It's finally done! Here's the first sponsored chapter of the week brought to you by Christian W. and Andrew R. from the United Kingdom, Rene G. from Germany and Joseph F. from the USA. That's a lot of people! Now, I'm off to get some much needed sleep.

Outside the walls of Firmrock Castle, large grandiose tents could be seen with colorful bunting flags strung all over. The spot where the knights originally fought had a huge red carpet placed all over it and rows of long wooden tables and benches were placed upon it. On the tables, various dishes could be seen including smoked beef, baked apples, fist-sized white bread, huge pieces of grilled mutton, etc. Other than that, a huge basket filled with blue strawberries, a specialty of the Northlands, were free for the taking as well.

It was the closing ceremony of the knighthood competition that the Norton Family and the Kenmays Family jointly organized. Wandering knights, freelance knights and family knights were all seated at the tables regardless of status, heartily munching away at the food and enjoying the alcohol. Some of them were even offering food to the commoners that were serving them.

All of the wandering and freelance knights were wearing a knight badge made of iron while the family knights mostly wore a silver knight badge. In the Battle Force-driven world of Grindia, that was an invisible wall that clearly differentiated the statuses of the various knights.

It was also rather difficult for one to obtain the certification required for a knight badge. In most cases, only landed noble families, huge armies, Gold ranked knights and academies that had the qualification for knight training could issue such badges given the authority and status it provided to the bearer. If wandering or freelance knights passed on their skills to their successors, they could also pass on their knight badges as well. Lorist himself owned a knight badge as he had completed the knight training course back in his days at the Dawn Academy.

Once one reached the Iron rank, received training for the skills and etiquette of a knight as well as having a bit of family background and paying some fees, one would receive a knight badge and become a squire. If one reached the Silver rank, one would become a proper knight and be able to choose the path of wandering and freelance knights or pledge oneself in service of a lord. Naturally, most poorer commoners could choose to become attendants to a knight and slowly rise to the ranks of a proper knight as well.

For example, the leader of the Cromwell Mercenary Crew, Richard, was a One Star Gold fighter but he didn't have a knight badge. That would mean that he didn't have the right to join the other knights at the table. However, as a One Star Gold Mercenary, he naturally received invites to the banquet from other dominion lords and didn't have to sit together with the knights anyway.

As for poor old Jim, he was merely a Silver ranked mercenary and given that he didn't own a proper knight badge, not even that of the Norton Family, he could only pout and lie on the walls of the castle as he looked at the ex-bandit Ovidis and Patt bring their badges to enjoy the food that was served there. Given his merrymaking-loving personality, Jim hated that he couldn't join in the festivities and was nagging and cursing bitterly at the other two to spoil their teeth and hurt their stomachs from overeating.

Lorist on the other hand was dressed in formal garments. The formal attire for nobles of the Krissen Empire had a rather simple design: it was a large white robe with a straight collar which was worn with a V-shaped sash which was draped over the head. The sash was rather wide and it extended down from each shoulder all the way to the knees. An intricate belt was then wrapped around the waist to fasten the sash with the robe.

The sky-blue sash looked really grand as its sides had laurel leaves that were embroidered with golden thread with a blooming jasmine flowers amidst them. That was the insignia of the Krissen Royal Family which identified that the Norton Family was under the jurisdiction of no one but their members. In the middle of the sash was a golden roaring, raging bear and a small golden sword. The bear was the insignia of the Norton Family while the golden sword represented the status of the Norton Family as one that became landed nobles due to military achievements.

Shadekampf said, "Milord, you look extremely good in this attire, very noble and exalted..."

This was actually Lorist's first time wearing those clothes and he felt quite uncomfortable in them. Even so, he had no choice as he had to attend the banquet of the nobles later and he had to be in formal attire for the function.

"How is Miss Telesti's health?" Lorist asked.

Shadekampf shook his head and said, "She's still down. I've asked Vinny but she said that the young miss was unwilling to get up from her bed."

Lorist originally wanted to invite Telesti to attend the banquet with him. The night before, he went to her room to brainstorm a solution for the matter of the wells as well as make his invitation. Unfortunately, Telesti was experiencing her period. Upon noticing that she was still suffering from contractions, Lorist 'sincerely' thought of telling her about a method that would 'help' her...

"Cough, cough... Ahem. Um, it has been said that after having intercourse for the first time, the contractions would go away eventually..." The moment he uttered that, Lorist was chased out of the room by the embarrassed and angered young lady who was tossing everything she could get her hands on in his direction.

Sheesh, as the proverbs say, 'the dog bites Lu Dongbin and was unable to recognize his goodwill', instead of appreciating my suggestion, she chased me out of her room like that![1] It's not like I was lying about it. In my past life, I had a secretary who had problems with her husband because of this... Back in his past life, Lorist's secretary who had unbearable menstrual cramps during her university days went to the doctor for some help. But no matter what medicine she consumed, the pain was still unbearable for her. In the end, the doctor gave her that exact suggestion and the secretary casually gave her first time to a guy that was wooing her and her problems ended. Naturally, she broke up with that man after graduating university, but her relationship with her husband back then was always rather awkward as she was no longer a virgin when they married.

When the secretary told him that story, she was naked in Lorist's embrace, basking in the afterglow of interourse. However, back then Lorist wasn't interested in her relationship problems with her husband but rather how she solved the problem of the cramps in the first place. The secretary merely said that her symptoms faded after her first experience and gradually, her periods didn't hurt anymore. Back then, Lorist thought that the secretary couldn't be lying as there was not a real reason to, given their casual, yet intimate relationship.

Since Telesti didn't believe in that method at all, Lorist couldn't do anything about it either as there was no way he could use an example from his past life to prove his point. Having been shut out of the room, Lorist returned to his own residence, crestfallen.

Josk stood at the castle gates and awaited Lorist's arrival. Waxima was still at Maplewoods Bastide, so among the rest at Firmrock Castle, only Josk, Patt and Ovidis were qualified to attend the banquet as family knights. Paulobins and Jim were still not yet knights of the family, so one of them took Ovidis's place to train the new recruits while the other was pouting and nagging on guard duty atop the walls.

Lorist, Shadekampf and Reidy got down the walls. Upon seeing Josk, Lorist wanted to curse out loudly. This guy actually looks far better than me, his lord! Lorist wore the formal attire of nobles while Josk was equipped with a shiny, silver knight armor that was immensely attention-grabbing. Coupled with his handsome features and slightly woeful gaze, Lorist understood that there was no way the attention of the other noble ladies would be focused on him.

Reidy bore the banner of the Norton Family with Shadekampf leading the group in front. Lorist and Josk on the other hand were mounted and they rode towards the camp grounds at a leisurely pace. Along the way, jesters could be seen performing comedy sketches, servants ran around busily with various dishes in their hands and the dancers gave a stunning performance as they were immersed in the festive music. Some bards even climbed up to high platforms and sung of ancient legends whereas certain magicians staged fire-breathing shows. Upon seeing Lorist passing through, all of them halted their performances and bowed to pay their respects.

From time to time, some knights would stand up from their benches and salute Lorist by patting their hands on their chest. As Lorist gave nods of acknowledgements to the saluting knights, he asked Shadekampf, "Who are they? I don't know them, so why are they saluting me?"

Frustrated that his lord was such an absent-minded person, Shadekampf said, "Milord, did you forget the report I made to you yesterday? 29 wandering knights were willing to serve our military force and hope to be promoted to become our family knights one day after they gain some achievement."

"Oh, my apologies. I really did forget," Lorist said. "Are they all Silver ranked?"

"Sigh... Milord, if you didn't add the criteria for them to be good at archery, we wouldn't have accepted so many of them in the first place. In actuality, there are 17 of them who are still Iron ranked and they've just received their knight badges not long ago. Originally, they just wanted to watch the competitions, but upon discovering that the archery competition didn't have a Battle Force requirement, they joined immediately. Patt said that they were quite good with the bow and arrow and recruited them right away."

"Hehe," Lorist chuckled happily. "Patt did the right thing. While they are Iron ranks now, they will soon break through to the Silver rank. Hopefully, we might have another Gold ranked marksman like Josk in the family one day..."

"Impossible," Josk interjected. "Not one of them will have the talent at archery like I do. And there is only one Green Benny, so they will only be 'good' archers at best."

'Green Benny' was what Josk called his green longbow. It was rumored that the longbow was originally made from a bone of a magnificent dragon that had been excavated from an ancient ruin which took the grandmaster up to 10 years to craft. One fateful day, it was acquired by Baron Omador who later gifted it to Josk as an engagement gift between Josk and his daughter.

"Shut up, Josk. I will have someone make a bow that's better than your Green Benny. You better bet on that," said Lorist in a dissatisfied tone.

"Oh, didn't Viscount Kenmays say that he was recruiting knights for a knight brigade as well? How many did he get?" Lorist asked as the thought occurred to him.

"Milord, there were 89 wandering knights who joined the side of Viscount Kenmays and entered his brigade," said Shadekampf with a solemn expression. "Aside from the Kenmays Family, the Felim Family, also known as the Family of the Pegasus, recruited around 50 wandering knights. Some other dominion lords also recruited one or two knights themselves while the remaining knights didn't pique any of the other nobles' interest and weren't recruited."

"Then, how many knights have participated in the competition?" Lorist asked as he looked at the tens of long wooden tables and benches that were lined up and seated to the brim with a rough estimated headcount of 1800 people.

"Milord, the knighthood competition was ongoing for 27 whole days and over 37 dominion lords came over due to the fast and strong rumors. It was said that two dominion lords who were at war halted their battles and led their knights here just to join in. Around 600 wandering and freelance knights came over as well. The noble families should have also brought roughly 800 knights of their own."

37 noble families was roughly half the total number of all the nobles within the Northlands. News of the competition really did spread far and wide. However, Lorist didn't expect that there were actually that many wandering and freelance knights within the Northlands. 600 was a bit too many.

It didn't take long for the group to reach the tent where the banquet for the nobles was being held. The Kenmays Family did live up to their reputation as the owner of the largest construction merchant guild within the former empire given the size of the tent they prepared which could easily accommodate hundreds of people within for a grand ball.

After their arrival was reported, Lorist, Josk and Shadekampf headed inside the tent while Reidy stood guard outside and looked after the horses with the banner of the Norton Family in his hand.

Shadekampf reminded, "Milord, the person who is coming forward to greet us is Viscount Kenmays himself..."

It was Lorist's first meeting with Viscount Kenmays: he was a person of slightly shorter height that Lorist and the length of his blonde hair reached his shoulders. He looked rather handsome and his face was cleanly-shaven with a rather pointy chin. His face bore a bright and graceful smile which gave him an elegant bearing which fit his image of a good-looking guy well.

Lorist turned to his back and looked and Josk as he thought, only that fellow can compare with the viscount's looks...

Josk on the other hand was quite confused and asked, "What's wrong? Do I have something on my face?"

Lorist didn't answer him.

The viscount was also dressed in the same noble robes as Lorist, with the only difference being that his blue sash had silver embroidery of the stonecrop plant that enveloped the three-ring-insignia of the Kenmays Family and the rose which symbolized the royal family of the Iblia Kingdom.

Viscount Kenmays laughed out and greeted them. WIth both his hands opened wide, he said, "I finally get to meet the Lord Baron. I've long heard about your reputation and it's about time I get to meet you in the flesh. It truly is my honor."

Lorist on the other hand observed carefully and could detect the flash of seething anger from the viscount's eyes. Smiling, he thought, this guy is still holding a grudge about the 100000 gold Fordes I've taken. Similarly, Lorist opened his hands to give the viscount a passionate hug and said, "Haha, I myself have also been anticipating our meeting. However, I've been rather busy recently and couldn't find any time. Fortunately, I got to see you here today as I have long wished."

After the two exchanged false pleasantries, the viscount brought Lorist around and introduced him to the nobles that attended the banquet as well as the many noble ladies there. Lorist admired the viscount's ability to perfectly memorize and recite the family backgrounds and history of all the nobles there. He could even recall the heroic tales each family had. No wonder that guy can mix well in situations like these so freely and get the attention and liking of those noblewomen.

When Lorist felt a little fatigued from keeping his smile up, the introductions finally ended and everyone got to their respective seats to enjoy the delicacies prepared by the cooks hired by the Kenmays Family.

Among the dominion lords that attended the banquet, Lorist paid attention to two in particular: one was the viscount who was pretending to be friendly and amicable with him even though Lorist detected the hint of hatred from his eyes. The other was Baron Felim Chalvode, the head of the Family of the Pegasus. While the baron seemed harmless and friendly enough on the surface, Lorist could feel a ferocious savagery from the baron who was also a One Star Gold ranked knight.



[1] It is a Chinese proverb based on the immortalized poet Lu Dongbin. See: Wikipedia