Push that huge rock away to the right…” said the old butler.
After the rock was pushed aside, a hole could be seen from the wall of the cliff. A slight smell of rotten flesh drifted into Lorist’s nostrils, causing him to sneeze involuntarily a couple of times.
As if he didn’t smell anything weird at all, the old butler rolled the wheels of his wheelchair on his own and entered the dark cave. Lorist hurriedly caught up to him and continued pushing the wheelchair.
After that, the old butler instructed Lorist to light up all the torches on the walls the cavern.
With the torches lit, Lorist was finally able to get a good look at the interior of the cave.
Good Sol… So this is the forbidden area? It’s practically a cemetery! Within the cave were several platforms which were stacked up from stone on which corpses were placed.
A strong stench wafted all over the area, which Lorist soon realized to be coming from three of the corpses that were still in the early stages of rotting.
Thoroughly grossed out, Lorist could barely take it anymore and felt an urge to vomit. The scene before him was like something that came straight out of a movie he had seen that was about a person who went to Italy in search of a treasure that had been hidden by the Nazi and somehow found his way into an underground graveyard where skeletons and groups of rats could be seen all over the place…
Phew, good thing there aren’t any rats in here, thought Lorist.
Further away, Gleis was waving for Lorist to come over to a platform where a large, intricately-patterned metal box was placed. Following its opening, a thick beastskin book was brought out by the old butler who then passed it to Lorist.
“Little Locke, this book holds the records of the heroic exploits of the 327 seniors of the Norton Family throughout the 248 years of the our reign at this land. Now, the seniors are all at eternal rest within this cave. This book also has their respective numbers which indicate which body on the labeled stones belong to who. I will now pass the ownership of this record of the glorious history of the Nortons to you and hope that under the blessings of your ancestors, you will be able to become a magnificent dominion lord that will not put the family’s name to shame and lead it to a brighter future.”
Lorist stretched out his hand with a serious look and accepted the thick book, effectively completing the task he had come to the cavern to do. Finally, I can leave the cave now. The moment Lorist thought that, however, the old butler had him push him around the cave and excitedly recited the stories of each ancestor that was enshrined within the cave.
At that moment, Lorist suspected whether the old butler had spent most of his free time loitering around the cave, as he could casually tell the story of each ancestor within it just by memory! After enduring an arduous one hour plus storytelling session, Lorist was delighted when the butler finally said that he was tired before he instructed him to push the stone back and lock the place up before returning to the castle.
“Grandpa Gleis, why are the ancestors of the Nortons’ bodies placed within that cave instead of being buried in the ground like that of most other people?” Lorist asked.
“Well, this goes all the way back to 200 or so years ago when the first Baron Norton was enfeoffed this land and picked this location to build his bastide. Just when the bastide was nearing its completion, the mountain barbarians attacked, causing the first ancestor and two of his sons to die a heroic warrior’s death. His eldest son naturally succeeded the title and the land and led the family’s warriors to resist the barbarians. It was around winter during that time, so the frozen earth was hard as steel. Due to the difficulty of digging into the ground and the fear that the magical beast migration would cause the animals to dig up and mutilate the corpses of his father and two brothers, the second Baron Norton decided to place their bodies within a cave that was behind the family’s castle, with the intention of giving them a proper burial when spring came along. Later, he felt that the cave was not so bad after all and decided to change it into a mausoleum for the descendants of the Norton family and it soon became tradition for anyone of Norton descent to be given eternal rest within. You will not be exception to that as well, Little Locke,” said the old butler.
Lorist suddenly felt that having his body placed within the stuffy cave and allowing it to slowly rot inside was a very scary and disgusting thought. I don’t want to be buried like that! He then made a mental note to think of a way to change the family’s traditions. Nevertheless, the visit to the mausoleum had upset his appetite, causing him to feel rather unenergetic.
Upon returning to the main building of the castle, Lorist noticed that Patt had sent over eight guards who have already awakened their Battle Force. Even though they were only of the Bronze rank, they could be considered to be elite soldiers of the family given the state of its military force.
He went upstairs to check on Belnick only to see him sound asleep with Irina not being in the room. Lorist got down and asked two of the guards to inform Shadekampf, Patt and Supervisors Spiel and Hansk to meet up at the night for a meeting.
After a while, Lorist saw Shadekampf, Irina and three other girls pushing a trolley over. It seemed that Shadekampf had decided to allocate the eight rooms downstairs for the new guards who had just arrived and renovated another two into a kitchen and small dining hall. One other room was to be used as living quarters for the two new maidservants with the last one being converted into a pantry for the small kitchen. Among the three maidservants, the taller one of the bunch was apparently Belnick’s new personal maidservant.
Lorist nodded in satisfaction with Shadekampf’s considerate arrangements that he would have neglected.
That night, Patt reported that among the 2245 people within the bastide, aside from the women and the elderly, there were only about 400-odd youths who were fit to join the family’s forces. With Supervisor Hansk’s help, he had temporarily recruited 248 of them, 8 of whom were the ones who were just now sent to Lorist with the remaining 240 divided into two squads. However, among the 240, fewer than 20 had awakened their Battle Force. In actuality, it was akin to only having two squads of farmer soldiers as both of the squads did not have much combat ability given their lack of proper armor and weapons. They couldn’t even obtain a pike and had to settle for only one wooden stick each.
Lorist told them that the meeting that was scheduled for the night would mainly concern Wildnorth Town and instructed Shadekampf to bring a few men with him there to conduct a population survey. He also stressed that the family members of the deceased family soldiers who have lost their farmland to be sent to the construction site at Morgan Hills and also reminded that the garrison soldiers who have been expelled by the four great families to be registered separately to be sent to build the new town to appease the four great families as their allegiance was still not yet certain.
Supervisor Hansk on the other hand was given two tasks. The troops currently protecting the bastide were mostly retired soldiers in their forties. Lorist instructed him to not disband them and instead select ten from the bunch to become trainers for the newly-formed squads. As for matters relating to Battle Force, Lorist said that he would personally take charge for their classes.
The second task Supervisor Hansk was handed was similar to Shadekampf’s: he was to do a survey on the number of family members of dead soldiers within the bastide as well as any others who were available for labor and prepare to send them to the construction site at Morgan Hills.
Lorist also instructed Patt to look for Knight Josk the next day to tell him to send over some unused armor and weapons as well as the 60-odd captive mercenaries to the bastide before the 4th day of the 3rd month.
Lastly, Lorist gave Supervisor Spiel a beastskin that contained recipes for meals and tasked him to prepare food for the new squad recruits according to his instructions. Additionally, Lorist also reminded him to help Irina with anything she needed for taking care of Belnick.
With all that said, he clapped twice and adjourned the meeting before telling his men to get some rest for the busy day ahead.