This is the first sponsored chapter of the week thanks to Leonard L. from France. The queue is also cleared for the week!

What does the squad leader of the Mollin Family want from visiting me? Lorist wondered that as he went to see the man who requested for him.

The reason for the squad leader's visit was to make his objection to Lorist heard. He had come with several other people from the smaller families of Wildnorth Town who had been chased out of the town by the four great families.

The reason for the objection was that during the time the base was being constructed, Supervisor Kedan had quietly recruited more than 150 laborers who have awakened their Battle Force to join the Norton Family's forces and also brought the family members of the new recruits back to the Maplewoods Bastide.

In actuality, Lorist had personally come out with a new set of benefits for soldiers of the Norton Family. Apart from receiving a generous salary, recruits would also receive many chances to be trained. As long as a soldier was hardworking enough to raise his Battle Force rank, he would be able to receive a status promotion and might one day even become a knight of the Norton Family.

The new conditions also instituted a new change in policy regarding the remuneration paid to the families of dead soldiers. Family members of soldiers who sacrifice themselves for the Norton Family would not only be able to receive tax cuts, their direct descendants would also be able to receive education and training from the Norton Family until they reach adulthood. As for soldiers handicapped from battle, they would also receive pension and training opportunities for administrative positions to help the Nortons govern the dominion, thus ensuring their future livelihoods.

Other than that, it was specified that the benefits would only apply to the direct family members of the soldiers, namely, their parents, spouse, and children. Any siblings of the soldiers who have yet to reach adulthood would be allowed to live together with the family, but they would not receive any of the benefits. The siblings of the dead or handicapped soldiers will also be required to move out of the house to establish their own families three years after they reach adulthood. As for the children of said soldiers, apart from their eldest son, the rest of the children will also have to move out of the household three years after they become adults.

These conditions had caused many of the people who were forced out of the town by the four great families to have a great argument. Many leaders of the minor families had either taken over their respective families by their own abilities or had inherited the position from the previous family leader. Ever since they were chased out of Wildnorth Town, they had hoped that they would be able to continue their previous way of life after the completion of the new town with some of them even dreaming of becoming among the ranks of the new 'great families' of the town. However, Lorist's new policies had effectively caused a huge number of their men to flock to the Norton Family instead.

Even though these commoner families have existed for more than 100 years like certain noble families, their foundations were not as firm and the youths within those families usually didn't have much of a choice but to obey the instructions of the family elders as they were the military cornerstone of those families and usually didn't have a chance to strive for their own success.

That was why the benefits offered by the Norton Family was so well-received among many of those youths from the minor families. Human nature is one of greed and self-interest after all. To the youths, the distant relatives within their family didn't matter as much as their direct family members and being in such a large family meant that they would share their gains with the rest of their relatives and also bear their burdens since they were part of the family. That policy left many of the youths deeply frustrated and caused them to jump at the chance for the better opportunity offered by the Nortons almost instantly.

As a result, the initial 2000 plus workers had decreased by about 600 people and many of the smaller families of WIldnorth Town had already broken apart to the point that there was no turning back. The protesters cited that their reason for objection was Lorist's breach of the agreement and violation of the traditional benefits and conditions set by the Norton Family's ancestor. Squad Leader Mollin represented the four great families of Wildnorth Town as well as the many minor families at Poplar Coast to demand Lorist to revoke the policies that he had set and restore it to the previous ones used throughout the rule of the Norton Family and promise them that he will form a similar garrison at Poplar Coast upon the town's completion.

Lorist made a cold smile and thought, you think I'd let you make another Wildnorth Town? Well, you can continue to dream on.

He refuted the protesters' arguments and said that the conditions he offered for potential recruits of the family soldiers had nothing to do with the benefits given to the WIldnorth Town garrison. And as the subjects of the Norton Family, the people of Wildnorth Town only had to obey the dominion lord and had no right whatsoever to question the lord's decision. Lorist also stressed that it was already very benevolent of him to let the Wildnorth Town keep their former traditions.

He also added that the reason the recruitment was launched was precisely due to the refusal of the Wildnorth Town garrison to obey the orders of the family. And during such a bleak time of conflict against a foe like the Kenmays Family, the garrison still hadn't agreed to Lorist's proposition for them to act as supply troops to support the family's forces from the sidelines against the barbarians to this date, prompting him to have no choice but to try to recruit more soldiers himself. Lorist angrily rebuked the Wildnorth Town garrison soldiers for being no more than cowardly rats that only knew how to cower in fear within Wildnorth Town and said that it was a waste for the family to continue funding such a useless force, indirectly threatening to disband them.

After hearing Lorist's enraged outburst, the squad leader and the rest of the minor family leaders no longer said anything else and walked away. Thinking that he had managed to put an end to the troubles caused by those people who didn't know what was good for them, Lorist felt rather delighted at himself. However, three days later, he received news that the garrison troops at Poplar Coast had brought a number of the minor families back to Wildnorth Town and didn't respond to any of the family's orders.

Just as he was getting madder the more he thought about the incident, another piece of news arrived stating that the Wildnorth Town representatives who were in charge of paying the taxes to the Norton Family merely left their crops at the entrance of the Maplewoods Bastide and departed without so much as a single notification. Accompanying the crops was a letter that stated that the reason they still paid the crop tax was because they did not want to rebel against the dominion lord and only merely wanted to protest the new policies that disrespected the age old traditions of the arrangement between the residents of Wildnorth Town and the former Norton Family lords and stated that they would not obey any of the family's orders until the previous policies are restored.

The more lenient I'm on them, the more they dare to oppose me, thought Lorist with much hate in his heart as he made an estimation of the family's forces and considered wiping Wildnorth Town out in one fell swoop to release his pent-up frustration. It was a relatively peaceful time at the Norton Family dominion at that point as the mountain barbarians were busy celebrating their festival while the Kenmays Family's forces still haven't attacked Firmrock Castle yet. It was indeed a pretty good opportunity for the family to strike at Wildnorth Town.

What was troubling was how careful and cunning the leaders of the four great families were, for them to have sensed that something was wrong not long after he changed the recruitment benefits of the family's forces. Their instant withdrawal back to their town had caused many of Lorist's plans to be unable to play out properly, further making it harder for him to solve the problem of the town.

So, you think you can protect yourself if you turtle up in your little town? Lorist grinned as he thought of the 500 new recruits that the family had just got from the laborers at Firmrock Castle recently which was almost enough to form a company of troops. Coupled with the existing three guard and defense squads which numbered around 600 plus troops with the company of guard troops at Maplewoods Bastide as well as the 150 plus laborers at Poplar Coast who had just joined the family's forces, he had around 1200 soldiers at his disposal. And that figure didn't even include the 80 plus mercenaries stationed at the coast as well as Lorist, Josk, Patt, Reidy and the rest. It should be more than enough for him to crush the Wildnorth Town garrison once and for all.

I didn't expect that I would have so many soldiers in such a short amount of time. The only other thing I have to consider is the amount of casualties we will incur since it's the first siege I will be conducting. Unlike Lorist's previous battles in which he relied on surprise attacks to render the moat of his enemies' forts useless, this time, he had no other choice but to attack head-on. The wall surrounding Wildnorth Town was at least 9 meters tall and there were up to 600 Battle Force-awakened troops defending the place. The garrison also had the upper hand in terms of terrain advantage. Sigh, this battle will be rather tough. I might lose at least half of my 1000 plus troops...

What Lorist was most worried about was that his attack would force the four great families into desperation and send their elderly and womenfolk to defend the place as well. Even if he was extremely skillful in combat, how many of those defenseless noncombatants could he kill? Josk himself had said that he only had enough stamina to shoot a couple of hundred of arrows before he would become totally wasted. And if the battle caused both sides to suffer huge losses, how would he proceed to face the impending threat of the 2000-strong Kenmays Family forces?

The only way to get out of that situation without losing too many men was to employ a long term besiegement tactic but what Lorist lacked most currently was time. And Wildnorth Town had also finished their crop harvests only recently. Coupled with the food they already have in their stores, how long would they be able to last without venturing out of their town? Three years? Or maybe five? It definitely wasn't practical to besiege them for that long. And there was no doubt that the mountain barbarians would begin their attack during the next year after their celebration ends. Sigh, thought Lorist as he felt that it would really be a waste to expend all of his forces on a small threat like Wildnorth Town even though he did have a reasonably large force at the moment.

As he pondered on, Lorist thought, darn it... Just give me a few more months... All of a sudden, a man on horseback sped into the military camp and the rider quickly dismounted and reported, "Milord, the ambassador of the Duke of the Northlands is at the Maplewoods Bastide. The old butler has requested for your immediate presence..."


Weird, doesn't that dipshit of a duke only come to collect his taxes during the 10th month? It's only the beginning of the 8th month. What business does he have so long before the tax collection date? While he was on the way back to the bastide, Lorist asked his messenger whether the duke's ambassador had stated a reason for the visit.

The messenger shook his head and said that he didn't hear anything about the reason and mentioned that he saw quite a substantial number of people arriving at Firmrock Castle not long ago and that Josk had led a fully-armed squad of guards to serve as an escort for the visitors before he was tasked to send the message to Lorist by the old butler.

That's odd. Why would Josk do the escorting with a fully-armed squad? Upon thinking back at the huge number of people the messenger had mentioned, Lorist believed that the duke must have heard rumors about the Norton Family's looting of the Redriver Valley Bastide and had sent his men to threaten his family for a cut of the profit. It seemed that Josk believed the family would have a hard time handling the issue and decided to bring his men to keep an eye on the people of the duke in the name of escorting them. Otherwise, he could have simply sent somebody else to handle it without having to lead a fully-armed squad personally.

After a whole day of speedy travel on horseback, Lorist arrived at the bastide by the evening and a small camp had already been set up outside the castle of the Maplewoods Bastide. The messenger mentioned that the camp was where approximately 200 of the soldiers of the Northland Army which accompanied the duke's ambassador resided. Since the family had refused to let them into the castle, they had no choice but to set up camp outside.

Seeing the castle being completely fortified, Lorist understood that the old butler also found the timing of the ambassador's visit to be weird and suspected that they didn't come with good intentions, and raised the alert level of the troops stationed at the castle.

Supervisor Spiel hurriedly came out to greet him and said, "Milord, they are all currently within the great dining hall and have feasted for the whole afternoon already. The duke sent a baron over and he brought along one Gold ranked knight and twenty other Silver ranked knights with him. Old Butler Gleis is accompanying them there along with Sir Pajik and Sir Josk."

Lorist stopped and asked, "Did they say why they made a visit during this time?"

Spiel shook his head and replied, "They didn't say anything about that. I only remember hearing them ask the old butler about the date of your return and they sounded rather impatient about it too. Lady Pesha was there originally, but she left after the men said some rather disrespectful things to her. That Gold ranked knight even asked her to accompany him for the night. Had it not been for Sir Josk's presence, they might've laid their hands on her already..."

Lorist sighed and said, "Does she even know what's good for herself? Why did she even go to a place like that? With her Silver rank power, she will only be taken advantage by others..."

Lorist took huge strides with Reidy and Patt into the grand dining hall and the chatter within it instantly quieted down upon their entry.

In the middle of the hall were two long tables at which 20 or so soldiers with flushed faces wearing grey leather armor could be seen. It was evident that these knights Spiel had mentioned have had quite a huge amount of alcohol. At the far corner of the wooden table was a light blonde-haired, skinny middle-aged man dressed in formal robes and beside him was a huge man equipped with chain mail. That should be the Gold ranked knight. On the other side of the table was Old Butler Gleis sitting on a wooden wheel chair with Pajik standing beside him and Josk sitting next to him.

Upon seeing Lorist enter the hall, Josk hastily stood up and bowed with Pajik before they both made a respectful salute.

Old Butler Gleis looked towards the skinny man and the burly knight and said, "This is our newly-appointed dominion lord, Baron Norton Lorist."

According to the tradition and customs of nobles, the skinny middle-aged man and the burly Gold ranked knight should stand up and announce their identities before returning a salute. However, both of them merely sat there quietly with the skinny man even sarcastically saying, "It seems that the dominion lord is so busy that he had to make us wait for so long. However, without the permission of our Lord Duke, your title as the baron will not be recognized by us simply because you say so..."

As if he didn't hear any of the vitriolic words the skinny man had just uttered, Lorist walked up to Gleis and said, "Grandpa Gleis, you must be tired. Why don't you go get some rest and let me handle this?"

The old butler waved his hand and said, "It's okay, I'm not tired at all. Just do your thing, I will just sit here and watch."

Having been ignored by Lorist, the skinny man lost his temper and banged the table before he roared angrily, "Hey! I was talking to you! You deaf?!"

Lorist turned around instantly and looked at him with a berating gaze before he said, "Which alley did you crawl out from? You dare behave so impudently in the presence of the family of the Roaring Raging Bear?"

Lorist's seething killing intent that radiated from his gaze caused the skinny man to feel a chill down his spine. He was stunned to the point of speechlessness before he was once again awoken by a tap on the shoulder from the Gold ranked knight that stood beside him. With a face flush with embarrassment, the skinny man stood up so quickly with a humph so forceful that it caused his wig to slant. As he adjusted the wig on his head, he gritted his teeth and said, "I'm Baron Camorra. You better show me the respect nobles deserve..."

"Hehehe... You, a noble? You're nothing but an impostor. I've never met a noble that's so unrefined and ill-behaved like you. The way you dress even makes you look kind of like a clown..." Lorist ridiculed, causing Reidy, Patt and the rest to laugh out loud.

"Show me the certificate of your nobility to prove your authenticity. Otherwise, I'll have an impostor like you hanged at the gates of the bastide as a warning for anyone else who dares to pretend to be nobility!" Lorist suddenly raised his voice so loud and caused everyone within the hall to start in surprise and focus their attention on the situation.

Lorist's sudden change in tone and expression had frightened the man so much that his face instantly turned pale. He quickly stuck his hand into his robe and said, "It's... It's here... My certificate of nobility is here..." The panicking man quickly took out a bunch of documents and placed it onto the table.

At that moment, the burly knight said, "I can also testify to the authenticity of his nobility. Even though it has only been three months since he was entitled by the Lord Duke himself, he is indeed a noble..."

"Oh, so you were just recently entitled by the duke... No wonder you look so much like a clown. What an embarrassment to us nobles... Since you are sent here by the Lord Duke, tell me why you brought so many soldiers to the dominion of the Norton Family," said Lorist unconcernedly as he gave the skinny man a contemptuous gaze.