Here's the first regular chapter of the week, enjoy the read! Also, the poll concluded with 56% of you voting for the cliffhanger tag on cliff chapters instead of withholding them, so I will use that method in the future! Take note that chapters I consider cliffhanger are those directly connected within the same timeframe.

After stretching his body, Lorist no longer felt any desire to sleep. At that moment, he was filled with energy and he unconsciously recalled the scene when he fought against the Blademaster. Back then, it felt like the whole area was a completely separate space cut off from the outside with a wave of cold that swept away everything... Lorist couldn't help but feel the urge to spar against the Blademaster again.
However, he was surprised to find that he no longer felt the previous subconscious uneasiness and alertness when thinking of Blademaster Xanthi. Instead, he regarded her as a fighter on the same level as if that was the most natural feeling to him.
Now that he had slept for a long period of time, his body was well rested and completely rejuvenated.
Lorist got off his bed and assumed the horse stance to circulate the Crimsonblood Battle Force of his family before switching to the Aquametal Technique. With each cycle, internal energy was restored to his dantian and he only stopped when it was completely filled.
Even though Lorist had expended all his internal energy during his fight with the Blademaster, he realized that his internal energy capacity had increased despite being stagnated for quite some time. He now understood that only by using up all his internal energy would it benefit his training. As he thought that, Lorist continued to analyze the internal constitution of his body.
At that moment, sounds of familiar footsteps could be heard coming from outside the door. Lorist only just realized that the sky had already darkened.
Reidy pushed open the door and saw Lorist standing by his bed. Elated, he said, "Milord, you're finally awake?"
Lorist nodded and said, "Reidy, get me something to eat. I think I can swallow a whole cow right now."
"Milord, you've been asleep for two days and three nights! It's no wonder you're hungry! Wait for a bit, I'll go cook something up," Reidy said before he left hurriedly.
"Huh? Did I really sleep for that long?" Lorist mused in a shocked manner. However, Reidy had already left and he didn't get to ask for a more detailed explanation.
Fortunately, Patt, who had heard the commotion next door, came over and explained that Lorist was so deeply asleep that he couldn't be woken up no matter how loudly they called. He also said that Josk theorized that given the drawn-out breaths Lorist was taking in his sleep, he was fine and would wake up naturally when he was rested enough.
Reidy returned soon with a few pieces of white bread and a cup of macks. "Milord, fill your stomach up with these first. I've already woken the cooks and they'll be cooking up a feast for you."
"Did anything significant happen during the two days I was asleep?" Lorist asked as he bit into a juicy piece of roast chicken leg. That chicken was roasted early in the morning and it was already cold and hard. But Lorist couldn't care less as he was far too hungry.
"Yes. Yesterday, Princess Sylvia sent a messenger to inform us that she will be returning to the Wild Husbandry Province two days later and appointed milord to be her escort. Also, Count Kenmays and Baron Shazin have been arguing for the past two days about salt trading. Count Kenmays said that Baron Shazin didn't know how to do business at all and competed directly with his family's business while Baron Shazin said that the Kenmays Family were devious merchants that slipped sand into their salt so that they could sell less for the same price. The argument got real bad while Baron Felim merely watched without doing anything," Reidy reported.
"Those two fellows..." Lorist muttered. "When I finish eating, I'll go and settle this with them."
Baron Shazin Hennard had gotten on rather bad terms with Count Kenmays from the arguments during the past two days. Actually, he understood why Lorist had him, the count, and Baron Felim meet at Gildusk City. After chasing the Second Prince out of the Northlands, the four families will be the local hegemons. As long as they entered an alliance, there was no longer a need to worry about others taking advantage of them.
However, Knight Hennard didn't think that he would be reprimanded by Count Kenmays with the reason being how he resold the 500000 kilograms of salt Lorist sold to him for 10000 gold Fordes for only twice the price, earning himself 10000 gold Fordes in the process to relieve his military costs, much to his delight. But that act of his caused him to be berated by Count Kenmays who thought that the same amount of salt could be sold for 30000 gold Fordes as well as the fact that the sudden influx of salt in the market harmed the Kenmays's own salt business.
That being said, Hennard didn't give the count any face either. Even though they've met a few times at the noble meeting hosted by the Second Prince, they didn't socialize much. To Hennard, Count Kenmays was a useless heir to the family who only knew how to mess around with women, but he still tolerated his behavior on account of his relation to Lorist. After all, he knew that the Norton Family and the Kenmays Family were on good terms.
Even when Lorist arrived, those two argued nevertheless like two enraged cockerels, one of them berating the other as a brainless brute while the other laughed at the former as a babyface who only knew how to mess around with women.
Lorist looked at Baron Felim who was enjoying himself as the argument continued. It almost seemed like he would clap his hands in amusement. Lorist sighed as he had no choice but to sort out the trouble between his two allies.
"You two, can't you save others some worry? To think that the two of you are practically related..." Lorist said in a raised voice.
"What did you say? He's related to me? How did I not know that?" Hennard said as he pointed at Count Kenmays.
Count Kenmays also tapped his chest and said, "Who said we were relatives? Our families have never interacted. Locke, don't just go around spouting crap..."
Lorist sighed and looked at Count Kenmays before saying, "Didn't you say before that if your cousin sister didn't go missing, you would've sent her to me as a concubine? You even said that apart from Princess Sylvia, your cousin sister is the most beautiful woman you've ever seen, right?"
"I did, so what?" Count Kenmays said as he recalled the time when they chatted in private, not knowing the relevance of that conversation to the current situation.
Sometime back, when the count was chatting with Lorist, he mentioned how difficult it was to prove himself in the circle of nobility as a family that had recently just been given a rank with their merchant background. He also talked about his cousin sister Olivia who had been sent to Duke Loggins to be his lover at the young age of 21. She had also gone missing by the time the Norton Family razed the duke's dominion to the ground.
At first, the count suspected that the Norton Family had imprisoned her, but when Lorist allowed him to check if she truly was anywhere within the Norton Family dominion and look through the newly-made registry, the count's cousin was nowhere to be found. Count Kenmays mentioned that his father was too short-sighted to have used such a beauty to appease the duke in hopes that it would gain the family a better standing among the nobles. In the end, the storm that was Lorist swept his father's plan under the rug without warning at all.
Had his father been able to plan further and waited more patiently, he would've united Olivia and Lorist in marriage so that they would no longer have to worry about their position in the future. Count Kenmays felt extreme regret for what his cousin went through and even though she was already the duke's lover, he had still intended for her to become a concubine for Lorist so that their families would have a better relationship.
Concubines were usually maidservants of nobles who have physical relationships with nobles but couldn't be officially married. Even though children given birth by concubines would be considered illegitimate, there was still a good chance for them to be included in the official family roster and enjoy same benefits as direct descendants.
Count Kenmays also swore that his cousin Olivia's beauty was only second to that of Princess Sylvia, causing her to be cared for extremely well by his father. His father had mentioned that Olivia would become an insurance for his family in a political marriage. It's too bad that she was seen by the duke who appreciated his cousin's beauty a lot and indirectly forced the hand of the Kenmays Family to send her to him.
When the Kenmays Family first arrived at the Northlands, they didn't have a good foothold yet, so the count's father wasn't able to resist the pressure and had no choice but to present Olivia to Duke Loggins. According to the count, if Olivia didn't go missing after the conflict between Duke Loggins and Lorist, then he would've had her become Lorist's concubine instead since that was not a bad position to be in and it was probably the only thing the Kenmays Family could do to make up for the bad experiences she suffered.
"Just go ask this fellow over here. Wasn't the concubine that gave birth to his most beloved child called Olivia? He even included that child in his family roster and allowed him to become the heir of his family," Lorist said as he pointed to Hennard, who had even written a letter to Lorist one year back asking him to become the godfather of his son.
"Huh? This babyface is the cousin brother of Olivia?" Hennard said with his mouth agape from the shock.
"So you only care about her body without bothering to check out her family background? Even though she warmed your bed for the past two years and even gave birth to your child, you didn't even bother to find out?" Lorist questioned.
"This, this... Olivia never mentioned her family background in detail to me and only said that she came from a mercantile family and was forced to become the duke's mistress because of his threats... I thought that it was a pretty common occurrence so I didn't bother to ask anything else," replied Hennard abashedly.
Hennard was quite the romantic person. Ever since he secretly escorted the favorite lover of the duke away with the help of Reidy and brought the other four beauties from Wildnorth Town back with him, he declared that all five of them would be his concubines and even pledged that he wouldn't take an official wife for the rest of his life. All children of his five concubines would also have a chance at being the heir of the family.
However, the first three children were all daughters. It couldn't be overstated how happy he was when the duke's former lover gave birth to his first son. Delighted that his family finally had a successor, he even asked Lorist to be his godfather.
It was not until Lorist heard from the count that he had a cousin that he understood that the concubine that had given birth to Hennard's son was in fact the missing cousin of Count Kenmays. Initially, he had planned to inform the count of that fact in private soon, but he didn't expect the two of them would get into such a fierce argument before he found the chance.
At that point, Count Kenmays and Hennard both looked at each other awkwardly without saying a word.
Breaking the silence, Count Kenmays said, "Um... Is... is Olivia doing well?"
Hennard quickly replied, "Yes, definitely... She's a good mother..."
It wouldn't be a stretch to say that Hennard's act of secretly bringing Olivia out of the duke's dominion was the sole reason that caused the count to be unable to locate her. When Hennard realized that, he was so embarrassed that he kept his gaze on the ground the whole time like an ostrich.
Even though Lorist wanted to laugh at that hilarious situation, he had to resolve it nevertheless. He knocked on the table a few times and said, "Alright, settle your family issues later. Let's first discuss the reason I had our four families gathered here. Now that the Second Prince has escaped with his whereabouts still unknown, the Northlands has basically fallen into the control of our four families. From this day onward, there will be none that will take advantage of us and I will also not permit anyone to even try. That's why I am here to propose an alliance between our four families to maintain complete control over the Northlands as well as back each other up in times of need. What do you guys think of it?"
None of them had any objections as an alliance was beneficial to all of them. In fact, they were all eager to enter one. Baron Felim laughed exaggeratedly before he said, "I suddenly feel that the skies look brighter than before now that I'm free from the grasps of others. The taste of freedom is delicious."
"Alright. Next, we will decide the area each family will rule over so that we will not have any territorial disagreements in the future. As the Northlands is huge with abundant land, develop it as you please. But, I only have one condition. While I won't oppose it if you desire to conquer more territory, you must develop the lands you conquer. If you don't, I will not recognize your ownership over that land, so I hope you all remember this point," Lorist said resolutely.
Hennard, Count Kenmays and Baron Felim all agreed to Lorist's condition as there was no point in conquering more land without developing it to generate income. Add to the fact that it would also piss off the Norton Family, only an idiot would do something like that.
"I also have a suggestion," Lorist said. "The disagreement between Count Kenmays and Hennard about the sales of salt made me believe that we should also form a trade agreement. I have decided to establish a salt merchant committee dedicated to managing the sales of salt. The Norton Family will be selling 500000 kilograms of salt to the committee at a price of 10000 gold Fordes for it to be resold. Are you guys willing to take part?"
"How will we split profits?" Count Kenmays asked.
"Each of your families will own 30 percent of the shares by investing 10000 gold Fordes as capital and manage the committee's operations. I, on the other hand, will only take 10 percent of the committee's shares and I will not be sending anyone to be part of the management. If you guys can agree on it, I suggest that we let the Kenmays Family be in charge of the main business decisions while the other two families send accountants to monitor the operations. Profits will be split according to the respective shares we hold," Lorist said.
"I agree," Baron Felim said right away.
With a great opportunity like that, Baron Felim naturally agreed as quickly as he could. In fact, he was so grateful that he had the urge to hug and kiss Lorist to express his gratitude.
"I agree as well," Hennard said. He understood that Count Kenmays was not wrong that he was not a good businessman and the salt business was merely a side job for him to make more money for the bonus salary of his troops.
Currently, only Count Kenmays remained in deep thought. In actuality, his family had the most to lose from Lorist's suggestion as his own salt business could earn up to 40000 gold Fordes for every 10000 invested. If he agreed to join the committee, his profits would naturally be lesser in comparison. Coupled with the fact that he had to split 70 percent of the profit with the others, it wasn't worth it at all no matter how he looked at it.
But when he raised his head and saw Lorist smiling, he suddenly understood Lorist's intentions. The formation of the salt merchant committee was a necessary component for a functional and beneficial alliance for all. Only if the other families stood to gain something from the alliance would they truly be willing to help the Kenmays Family out with utmost sincerity in time of need. Compared to the extra profit of a few ten thousand gold Fordes, the loyalty and aid of the other families were far more valuable.
"I'll be part of this as well and I'll definitely earn all of us good money," Count Kenmays said.
"Then it's decided. We just have to sign over here to agree to the terms we've discussed," Lorist said as he took out a document.
With but a short meeting, the four families of the Northlands formed an alliance. Historians in future generations would come to praise the alliance as it allowed the Northlands to constantly develop and have lasting peace, drawing many people all over the war torn lands to move to that peaceful haven.
The four families would also continue to honor the alliance for the millenia to come with not a single one of them betraying it or regret being a part of it. Whenever there was trouble for one family, the other three families would definitely do their utmost to help, turning even the most dire situations around so that the alliance members could continue to propagate and flourish. The alliance was such a long-standing one that it was even heralded as the pinnacle of trustworthiness and unity by all.