Here's the first sponsored chapter of the week courtesy of Keith A. and Brandon H. from the USA! Enjoy the read~

By the time Josk and Waxima brought their men back, six days of the expedition had already passed.

Lorist was currently taking a walk on the walls with Baron Camorra who had hurriedly rushed over from far away. The reason for his visit was to negotiate the release and ransom of the captured Gold ranked knight Hennard and the other ten plus of Silver ranked knights.

"Camorra, is my hearing getting worse or did you mistakenly tell me a wrong number? I really can't fathom that a Gold ranked knight's ransom would only be 100 imperial gold coins. That's not a ransom, that's just humiliation to the Gold ranked knight in question as well as an insult to the Norton Family. There's no way I will accept the price offered by the duke."

Lorist was also quite shocked as he had even prepared to negotiate for a higher price. But never would he have thought that the duke would offer such a ridiculous figure. If word of that laughably low sum truly spread out, then Knight Hennard would have no other choice left to him but to commit suicide.

As an example, during the knighthood competition, defeated knights had to offer up their mounts, armor, and weapons to the victors or pay an equivalent ransom. Normally, those were worth somewhere from 30 to 40 gold Fordes which was equal to 100 to 150 imperial gold coins. However, the case with the duke's knights was that they were captured as enemies on the battlefield as opposed to being defeated in a friendly competition.

If a Silver ranked knight was taken captive on the battlefield, all the belongings he carried with him would belong to the victor by default and if he wanted to regain his freedom, he had to first buy his equipment, mount and attendants back. If the price of all that was 50 gold Fordes, it would be multiplied by 2 and the resulting 100 gold Fordes would be the ransom that had to be paid separately for the knight's freedom itself.

In conclusion, a Silver ranked knight would have to pay around 150 gold Fordes in total to regain his freedom, attendants, mounts and gear to be allowed to leave. The one who captured the knight might even host a banquet to get to know the knight better before sending him off.

Additionally, if a captured knight had a noble title, he would have to pay another ransom that is fitting of the status of the title as true nobles were worth far more than quasi-nobles like normal knights. This was an agreed upon convention on the battlefield and no noble would dare to violate it. But the main point was that it only applied to Silver ranked knights.

Few Gold ranked knights would actually end up being captured on the battlefield due to their far superior battle prowess. In terms of Battle Force, Gold ranked Battle Force would last longer on the battlefield and had superior attack, defense and endurance. It wasn't possible to subdue a Gold ranked knight unless a huge sacrifice of troops was made or the knight was caught off-guard by surprise.

The best method to deal with a Gold ranked knight was to use another Gold ranked knight. Battles between two Gold ranked knights would always become the focal point of the battlefield and unless one was far superior than another in terms of technique, the loser would usually end up dead with the victor heavily injured and not faring much better.

Then again, Gold ranked knights being held captive was not without precedent: the Forund Duchy's Gold ranked knight Bisya was a prime example of this as he had collapsed unconscious after sustaining injuries from fighting against the forces of the Redlis Kingdom and became the captive of the First Prince. Duke Forund had to offer 3000 gold Fordes as well as a precious treasure sword to be able to sway the First Prince to release the knight and that incident was frequently mentioned among the nobility for some time.

Duke Loggins's offer of 100 imperial gold coins only converted to roughly 30 plus gold Fordes and that made Lorist very troubled. Even though Hennard wasn't captured on the battlefield and was instead apprehended while he was drunk, it wasn't like Lorist asked for 1000 gold Fordes in exchange for his freedom. But at least 500 to 600 gold Fordes would be fair, right? After all, the ransom was in a sense the measure of worth of the Gold ranked knight.

This 'wonder' of a duke really has no brains... Offering a price like that is really just an act of digging his own grave. If word of this got out, who would still be willing to serve him? What the heck is going on? The more Lorist wondered, the more curious he got.

"Camorra, please don't joke around with me, alright? This is crucial to the pride and dignity of the knight and it isn't something that should be treated lightly. I don't believe that Duke Loggins is that uninformed to be able to make that laughable offer..." Lorist told Baron Camorra solemnly.

Apart from showing a bitter smile, there was nothing Baron Camorra could say in response.

Ten days prior, Viscount Kenmays made a visit to the mansion of the duke at Gildusk City. He brought with him the corpse of Knight Chevany as well as news of Knight Hennard's and the other Silver ranked knights' capture and the loss of contact of the duke's 4000-strong army, which shocked the entirety of the citizens of the duke's dominion, causing the word to spread all over the Northlands. In a fit of rage, Duke Loggins once again smashed up his just-cleaned-up study and shouted maniacally that he wanted retribution and cursed loudly at the Norton Family. He even swore to kill off everyone who was related to the Norton Family.

Baron Camorra and another Gold ranked knight, the vice leader of the Northland Army, Bitson, expended great effort to calm the duke's rage and got him to start plotting another expedition against the Nortons.

By the time the duke calmed down and started to plan, all three of them were dumbstruck as they found that they no longer had enough soldiers they could mobilize to mount an attack. It was quite shocking that the once 20000-strong Northland Army which had been reduced to only have 16700 plus people left could only mobilize 5000 plus men of two regiments. Given that the 4000-strong troops were already completely defeated, there was no way another 5000 could make that big of a difference, was there?

There were many reasons for the inability of the duke to deploy more troops. The main one was that the Northland Army could be considered to be a relatively small army in that there were only 21000 members that were split into 2 divisions. Additionally, the Northland Army wasn't optimized for full scale open field battles and was instead modeled after a defense army. The southern part of Duke Loggins's duchy had a capital city, a citadel, three bastides and seven towns as well as the entry at the suspension bridge. These places had to be defended to ensure the security of the duchy, especially the capital city, the Hendliff Suspension Bridge as well as Freist Castle near the bridge. Those three locations were crucial points of defense against the forces of the Second Prince and every one of them only had a regiment of troops which was just enough to keep those places secure.

The other factor was due to the duke wanting to save his military costs. After the formation of the Northland Army, he had disbanded the various garrison forces all over his dominion because he felt that the Northland Army was more than enough to keep the dominion in check and could be used to fill the place of the garrison forces of the towns and bastides, thus saving him more money. Additionally, he believed that no dominion lord in the Northlands that caused him trouble would ever require him to mobilize the entire army. Usually, he only needed to send 2000 soldiers to take care of such minor insurrections.

Now that over 4000 of his soldiers were wiped out, it was like he had gotten a waking slap straight to his face as he realized that he didn't have any means to retaliate against the Norton Family. The other problem was that of the five Gold ranked knights that served the duke, Knight Tabik had been injured by Lorist and needed over one year of rest to recover, the most accomplished Knight Chevany had died on the battlefield, Knight Hennard had been taken captive and only two Gold ranked knights remained. Knight Aordem was tasked with defending the Hendliff Suspension Bridge and the Freist Castle. The vice commander of the Northland army, Bitson, was busy defending the capital of the dominion. Even if the duke deployed his troops, there was nobody suitable to lead them.

As he pinched his nose to stop the blood from flowing out, the duke instructed Baron Camorra to negotiate for the release of Knight Hennard and painfully took out 400 gold Fordes for the ransom. As for the Silver ranked knights and the captured soldiers of the Northland Army, he felt that they could wait until his troops defeat the Nortons and free them later.

Knight Bitson however felt that 400 gold Fordes was far too less and the Nortons definitely wouldn't release Hennard for that kind of sum and requested the duke to raise the ransom so that they may get Hennard back as soon as possible and have him report what he had witnessed from the battles within the Norton Family's dominion so that they may be able to better prepare themselves.

But the duke insisted that 400 gold Fordes was already the most he was willing to pay. As the three of them continued to discuss the matter, the butler of the mansion reported that one of the attendants of Knight Chevany had returned with a report about the happenings throughout the expedition.

The attendant of Knight Chevany looked really haggard. He explained that he had experienced much trouble while crossing the Morgan Hills with his comrade due to having met a magical beast, a Blackback Iron-toothed Leopard, during their travels. His comrade had sacrificed himself to kill the beast while he managed to escape the mountain range after many other life-threatening encounters and made it back to Gildusk City in one piece. Even though he was injured and worn out, he still fulfilled the task given to him by his master out of loyalty and made his way to the duke's mansion immediately to pass the silver tube which contained the letter to the duke immediately.

Duke Loggins took out a stack of rolled up beastskin documents from the tube and started reading. Knight Bitson and Baron Camorra were both rather interested with the contents of the letter, but since it was in the duke's hands, they had no choice but to wait patiently. As for the attendant who delivered it, he was sobbing in a corner after hearing about his master's death.

The things that happened next would forever be ingrained within the psyche of Baron Camorra: he saw the duke's face redden with rage as both his eyes seemed to be about to fall out of their sockets with steam seemingly gushing out of his nostrils. All of a sudden, the duke totally lost it and started rampaging about. This wasn't like his usual fits. This time, he was stomping all over and hurling anything he could get his hands on including the tables within the meeting room as he cursed at both Knight Chevany and Knight Hennard. "Those two bastards! I want to kill them so badly! I want to tear their corpses into a thousand pieces! How did the two of them manage to lose all that gold?! My 300000 gold Fordes! My gold coins! Chevany, it's all their fault! Why didn't they send my gold coins back first?! Hennard! Why did he fuck up his job in protecting the gold?! My money! My money..."

Baron Camorra was completely dumbstruck. Seeing the beastskin documents fall to the ground, he picked them up and hid at a corner where he would be safe from the airborne objects hurled by the duke and started reading. Knight Bitson also joined him to take a look.

They quickly came to understand why their lord reacted the way he did. It's all your fault, Chevany! If you had merely reported the decimation of the army, then that would be the end of that. Why did you have to tell the duke about the massacre of the Wildnorth Town citizens and the amount of wealth they had there? You even specified that it amounted to roughly 300000 gold Fordes! For that kind of wealth to have fallen into the duke's hands only to be taken away again... How else would he react but freak out completely?!

Perhaps because he was not able to resist hearing his master being berated by the duke so senselessly, the attendant spoke out and said, "Lord Duke, Knight Chevany has already sacrificed himself heroically on the battlefield..."

The duke whose bloodshot eyes had been completely clouded by the wealth that had escaped his grasps turned to look at the attendant as he started rambling unintelligibly, causing everyone within the room to feel a chill down their spine.

"Died on the battlefield? He thinks that his mistakes will all be rectified with his death? Even if he's dead, I won't spare him! He lost all my money, my 300000 gold Fordes! He has erred greatly! He must pay for his mistakes! Men... Men!" roared the duke loudly as his voice echoed throughout the halls of his mansion.

"Destroy Chevany's family completely right now! Confiscate all their goods, exile his family members and feed his corpse to wild dogs! He actually dared to lose my 300000 gold Fordes!"

"Milord, you can't do that..." Knight Bitson and Baron Camorra said in shock and unison as they hurriedly attempted to stop the duke's order.

"I can't? Why not? It's Chevany's fault. Why didn't he transport the gold back first and insisted on attacking the Norton Family's castle? Why did he bring the 300 longbowmen with him away from Wildnorth Town and caused the town's defenses to weaken, thus allowing for the ambush to succeed and causing my gold to fall into the hands of the enemy?! Why did he give up after only one failed attack at Wildnorth Town after it was captured and and retreated even though he had 1700 soldiers under him? He actually sat on his arse and witnessed the gold being taken away by the enemy! How could he have done that? Tell me, if he wasn't at fault, then who is?" shouted the duke back to the two of his subordinates, causing the both of them to be completely speechless.

"And you..." said the duke as he turned his attention back to the poor attendant. "You are a shameful deserter and a coward just like your master. You have betrayed my trust and lost my gold... My men... Hang him right away! Hang him this instant!"

The attendant who had labored tirelessly to complete his mission was completely shocked by the loss of the duke's temper and didn't even make a sound as he was dragged outside. Baron Camorra could only feel his heart shudder as his whole body shivered from the sheer terror. He suddenly realized that the duke before his eyes now looked more foreign than ever.

When a guard entered the mansion again to report that the attendant had been hanged at the flagpole outside the mansion, the duke started to calm down.

"Camorra, go to the Norton dominion tomorrow and tell them that I intend to pay the price for Hennard's and the Silver ranked knights' ransom. Remember, Hennard's ransom will be only 100 imperial gold coins and the Silver ranked knights' would be 10 imperial gold coins each..." said the duke while his eyes remained bloodshot with rage.

Baron Camorra's expression changed as he said, "Mi-milord... That's still far from enough..."

Duke Loggins said in an eerily calm voice that caused Knight Bitson and Baron Camorra to shiver in fear, "Tell the Norton Family that I won't be spending a single copper coin more for those sinners' release. The reason I want to pay their ransom is not because I want to help them regain their freedom but rather because I want them back here so I can punish them thoroughly. They shouldn't have lost my gold coins..."

After that, Baron Camorra stepped out of the duke's mansion in a daze and saw the corpse of the attendant that was still hung up high. As he turned back and exchanged his gaze with Knight Bitson, the two of them stood there without uttering a single word.

Finally, Knight Bitson broke the silence and whispered ever so quietly, "The Lord Duke has truly gone insane this time... You better look out for yourself... And you might want to tell Hennard that staying as a captive of the Norton Family is far better than coming back here..."