Phew, we're almost at the end of the week again. Enjoy the read!

Lorist returned to The Northlands on the 7th day of the 1st month of the new year. He observed The Northlands' capital, Roaring Bear City, formerly known as Gildusk, from a distance in the cold. Grandmaster Ciroba had renovated it without a hitch. He'd even gone out of his way to fashion a huge statue of a bear in the central plaza. The plaza was thus named Ragebear Plaza.

The city needed another year's work before renovations would be complete. Most of the year's infrastructure was completed the year before, from waterways and irrigation works to walls and roads. What had to be done now was the building of the many houses and buildings. Ciroba had proclaimed optimistically that everything would be done before the eighth month of the previous year, but the internal furnishings and decorations would take more time. Ciroba's aide, Zanben, would be in charge from the 5th month since Ciroba had to head to Southern to build Pegasus Castle.

Lorist stayed in the city for just ten days. Apart from checking out its progress, he also met with Shadekampf. The servant who'd followed him around since his childhood had become a magnificent talent in management. The new settlements in the south of The Northlands, namely Haven, Harvest, and Vigor's, construction was proceeding well. It would be completed in no more than two years. The only problem was the relatively low population. Settlements had to be populated to become prosperous.

Charade brought Supervisor Spiel in a hurry to receive Lorist. Ever since he'd received Tarkel's report in the 11th month about the possibility of a mountain barbarian invasion, he'd stayed at Firmrock Castle to guard it. Lorist understood the barbarians' might well and was certain they wouldn't leave their mountains in the winter but Charade still had to be prepared just in case. Now that Lorist had returned, the situation in Southern had stabilized, Iblia conquered, and Tigersoar returning soon as well, Charade could finally let go of his worries.

He also gave Lorist a piece of good news: the estates in the east of Roaring Bear, that is, the section reserved for nobles' manors, were selling like hotcakes. All 67 estates had been gobbled up by the nobles and House Norton's funds had grown by roughly 1.6 million gold Fordes. Spiel was so ecstatic he almost couldn't shut up. It should be noted that the land sold was completely empty. It didn't have a single building.

The nobles that bought the land would have to spend even more of their money to build their manors. All House Norton had to take care of was making sure the basic infrastructure, such as roads and parks, was in place. The endeavor was very profitable. Mainly because the landowners also had to pay an annual tax on their land, which was a thousandth of its market price. In other words, while the land sold was private property, it was still Norton territory. Given that the Nortons were in charge of the land's safety, they would have to pay some sort of 'protection fee'.

Lorist was incredibly shocked. The plots ranged from five to eight thousand gold Fordes. How did it add up to 1.6 million? It was already six times more than what they'd estimated they'd get. What in the world had made3 the nobles willing to spend so much money? Charade explained gleefully that he hadn't settled on a fixed price. He just drew the boundaries, listed a minimum, starting price, and sent the maps to the various nobles, both honorary and landed. The entire peerage received the same map, including the old Winston nobles that'd joined their side. The demand turned out to be incredibly high, so Charade organized an auction. In the end, given the demand, the plots all sold at five to ten times their original price.

The nobles that didn't get any of the plots, demanded the district be expanded so they could get a plot as well. He'd estimated they could set up two similar districts and still sell out. So, he and Spiel picked two more areas set up another 150 plots. Lorist just had to give his approval and they could go ahead with the auction.

Lorist looked over the documents and scribbled about with his pen. He crossed out the larger district and left only about 58 plots. Charade and Spiel looked at him anxiously. He was denying them a mountain of gold!

"There's no need to be hasty," Lorist explained, "The two districts ensure all the nobles can get a piece of land. Do you think they'll go crazy for them during the auction if they know they're sure to get a plot? It'll be difficult to raise the price if everyone has a guaranteed spot. We can only increase their value if we limit the number."

Charade's eyes widened and he smacked his forehead.

"Apologies, I was being too hasty and forgot about that completely. I thought the new districts would sell for the same price as the first. This is my fault."

"It's not your fault. You two just didn't understand the reason the nobles were so crazy for the land," Lorist consoled with a smile, "Basically, the reason they're willing to pay such a high price is: the act of purchasing a plot is an expression of loyalty."

"An expression of loyalty?" asked the two oddly.

"Yes," Lorist nodded, "You carried out the auction after we'd already eliminated First Frontier and conquered Windbury, and the duke'd fled to Southern. Everyone can see we're winning the war. House Fisablen may be a strong house in our region, but they suffered defeat after defeat at our hands. It's nearly impossible for them to turn the tables. Unless we do something incredibly stupid, Duke Fisablen will lose the war, War god or not.

"Given these circumstances, and that House Norton is the alliance's leader, they placed their bets on us. We've also now decided where The Northlands' capital will be and given it a name, one reminiscent of our own family: Roaring Bear. Clearly, this is now our headquarters. The act of purchasing land from us here is a gesture of loyalty. In other words, they're saying they're willing to be in the same boat with us. Naturally, they're also looking for more opportunities to work with us. If they have any dealings with us, there's no doubt they'll prosper.

"Now that we've achieved our goal of conquering Iblia, Winston and Southern are under the four houses' control as well. Andinaq now controls more than half the former empire's territory. While we're loyal to kingdom in name, the four houses are their own powerful faction. The nobles know this as well. Compared to the second highness, we're a far better option for their allegiance. They can't even be bothered to deal with our king."

Lorist pointed at the documents in his hands.

"Actually, no matter how much we charge for these plots, the nobles will grit their teeth and buy them to show they stand with us. However, I don't wish to sow any animosity. Apart from making them willingly give us their gold by raising the land's value, we have to make the value compound and rise over the years.

"For example, I plan to put just 40 plots up for sale. The rest will be used to build kickball stadiums, horse-racing stadiums, and battleforce-training halls. We'll also build facilities for high-level herbalists. We can even dig a small stream from a nearby lake so the people here can swim and kayak. The lake can be used for picnics and walks as well. We'll have luxurious restaurants and tea houses, and luxury shopping areas and streets. We'll make this district a noble paradise. If we do this, the land will be in greater demand and its value will go up even more.

"We can set up another special district or an elite residential area nearby afterwards. Naturally, the price will be even higher thanks to the surrounding infrastructure and the value of the land nearby."

"Your Grace, you're a true schemer," exclaimed Charade.

Spiel furrowed his brow.

"Your Grace, don't you think these two districts sound a little similar to the rich district in the city? Won't this lower the rich district's value?"

"Hehe," Lorist shook his head, "The rich district is just that, an area for rich nobles and commoners alike. Anyone with money can purchase land there. However, these two will be for nobles only, or guests that receive invitations from nobles. No amount of money will let you qualify to purchase land here. This will inevitably inflate the nobles that purchase land here's sense of status. And, given that the rich commoners also wish to be a part of this, they will try even harder to contribute to the house so they may receive our recognition and be given an honorary title.

"Starting next year, the house will no longer acknowledge other nation's titles. Supervisor Spiel, set up a system for foreign honorary nobles to become local honorary nobles. Naturally, they'll have to pay a fee."

"But, Your Grace, what point is there to this? They're only honorary titles, what difference is there between titles we issue and titles other nations issue?" asked Spiel, confused.

Charade chortled.

"Absolutely golden, Your Grace! The difference is huge, Spiel. First, His Grace said that honorary titles from other nations won't be acknowledged starting next year. In other words, honorary nobles from other nations won't be able to attend any of our gatherings, balls, or banquets. They won't be able to mingle with the four houses or their vassals.

"All the foreign nobles that've purchased land already have to have their titles converted or they'll lose the land. We don't offer noble titles very easily, people without noble titles can't buy them no matter how much they pay, so our titles are worth far more than other people's titles. Our faction is one of the strongest on the continent. Honorary nobles we acknowledge will have a far higher standing in other nations' noble circles. People will have to think twice before offending them since we are their backers and will stand up to defend them.

"Also, after this announcement, the land's price will go up even more. Honorary nobles will scramble to get a plot. I don't doubt for a second that the 40 pieces we'll sell this time round will be worth far more than the 67 we sold first..."

Since it would soon rain gold, Spiel kept his mouth shut and waited.

Lorist smiled bitterly.

"Had it not been for our losses, I wouldn't have come up with something like this. Then again, taking money from nobles and rich commoners is far better than increase the poor's tax. Also, Baron Charade, Tigersoar and Jaeger's casualties are quite heavy. Make sure their pensions are paid to the families as well as those who retired because of their injuries. I've decided to decrease the taxes levied on households with dead or injured soldiers while maintaining the benefits they receive like the other soldiers of the house. Reduce their taxes by a third."

Most landed nobles taxed their commoners more than two fourths. In other words, half of the crop grown on the rented land would be given to the noble as rent. Also, there were miscellaneous taxes such as for housing, water, boats, etc. Nobles would only have to pay a tenth of their tax revenue to their liege in tribute. Many nobles raised their taxes as high as seven tenths and kept their subjects poor. They would have to rely on labor and blood tax to keep up with the high taxes.

Labor refers to working for the nobles for free. They even had to prepare their own food. Usually, labor terms lasted from 12 to 15 months. Blood tax refers to serving in the noble's levy. The nobles provide two meals a day, basically pig feed, the commoners wouldn't be paid a dime. They only profited from plunder. But most of the spoils would be given to their lords. If they were unfortunate enough to die in battle, their lord just had to inform their families, they didn't have to give them any compensation. The households that lost precious family members would find it even harder to cope with their main manpower gone.

House Norton's taxes had always been two fourths. It was already the lowest among nobles. When Lorist returned to the dominion to take up position as household leader, he learned that the taxes were too high and had tried to make them 30 percent, but it'd prompted strong opposition from the household knights and officials. Charade had privately advised him to not stand out too much by adopting such a radical policy, as it would cause them to be ostracized by the rest of the nobility. So, Lorist had never touched the main taxes. However, he did decrease the miscellaneous taxes wherever he could. One of the big ones was the fishing and hunting tax, which was only one tenth.

Even though the main taxes couldn't be touched, soldiers' families would receive benefits. Households with members in the garrison would receive a tax cut of one tenth. They only had to hand in four tenths of their harvests. Households with members in the house's main forces were only taxed three tenths. If they retired, the taxes would only go up to four tenths.

Before, households with members in the military who died in battle would receive a one-tenth decrease in taxes permanently. However, Lorist wanted to decrease it by another ten percent and was unyielding despite Spiel's objections.

"Actually, Supervisor Spiel, our house's main source of income isn't the taxes we levy on the harvests. Instead, it is the industrial and business sectors. Even after developing Felicitas, Salus, Redriver, and Greatriver, our annual harvest tax has still not exceeded a million gold Fordes. It's not worth much more than what we generate in Wildnorth Town in Felicitas itself. The harvest tax isn't actually anything worth considering. Decreasing it by another one tenth would instead generate goodwill and gratitude among the commoners.

"This time around, our casualties are as high as 40 thousand. Our annual pension payouts in the future will near 100 thousand gold Fordes. There's no need to grumble about something insignificant like a harvest tax that doesn't amount to 10 thousand gold Fordes. Forget about such a small amount of money and let the households of those who sacrificed themselves for us know that we will not forget the blood they've spilled and the sacrifices they've made for our sake."

"I apologize, I was in the wrong, my Lord. I will respect your decision," apologized Spiel with a deep nod.