The fourth release of the week is served!

Lorist read Loze's urgent letter and fell into deep thought. It was signed by Loze, Count Kenmays, and Potterfang, and contained three points of argument. The first concerned the second highness's settling the nobles' 'debt' and their fate. The second regarded the second highness wish that the Norton forces not retreat until they finished their obligations as stated by the contract. The third reported a rather inappropriate request, which Loze had already refused on Lorist's behalf.

Lorist did not feel much about the second highness's actions towards the nobles since he wasn't too fond of them either. They were far too corrupt to be allowed to exist if the empire's unification was still a goal. The extermination of such useless leeches was most definitely warranted. Had Lorist been in the second highness's shoes, he might've done the same thing, perhaps less harshly and using less extreme methods. It could be said that the reason for the second highness's extremity was his need for funds and possessions to alleviate the dire situation of the kingdom's finances.

'One's grounds is always decided on where one is sat'. For instance, Loze used to be a mere ex-officer of the disbanded Whitelion Legion when he joined the northbound convoy. After experiencing seven years of civil war within the empire, he hated the nobles with fervor and thought the empire fell due to their greed. It was for this reason that he didn't hesitate to take the actions he did and hang the members of around 40 noble households when he first agreed to a deal between the second highness and the convoy.

In a flash, ten years had passed, and as a gold-ranked household knight of House Norton, Loze was now a quasi-noble himself. With Lorist's ascension to dukedom, he would have a place among the barons entitled by Lorist himself. With that, his position on the matter changed and he resolved himself to live in a way befitting a member of the nobility. He went to great lengths to familiarize himself with the protocols and etiquette of the nobility. That was why he raged at the second highness's massacre; he felt such an action was an affront to all nobles.

Back then, he couldn't help but want to kill off as many nobles as possible. Yet, he was now proud to be one of the peerage. On a side note, after conquering the imperial capital, he found himself four lovers of noble heritage and managed to save their households from the massacre.

After some thought, Lorist felt there was nothing much to complain about since he was in the same position. It would be a stretch to call him a noble loyal to the kingdom; even he wouldn't dare to don that reputation. After all, he was one who acted in the interests of House Norton first.

Perhaps, in the eyes of a king like the second highness, Lorist himself was even more dastardly than the nobles he had massacred. Only the house's might and its control over the whole of The Northlands deterred the second highness from doing anything.

The second highness's contempt for House Norton manifested in the next plan, which was the focus of the letter's second topic. The second highness made it clear that House Norton would only have fulfilled its obligation to reinstate his rule once the territories Queen Carey had ceded were once again part of the kingdom. Even though the imperial capital had already been recaptured, it still didn't change the fact that the territories relinquished as a result of the queen's actions remained outside of the kingdom.

In other words, the three provinces Queen Carey ceded for the sake of peace had to be returned to the kingdom before the second highness would consider the terms of the contract satisfied.

Hehe, Lorist thought coldly, He's pushing his luck. He really is incredibly shameless for a king.

The second highness's goals were simple: to cause conflict between House Norton and the Union and four central duchies, and to create an opportunity the second highness could take advantage of.

The latest maps showed that the province of Hanstmost, one of the former provinces of the Andinaq kingdom, had been fused with the northwestern area of the now defunct REdlis kingdom to form the Zitram duchy. The ruling duke was a former Redlis count from Anderwoff. After the flood in Majik consumed 70 thousand of the second highness' troops, and resulted in the death of Gold-ranked Knight Baroin, one of the second highness's five tigers, it could be said that the Zitram duchy was one of the second highness's sworn enemies.

As for the two southeastern Redlis provinces that had fallen into the clutches of the Andinaq kingdom following the first prince's defeat, they had been ceded to the ones who would form the Allied Duchies of Britt. The ones in control were three nobles who had made enormous contributions in the conflict against the second highness. Obviously, both the Zitram duchy and the Allied Duchies of Britt were buffer areas for the Union so any retaliation by the second highness wouldn't reach their territory directly. The Union seemed to be rather wary of all possible scenarios and had already predicted the possibility of the second highness coming back.

It seemed the two nations' leaders were on fight-or-die terms with the second highness and would definitely not compromise. The Union behind them definitely wouldn't either. Currently, the second highness intended to play coy and have House Norton reclaim the two southeastern provinces and Hanstmost before acknowledging House Norton's efforts to honor the contract. It showed how much he worried about the two nations. He was afraid they would attack one House Norton withdrew from the capital. Without Hanstmost and the two southeastern provinces, the imperial capital would be the battlefield and it would be incredibly bad for the second highness and his desire of reuniting the empire.

The second highness's plan wasn't bad, so to speak. He wanted to have Tigersoar and Firmrock attack the Zitram duchy and the Allied Duchies of Britt. Even after the territories were reclaimed, he could have the two armies stationed there just long enough so he could spark conflict between House Norton and the Union. Not only would it grind away at the Nortons' military might, the second highness could send out his elite forces after both sides wore each other out to take the rest of the Redlis kingdom's territory in one go.

Lorist didn't mind wiping out the two nations since they weren't formed very long. Without the Madras duchy's interference, the might of Tigersoar and Firmrock combined was more than enough to conquer the two nations easily. The only thing he worried about was Duke Zitram. Someone who could cause the second highness so much loss was not someone dealt with easily. Then again, if he let Firmrock attack the Zitram duchy, he believed Potterfang's reliability wouldn't expose any weaknesses of which the duke could take advantage. There were no rivers or large streams at Hanstmost, it was mostly mountains. Such terrain was where Firmrock excelled most.

Lorist was angry at the second highness; he had overstepped his bounds. He had ignored his subordinates' objections to restoring the second highness' rule so quickly because he wanted the second highness to attract the four central duchies' attention so they would cease their support of Duke Fisablen. He also believed that, as a person of power, one had to consider all possible situations.

Lorist didn't deny he had considered the notion of forming his own kingdom. After all, he had already put in so much effort to meld with the battleforce-oriented world of Grindia as someone who came from another world. His soul stemmed from an ancient oriental civilization that had five millennia of history. While the original owner of his current body might have been a person loyal to the kingdom, he definitely wasn't. The fact that House Norton managed to become what it was today, bearing the title of Duke of The Northlands, was already far beyond the Norton ancestors' imagination. Lorist felt he had already done a lot for the house.

Similarly, others considered House Norton one of the second highness' mightiest supporters. There was nothing about Lorist's actions that anyone could nitpick, apart from duping him secretly for some benefits. Lorist had his own troubles, so he didn't really mind the king's shameless requests.

In terms of giving the second highness a legion's worth of equipment and mobilizing his forces to help the second highness regain his throne, Lorist had executed it all extremely well. Even if he were to fall out with the second highness in the future, nobody could criticize him for it. While the path of a ruler was filled with thorns and obstacles, both light and dark at every corner, rulers should always act fairly and justly, even if it was just for the sake of appearances. Any moral flaw a ruler displayed could be fatal to his ambitions. That was why the Norton knights and officials suggested he let the second highness remain at The Northlands for the time being.

The second highness's recent massacre would only incite disgust and hatred among other nobles. It would also deter them from pledging allegiance to him in the future.

Lorist started penning his reply. He told Loze and Potterfang they could attack the two nations to recover Hanstmost and the two southeastern provinces for the Andinaq kingdom. Since they were already 90 percent there, they might as well take the final step to make sure the second highness wouldn't have anything to say about their conduct.

Lorist made his own request of the second highness, however.  The second highness must send men to hold the territory within 15 days of its capture. The two armies would retreat from the frontlines after 15 days whether they had been relieved or not, and would not return. He gave permission for Kenmays to iron out the details with the second highness on his behalf in this regard. Should he not agree to this condition, Potterfang and Loze were free to return right away. If anyone was idiotic enough to try and stop them, they could kill them without question. They had his personal permission to slaughter their way back to the dominion if need be, even if their opponent was the second highness himself.

The second highness' awkward request, the letter's third topic, was that the catapults and steel ballistae be left with him. Lorist only had a single, short comment: 'Well done refusing the bastard'.

On what grounds does he think he deserves them? Because he's king? Even our three allies don't have them. Loze said it the best. Those weapons are our trump cards and if the second highness wants a piece, he better be ready to fight for it. All he has to do is declare us traitor and defeat us.

When Lorist finished writing his reply, he had Howard send it out using the messenger eagle. The birds only required a day to fly to Silowas. The letter would only take a further three days or so to reach Potterfang and Loze. It was much faster than how the count had his servants travel on horseback from the imperial capital, which took 17 whole days.

Lorist no longer worried for Firmrock and Tigersoar, Loze and Potterfang wouldn't let him down. Kenmays was with them, so the second highness wouldn't glean any benefits without their knowledge.

The following days saw Lorist occupied with many tasks, such as the enfeoffment and relocation of dominions at Delamock and the eastern Northlands' development. He also had to be present at the opening ceremony of Dawn Academy's Northland branch on the 15th day of the 8th month. The completion of the house's formal legal regulations also had to be screened. He also had to check on the newly formed Jaeger Legion as well as spend some time with Dilianna and his seven-month-old son. He couldn't help but wish he had the ability to create multiple clones of himself.

A rumor was also spreading in the dominion that worried him greatly. Word was that Lorist had begun to treat House Fisablen as a sworn enemy and had the intention to wipe it out after the duke refused to let Princess Sylvia marry him.

The first time he heard about it was in Tarkel's report. Tarkel had stammered when he described the rumor to Lorist. The matter of Duke Fisablen's refusal was no secret, neither were the terms he wanted Lorist to abide by for Sylvia's hand in marriage. Even though many of them considered Lorist a person who treasured his relationships in his act of not abandoning his children and concubines, many also thought those concubines were not worth treasuring in comparison to Princess Sylvia. They believed their lord shouldn't give up on the union with House Fisablen for a few concubines.

At first, nobody cared much for the rumor since it only started as gossip in taverns. But as Lorist began to worry about House Fisablen's might and take preventive measures, the rumors morphed to state that Lorist had done all he had because he was bitter and that he was preparing to attack House Fisablen and fight for the princess instead. This version somehow clicked with the folks in the dominion and began to spread like wildfire.

Even though Lorist was practically fuming with rage over the rumor, there wasn't a target on which he could take out his anger.

Why have I become the crook that sends his armies out for the sake of a single beauty?

Tarkel observed Lorist's reaction quietly.

"Milord, should we forbid the rumor's spread by punishing those spreading it with labor?"

"Forget it," Lorist sighed, hopelessly, "Let people say what they want. There's no point in forcing their mouths shut. Taking any stern action would only confirm the rumor. Besides, it's a personal matter. I suppose I should just accept it as one of the side effects of being Duke of The Northlands."



On the 19th day of the 8th month, Year 1777, House Norton's Tigersoar and Firmrock Legions suddenly launched an attack on the Allied Duchies of Britt. Seventeen days later, they occupied all of the two southeastern provinces. The two dukes fell in battle. It was the end of the Allied Duchies.

On the 8th day of the 9th month of that year, Firmrock launched an attack on the Zitram duchy. Duke Zitram had his forces retreat out of Hanstmost. He stood his ground in the northwestern area of the old Redlis kingdom. On the 32nd day of the 9th month, Tigersoar and Firmrock handed Hanstmost and the two southeastern provinces over to Whitelion Legion and the Andinaq kingdom's newly formed royal defense legion before beginning their journey back to The Northlands.