Here's the fourth release of the week. Enjoy!

Lorist descended into his pool of work after sending everyone off. He did not expect that Senbaud would send over news about Shyarsia's submission. During the 9th month, Senbaud's Oceanic Legion was deployed against a Shyarsian fleet. But, after only a single volley of cannon fire, the kingdom raised the white flag immediately. They were apparently so terrified by the human-head pyramid that lost all will to fight.

Even King Lud III's cousin, the queen regent and heir to the kingdom, was poisoned by her royal uncle. She was decapitated and her head presented to Senbaud as an apology for their misconduct. The group that delivered the head also brought two million gold Fordes' worth of treasures and the king's seven-year-old younger brother from another mother, who was to serve as a political hostage.

How should I deal with this? thought Lorist in a troubled manner.

There was been no precedent for such a thing, a kingdom swearing fealty to a single independent noble house, a mere count no less. Others might not acknowledge it. However, given that Shyarsia was located on an isolated island, away from the continent, perhaps they had never seemed to be much in the eyes of the continental nobles in the first place. Add that that the Chikdor Merchant Guild had offered up their trade routes to Shyarsia, it was only natural for the kingdom to fall under the Nortons' rule.

Torin and Tok, the father and son pair, traveled with the transport ships this time. Torin reported Shyarsia's situation to Lorist in detail. He was of the opinion that the island kingdom was controlled mainly by the young king's royal uncle, Saham. The king was young and likely controlled by his uncle, a mere figurehead. It would certainly explain why he had such hatred for the man, besides the fact that it had been his uncle who'd murdered his mother.

The royal court is messy no matter where it is! thought Lorist, sighing.

"I do not want to be distracted by some Shyarsia's internal politics. I care only for their spices. Our people live a high quality of life, the common man has meat as his staple food. This is true for most of The Northlands as well. If we can obtain their spices, our profits will be immeasurable," declared he.

Lorist was prepared to form another maritime trading fleet to establish trade routes to Shyarsia as well as make it another market for the dominion's produce. The fleet would ship their products to the kingdom and bring back their spice. As for their internal power struggles, the house would not interfere as long as the kingdom could continue to supply spice.

"Milord, what do we do about the young hostage and the decapitated head?" asked Old Torin.

"Send the head back to the young king. This is such a waste of a perfectly fine crystal box. Of everything they could put in there, they chose a human head," complained Lorist with a wave of his hand, "Well, the hostage is still young, we'll put him in Nico Academy for a few years before we send him off to Dawn Academy. Whether he learns something is entirely up to him. We will make sure he lives without worries at the very least and give him pocket money equivalent to the salary of a gold-ranked knight. They did send us two million gold Fordes, after all, we shouldn't mistreat him. With him around, we'll have a contingency if something goes wrong in Shyarsia."

"Understood, Milord."

After dealing with matters, Lorist started planning where Tigersoar should train. The successful occupation of the greater and lesser golden creeks by the Fisablens made Lorist more nervous and alert; he could no longer tell whether his Tigersoar could rival the Fisablens' cavalry legions on the field of battle. In terms of unit type, their cavalry forces were standard cavalrymen akin to the Nortons' light cavalry scouts. They specialized in mobility and deftness. They could only be countered with heavy-armored units.

As for Tigersoar, even though they were cavalry too, they were mid- to heavy-armored ones whose defense capabilities rivaled that of the imperial family's royal knights. They were organized and focused on orderly formations and brute charging force. They used carroballistae for ranged attacks and steel lances for their charges. They also possessed mobile catapults for siege warfare. It was a shock unit that performed best on the open field.

If the legion was to be described as a long spear, the Ragebear knight brigade headed by gold-ranked knight Terman would be a huge hammer that smashed any formation they charged through. Their defensive capabilities were impressive beyond belief. Loze's Tigersoar troops were equipped with stainless steel plate armor, while their mounts wore steel plate for protection. Each person-and-mount pair weighed more than a ton. They were essentially the medieval equivalent of tanks. Only ballistae posed a threat to them, the normal bow weaponry and arrows couldn't do them any harm.

Had it not been for the fact that quick warhorses with great endurance were hard to obtain, Terman's knight brigade would have long expanded to a division of its own instead of the small 10-thousand-man unit it was currently. However, Lorist realized that when faced with the cavalry legions of House Fisablen, both the knight brigade and Tigersoar would find it hard gain the upper hand with charging tactics alone. The problem was that Duke Fisablen was no idiot. He was an old, cunning fox. He would no doubt use anti-cavalry tactics to suppress the Nortons' knight brigade and Tigersoar legion.

The duke used primarily light cavalry, so the knight brigade and Tigersoar cavalrymen would only be wasting their time if they tried to chase them down. In fact, if they tired their horses out, they might end up out-manoeuvred instead. But, if they did not pursue, they would be harassed and gradually worn down. Even if they didn't sustain huge casualties, it was still nothing to scoff at. As the saying went, 'one can be a thief for a thousand days, but none keep watch that long'. Being on high alert all the time would cause the troops' focus and morale to waver and they would become ripe for an ambush.

Since the best method against their cavalry is using light cavalry, should I form another legion?

Lorist discarded the idea soon after, however.

Princess Sylvia traveled around The Northlands for fun for a whole month, and per Tarkel's instructions, Furybear sent large numbers of agents posing as coachmen and servants to get in touch with the princess's cohort and gather intelligence. The endeavor proved quite fruitful. Amongst other things, they learned that Duke Fisablen had absorbed the captured barbarians into his forces. Thanks to their uptake, he had largely recouped his losses from the campaign.

The grassland barbarians were practically born and lived in the saddle, so they required minimal training to be effective. House Norton's cavalry, however, had to spend long periods of time in training and had to make use of the best armaments to match these saddled-birthed foes. For the time being, apart from not having a reliable ranged weapon that could be used on horseback, the formation of yet another light scout cavalry legion might court the objections of the house's officials. After all, the combined expenditure of the Tigersoar, Firmrock, and local defense legions amounted to more than three million gold Fordes. Even with the wealth obtained from Hanayabarta, they could not afford to be so reckless with their spending.

It'll better to let Grandmaster Sid and the rest research better ranged weapons that can be used on horseback first.

Lorist was certain that his house would not find itself in conflict with House Fisablen within the next two years, he had, after all, just signed another trade agreement with them. Additionally, if he participates in the knighthood tournament the next year, a union of marriage might form between their houses. Should he take Princess Sylvia as his official wife, House Fisablen would become his unquestioned ally and their cavalry troops would no longer be a threat to him.

Speaking of Princess Sylvia, Lorist did not quite know what to make of her. Even though the house's officials were incredibly in favor of their union, with Governor Hansk and Governor Hector writing letters to encourage the marriage as well, Lorist couldn't help but feel a little weird about what was requested of him. He had always seen Princess Sylvia as an adorable and beautiful little sister. He had never imagined she would end up falling for him.

To Lorist, the only benefit of the princess's visit was that she caused the members of his harem, especially Arriotoli, to calm down. The elder Dina mistress had discovered that, be it status, looks, battleforce, aura or family background, neither she nor her younger sister could compare to the princess. They didn't even have the right to be jealous. It was also because of the fact that almost all the officials of the house supported a union between Lorist and the princess.

Arriotoli had no choice but to stop her efforts to push her younger sister to the position of Lorist's wife and the household's matron grudgingly. Shortly after the beginning of the princess' visit, she declared her entry into seclusion for training, she intended to break through to the silver rank and become her house's first female knight. Lorist was so amused that he almost laughed out loud. He had not heard of anyone who required seclusion to break through to the silver rank, only to the gold rank and above. The angered girl instantly leaped on Lorist and gave him a few harsh bites the moment she heard what Lorist said.

Despite his desire to accomplish something for the house quickly, there was not much Lorist could do, so he sent Fiercetiger Loze with his legion to hunt herbivorous magic beasts in the wildlands and had Blademaster Shuss follow along. He himself lazed around in Firmrock Castle for the utterly uneventful winter.

He felt almost a little depressed when he reflected on his thoughts. During the decade since he returned to the dominion, he had been busy nonstop. He was always tending to one matter or another. He didn't even have many a moment to spare for himself. But now that he had nothing better to do and had to spend the end of the year at the castle, he felt a little unaccustomed to all the free time. It was one of the reasons he had gone to Morante. Unfortunately, he would not meet the peers that had accompanied him again for the winter.

Lorist felt lonely and bored.

Had it not been for the three Dinas by his side, Lorist would have joined Loze in the wildlands.

Bored beyond his wits, he decided to sweep the dominion clean of the syndicates that had just started taking hold. It proved a rather simple job since most of the members were also waiting out the winter in their homes. As he dug out the syndicates' roots, he found that over 20 household knights were involved. He needed more proof to implicate them before he could take any further action, so they were marked for further investigation. Three silver-ranked knights ended up being expelled from the house and stripped their knighthood.

When Kriston, the head of law enforcement, made his report, he pointed out that those who joined the syndicates were mostly fighters that slacked off often on their duties or had too much time. Many were from knightly, or military families, or even from the families of household officials. Some retired warriors were also among their ranks. While they frequently caused small-scale trouble, they were careful to avoid causing huge commotions. Gradually, they had grown into a force that posed a threat to the civilians and had gained monopolies over sections of the economy.

Kriston believed the best method to deal with them was to come up with strict operating protocols and increase the training and authority of the police units.

Lorist left most of the work to Kriston and had him bring the protocols and regulations to Telesti. With so many scholars over there, they would be able to draft effective regulations for the house based on the ones of the old empire.

I bet the old guys at the academy would be interested in doing that, thought Lorist.

And so, Year 1776 of Grindia passed. Apart from the near two thousand criminals that were sent to the Hanayabartan archipelago, the rest of the dominion was bathed in prosperity.

After the 3rd month's rainy season, Fiercetiger Loze and his legion returned from the wildlands and brought more than 100 thousand magic beast carcasses. Lorist inspected the legion and found that the winter hunt had allowed their abilities to mature considerably, much to his delight.

The 4th month came with good news. Charade had successfully broken through to the gold rank. At the same time, Els and Pajik, who were both training at Maplewoods, had also become gold-ranked household knights. With the addition of these three, the house now had 14 gold-ranked knights.

The month was not without its setbacks, however. Pete and Waxima had failed to break through and would require another half a year to recover from the backlash. Dulles, Jim, and former bandit Ovidis, on the other hand, were still training.

The greatest benefit of CHarade's breakthrough for Lorist, however, was that he could take over the house's administration once again. The months of sowing Lorist had done with the Dinas had also finally brought about a crop -- Dilianna was pregnant.

When Charade was caught up with the year's developments, he was surprised to find out about the Dawn Academy. After all, he was also an alumnus. He praised Lorist's involvement to encourage the academy's move to The Northlands. According to him, it was 'an act that would change the course of history for the house for hundreds of years to come'.

As only Charade could, he immediately began his planning. They would first have to gather the manpower necessary to construct the academy. It had to be built as quickly as possible. He wanted the academy ready to begin recruiting and training new students as soon as possible.

As for Lorist and Princess Sylvia's marriage, Charade had a different take on the mater, a more conservative attitude. He believed that House Norton and House Fisablen's alliance would not be without its shortcomings. Instead, he was wary of why Duke Fisablen would make such a move in the first place. House Fisablen, which controlled three whole provinces, was a force to be reckoned with, after all.

On the 15th day of the 4th month, House Norton hosted yet another general meeting. As the household's chief knight, Charade outlined their goals for the year to come. Lorist's preparations to participate in the knighthood tournament was next on the agenda. He resolved himself to bring Princess Sylvia back to his dominion for good.