And here's the final release of the week! We will back after a one-day break.

During the 11th day of the 11th month of Year 1778, 100 thousand barbarian cavalrymen attacked Pedro. The battle lasted until dawn. Corpses piled up like mountains and blood flowed in rivers. During the intense battle, the barbarians managed to take over the outermost wall for a time. However, the 23rd brigade of Fifth Local managed to successfully resist and keep the city from falling with only three thousand soldiers and ten thousand laborers. When dawn broke, the barbarians finally retreated, having suffering huge casualties.
Both sides had been bled, but 23rd Local's steadfastness allowed the four houses to eliminate Iblia. Winston and Southern were successfully annexed. It also enabled the four houses to gain the advantage over the War God of the Plains, Duke Fisablen. From that moment on, House Norton firmly suppressed the house and turned a new page in the chapter of the Ragebear dynasty.
Extract from Grindian Chronicles: Records of the Bear's Rise -- The Crimson Battle of Pedro


'The 23rd brigade has 1728 men left. Most are injured and at least half of their gear and equipment have been worn out or ruined. The reserves formed from the laborers suffered four thousand casualties. The barbarians left more than twelve thousand corpses behind; their losses are estimated to be around 20 thousand. I've instructed the 22nd brigade and the first to fourth security brigades to move to Pedro. At the same time, Viscount Eidis will lead noble's private armies, totaling around six thousand, to Winston. The name list is as follows...'
Thus was the message sent by Freiyar. Lorist breathed a sigh of relief after he read it. Now that Pedro had successfully been defended, the strategy to eliminate Iblia had succeeded halfway. As long as he could conquer Boblige and chase House Fisablen's forces out of Southern, he could finish up perfectly. It would then be Duke Kenmays's turn to leverage their economic and trade power to suppress House Fisablen so they would submit. He wasn't the least bit interested in humoring the old fox and fighting him in the open on the great northeastern plains.
Following the bloody battle, the 23rd brigade managed to hold Pedro despite losing over half of their number. Freiyar was full of praise for Eidelwoke, the one in charge of their side during the battle. Lorist really didn't think his illegitimate brother would have the ability and was truly happy for his sake. For the current House Norton, as long as the blood of the Nortons flowed in their descendants' veins, even in those of illegitimate children, it would be a great help if they were talented.
Now, Freiyar had arrived at Pedro and took over the defenses. With him there, Lorist no longer had to worry about Pedro's security. However, the battle reminded him that his strategy had almost gone completely wrong because of his own carelessness. Such an important place was under-defended; it had just a brigade three thousand strong. At the very least, there should have been three brigades.
Also, one brigade wasn't enough to defend strategic locations such as large cities. For instance, the 21st local defense brigade stationed at Windbury was in charge of both maintaining security and securing the city gates. If the enemy really attacked it, there was no way it could defend all four gates. Maybe a reorganization of the local defense legion was due. The 75 thousand troops were quite a force and splitting them over three provinces made commanding them a little difficult.
Just when Lorist was considering how he should split his forces, Howard walked into the tent.
"Your Grace, Baron Camorra sent a letter from Windbury; the queen is throwing another tantrum at Rose Palace. She claimed she would fast in protest of our impolite treatment and humiliation. Baron Camorra hopes you will deal with the queen soon so she doesn't continue to cause trouble for everyone."
Lorist couldn't help but admit the queen was truly a weird one. Not only didn't she care about the kingdom's survival, she also didn't bother with her title. All she wanted was to participate in parties, balls, and banquets, to indulge in nothing but pleasure. Even after Windbury was conquered, she wasn't moved and didn't even bother finding out about her father, Duke Fisablen, who had been clashing with the four houses in Southern. She only demanded she be treated in a manner fitting of her status as queen. She even tried to seduce Camorra and Freiyar.
While she was a beauty, she was already nearing her fifties. The two were naturally not interested, perhaps out of concern for Lorist's reputation. Having been refused by the Northlands' nobles and officials, the queen, with the help of her maidservants, actually brought the soldiers standing guard at the palace gates into her chambers. The next morning, they emerged with large bags under their eyes and pale faces. They wobbled out of the castle on unsteady legs. The queen infuriated Camorra so much he even considered beheading her and being done with the whole business.
Naturally, he didn't act on the thought. Killing a queen would cause lots of trouble from the peerage. Nobody was willing to be known as a queen slayer. Apart from being indecent and unruly, the queen wasn't a threat to anyone, neither was her demand to be treated in a manner fitting her status, unfounded. Even if she was a captive, her father was still a consideration. Nobody was willing to cross a rank 3 blademaster hailed as the War God of the Plains.
Lorist was unwilling as well. Though he was arch enemies with the duke at the moment, he didn't want to vent his frustration on his daughter. Apart from being a famously loose woman, she hadn't committed any particular wrong. While she was Iblia's queen, her marriage was a purely political one and her bad relationship with the second prince was an open secret. But since Camorra had made a number of complaints regarding the issue already, Lorist felt it was about time he dealt with it.
"Howard, write the baron a letter. Have him pick a few Fisablen household knights and a hundred of their soldiers. We will release them, arm them, and let them escort the queen back to their dominion. Also, tell him to not touch the queen's personal belongings. If she thinks she doesn't have enough things, give her some money to cover her expenses. That way, we will be rid of our troubles," instructed he.
It was the best way to deal with the situation. By sending her away with a generous gift, nobody would be in debt. As for what kinds of waves the queen would make after she was sent back to her house, it wasn't Lorist's problem. This way, the other nobles would also praise him for his benevolence.
"Yes, Your Grace. I'll write the letter right away," said Howard.
"Oh, Howard, is there still no word from Els, Reidy, and the others?" Lorist felt something was off.
A few days ago, he had given Els and Reidy orders to capture a few Fisablen soldiers from Boblige alive and question them about some basic information such as the mountain ranges terrain, the number of men Duke Fisablen left behind, and so on. However, they hadn't returned since they departed, not a single word.
Howard shook his head.
"Your Grace, I'm not sure what happened either. Nothing's been heard of them since Els and Senior Brother Reidy left. They didn't take any messenger eagles with them either. I've instructed the scouts to pay attention to any trail they left during their patrols, but they haven't found anything yet."
"Weird... Where could they have gone?" pondered Lorist as he stroked his chin.
"Are they in trouble, Your Grace?" asked Howard worriedly.
Lorist chortled.
"No way. Given Reidy's strength and Els's hardiness, even Duke Fisablen wouldn't be able to hold them back. At least one would make it back. Also, they took ten guards. They could scatter and at least a few would return. I believe they've only encountered some kind of delay. Perhaps, they'll return in a few more days."
At that moment, Lorist thought of Morbinghan's golden eagle. It was too bad Tarkel's project would take two to three years. Otherwise, Jaeger wouldn't have ended up in such bad shape. They would've realized Duke Fisablen's grassland cavalrymen were lying in ambush and could've avoided it.
Thinking about how it would take the eagle program six years to show results, it was understandable that training eagles to track enemies would take a substantial amount of time. Lorist had already promised Morbinghan many things as long as he could train a batch of similar eagles. At the very least, he would be rewarded with a hereditary barony. Lorist believed Morbinghan would do his best. As the saying went, 'suspect not those you use, use not those you suspect'. Since he'd left the matter to them, he would trust their ability to carry it out.
But if he still hadn't received any word from Reidy and Els, he would have to trouble Morbinghan to use his gold eagle to track them down.
"Your Grace, I know we managed to defend Pedro, but what about the mountain barbarians trying to attack the dominion?" asked Howard as he recalled the matter.
"Relax, we'll be fine," Lorist said with a smile, "The mountain barbarians would never descend from their mountains to raid in the winter. Currently, they are busy gathering resources to survive the winter. Every winter season is a trial for them. Unlike our household forces, armed and trained properly for winter and able to travel as they please with skis no matter how cold the weather, the barbarians are trapped. The soonest they'll invade in spring. By then, we'll be back in the dominion and will've made our preparations. It's due time we refreshed their memory."
"Okay," said Howard as he nodded before returning to his task.
Ten days later, there was still no word on the two. Just as Lorist was about to write a letter to request Morbinghan's help, Freiyar's report arrived. It stated that the grassland-barbarian army finally retreated from Pedro.
The barbarians had launched a number of attacks since Freiyar took charge of the city's defenses. None of their attempts were successful and they only lost more men. None of the battles were nearly as brutal as their first two encounters. In the last few attempts, they seemed to quit after a few men from their first wave died. All they did was shout and intimidate outside the steel ballistae' range before retreating after hearing the horns.
Freiyar described one incident in his report. The night before they retreated, chaos broke out in their camp. Fires burned, people cried, and fierce fighting erupted. It was as if a large battle had broken out. He'd wanted to gather the forces he had to attack their main camp, but he worried that it was a trap and didn't mobilize. He only realized a real battle had broken out in the morning. The main camp had been ruined and there were at least 30 to 40 thousand bodies. As for the surviving barbarians, they were nowhere to be seen.
Even though Lorist was curious about what had led to the incident, he knew his men had no role in it. The good news was that Pedro was safe and the enemy had been forced to retreat. It was already a huge victory.
Along with news of the victory came word of Camorra's escort. They were the 100-carriage convoy that escorted the queen and they had just arrived at the main camp. Camorra wasn't present but he had written Lorist a letter. In it, he explained that to send the queen back to the dominion, he had no choice but to agree to a few of her requests. For example, she was to be allowed to bring back all the furniture in her palace; hence the huge convoy. Not even the toilet bowls weren't left alone.
There were the three hundred plus maidservants. Camorra felt it was kind of a shame as they were just as loose as the queen. He had intended to open a brothel for the household forces, but after considering the fact that many of the maidservants were former members of fallen noble houses, he worried it would cause a lot of trouble for the house. So, he allowed the queen to take them all.
He also mentioned that he had to give her 100 thousand gold Fordes, she believed she was due the money, before she was finally willing to leave. She also brought with her lots of other resources, so there was a chance the cohort of ten silver-ranked Fisablen knights and 100 Fisablen soldiers wouldn't be able to protect the whole convoy. They had no choice but to dedicate some of their forces to escort the convoy to Lorist's camp.
Lorist had no choice but to hurriedly prepare to receive her. After all, he was a noble and throwing a banquet for an occasion like this was unavoidable. While he was an enemy of House Fisablen as well as the sole cause of Iblia's demise, having captured the second prince and handing him to the second highness, nobles were supposed to keep their bearing at all times. Even if the queen was the house's captive, she still had to be treated properly.
The queen didn't treat him as she would an archenemy during the banquet. In fact, she was thankful to him for capturing the second prince and allowing her to spend a few years in peace and luxury. Lorist finally realized how eccentric and indifferent she was. It didn't change how troublesome she was, though. While she didn't mind the kingdom's downfall, she lamented the loss of her annual allowance that went with it and cried and begged for Lorist to make it up to her.
He reminded her tactfully of the 100 thousand gold Fordes Camorra had given her, but the queen said her yearly allowance was 20 thousand gold Fordes. A hundred thousand would only last five years. Since she was young and not yet forty (despite the fact that he real age was 46), she could live on for at least 20 or 30 years.
"How will I live in five years?!" cried she out loud.
Lorist had just met the real deal. He promised he would do his best to provide her another 100 thousand gold Fordes just to get her to shut up and stop crying. However, perhaps because she felt Lorist was too easy to push around, she demanded another 200 thousand after pocketing his initial offer. Angered, Lorist refused her, and the queen stayed at the camp and refused to leave.
He would soon regret his decision. Though Camorra didn't form a brothel unit from the queen's maidservants, the queen started running a prostitution service in the camp. It cost one gold Forde to sleep with one maidservant for a night. If anyone was willing to pay ten gold Fordes, the queen would join the fray herself. While she was a little aged, her looks were still rather fine. That aside, she held the title of queen. To normal soldiers, spending ten gold Fordes to have a go with a queen was something they could brag about for the rest of their life. They were even willing to borrow money to not miss out on the opportunity. Soon, the queen's business boomed. Customers came her way nonstop.
Lorist paled. They were at the frontlines in the middle of a war. Having wobbly legs after doing the deed was unacceptable. Intent on going to the army camp to enforce military discipline, he was surprised to find that the soldiers and knights that spent time with the queen didn't violate any military regulation. They only paid a visit to the queen's when they were off duty and didn't leave the camp. There was nothing to punish.
Lorist didn't dare visit the queen's quarters, lest he be assaulted by a couple of naked maidservants. It had been happening to Potterfang whenever he was nearby.
Since he'd treated the queen rather well, there was no way he could flip out on her out of nowhere. While it did sound weird for a queen to be prostituting herself in an army camp, it wasn't causing any trouble. In fact, the soldiers' mood improved considerably and it didn't seem to be a bad thing at all.
In the end, Lorist acknowledged his misfortune and wanted to encourage the queen to be on her way by taking another 200 thousand gold Fordes out of his pocket. House Fisablen's forces in Boblige had already been waiting to receive the queen outside their camp for almost ten days.
She was really reluctant to leave and said that if she was allowed to stay in the camp until spring, she wouldn't need the 200 thousand gold Fordes.
"It's best if you leave earlier. If you stay here until spring, the men's salary will end up in your coffers..." Lorist responded.
Darn, this queen is far more capable than Duke Fisablen. At least the duke didn't manage to sneak 300 thousand gold Fordes from me, thought he as he watched the convoy depart.