"We Nortons know a sickness of the heart only gold can cure." ~ Charade

Enjoy the second release of the week!

"The spoils this time around are pretty decent," said Lorist, filled with satisfaction.

His current location was the hilly part of Black Forest at the old mine. They were in the secret gold storehouse of the barbarian tribe Walizinge. The guards, led by Els and Reidy, had broken into their campsite at dawn. The tribe was now just one of the many casualties. The tribe did have two strong ceremonial warriors, but Lorist was quick to kill them.

The little cave now in front of them was stuffed with crudely made golden wares of varying sizes and odd shapes. Under the torch's illumination, they gleamed temptingly. An approximate count placed the content of the cave's worth at around two million gold Fordes.

"Why would the mountain barbarians use gold to make these weird little things?" Lorist wondered as he picked up a crude heavy great-axe fashioned of pure gold and waved it around, "This doesn't seem too practical."

"Your Grace, according to the old barbarian slave, these golden wares were made with great care and scrutiny to be used as sacrifices to the mountain deity, Kubawesson," explained Howard swiftly.

From the perspective of the mountain barbarians, gold was the most useless resource. They couldn't eat it or use it to make good weapons. It didn't help that they traded using mainly barter either. It was said that, in the distant past, the barbarians valued gold no more than a simple rock. However, when they realized that gold could be used to trade for incredibly practical goods from flatlander merchants, its demand spiked. Soon, they replaced good weapons, which used to be regarded as the most important resource, as sacrifices for the mountain deity.

Since the discovery of the gold mine in the hills, the Walizinge tribe had become one of the richest tribes. They traded gold with the other tribes to gain slaves, food, and livestock and enjoyed a decent life. It was reflected in the golden decorations hung around their grass huts. They could even hire two strong ceremonial warriors to keep other tribes from having designs on their territory.

It had now all fallen to the Nortons. Perhaps, the years of living in peace and luxury let the tribe lose their fighting spirit. The chieftain's instinct to preserve his life took over the moment the two warriors fell and he hurriedly surrendered.

"Not only did we not suffer any losses, we also managed to earn quite a bit. I'm sure Spiel will be glad. Oh, also, when will Grandmaster Sid arrive?" asked Lorist.

Grandmaster Sid was going to estimate the amount of gold available in the mines. Only after finding out whether it could be profitable to mine it would the house decide on investing funds into the facilities here. If it was already mostly dried up, then the house would leave with what they had. In a few more years when another tribe mines the rest of the gold, the house would attack them instead and make off with some pocket change or collect some tribute.

"There's no way he'd arrive this quickly, Your Grace. We took this place just this morning. It hasn't even been half a day since we sent the messenger. Each trip takes at least five days. Also, the path through the forest isn't easy to tread. Els already gathered some of the barbarian captives to build a road through the forest," complained Howard.

He had slipped and fallen a number of times because they were rushing to launch the surprise attack.

"Oh, apologies. I'm just far too happy. I forgot," Lorist consoled with a shrug as he tossed the golden axe back into the pile before turning to leave, "Alright, let's go. Seal the door and have Spiel make an inventory when he arrives. Just tell me the worth of it all in gold Fordes."

Usually, there would be people on hand to make an inventory. However, Spiel had to deal with stashes worth more than a million gold Fordes personally. As the house's chief financial supervisor, he rushed to the area after hearing about the gold mine's capture and the golden wares they'd obtained despite how tiring or arduous the journey was. He arrived on the third day.

"Your Grace, I've made an inventory of the golden wares. They are worth 2.32 million gold Fordes in total," reported Spiel, a little crestfallen. Had the household forces arrived a few years earlier, there would've been a few times more gold. According to the slaves' testimonies, during the Kubawesson festival last year, the Walazinge tribe fashioned countless golden wares to trade. At the same time, they made a 1.3-meter-tall golden statue of the deity as a tribute to the holy site on Smormilgen Mountain. Near a thousand cows were used to transport it.

"What a waste. They actually used gold to make such a statue and even used the cows they traded for with gold to transport them. They even had to generously feed the thousands of barbarian warriors escorting the statue and used the remaining cows as a blood sacrifice for the festival. They squandered everything so easily!" exclaimed Spiel hatefully.

Lorist didn't take Spiel's words seriously. Had he really attacked the Walazinge tribe back then, it would've been a disaster. Taking the statue made as a tribute to their gods was shaking a huge hornet's nest. He'd have made an enemy of every barbarian in the Magic Dragon Mountains. They would all hate House Norton for stealing their holy statue. While the household forces could easily take care of 100 thousand barbarians, it couldn't deal with a million at once. Even if they obtained gold worth tens of millions, it wouldn't have been worth it.

"Also, Spiel, make sure to give ten percent of our spoils, 230 thousand, to Mayor Doboff. It's the bonus I promised him," instructed Lorist.

Spiel hesitated for a moment.

"Your Grace, isn't it a little too much? Actually, the mayor would be satisfied even if we gave him ten or 20 thousand. It's not like he knows how much we got anyway..."

Lorist smiled and shook his head.

"Just do as I say. A man cannot stand without his word. While you can hide the truth from people, you can never deceive the eyes of the gods. While ten percent of the spoils is definitely a lot, it's nowhere near worth tarnishing the house's name. Trust is the foundation, and we must definitely stick to our word. If we cheat the mayor for just this much today, would we cut the pension of our brave warriors tomorrow? Doing something like this will shake the house's foundation to the core, do you understand, Spiel?"

"It is my mistake, Your Grace," confessed Spiel, lowering his head.

"I'm not blaming you. You are my chief financial supervisor. You are an earnest man. I trust your ethics and character. You only did what you did out of consideration of the house's interests, not your own. After all, House Norton is rising rapidly and we've spent quite a bit these past years. It's only natural you, as the financial supervisor, would seek to balance our spending. I admire your attitude when it comes to furthering the house's interests. However, some things cannot be dealt with based solely on consideration for our finances. We would quickly be blind to the better, yet distant future by the allure of short-term profit. Do you understand?"

He was finally trying to address Spiel's increasingly miserly attitude.

"I understand, Your Grace. I promise not a single copper less will be paid when we hand this bonus to Mayor Doboff."

"Very well. I leave this to you. Also, tell Mayor Doboff that, since the mountain barbarians suffered heavy losses, he can expect a good period of peace. The house has decided to take in Twinmount Town officially. He has done well as the town's mayor for these ten years, so ask him if he would stay on as mayor or join the house's administration. Our sphere of influence is expanding quickly and we really need officials like him. His talent shouldn't be wasted in a single frontier town. Please pass my thoughts on and tell him that those who serve the house loyally will be rewarded."

"Understood, Your Grace. I will pass on your evaluation and your expectations word for word. I believe he'll make the most sensible choice."

Grandmaster Sid arrived, disciples in tow, two days later.

Without even bothering to rest, he had his disciples conduct a detailed survey of the area and the mine itself. He also entered the mine personally to check on the gold veins' distribution. After three days of hard work, Lorist received the report.

"Congratulations, Your Grace. The mine is still rich. We've determined that less than a tenth of the ore has been harvested. Our observations and the slaves' testimonies confirm the mine's previous owners used one of the most primitive mining methods of which we know. They only got 500 thousand gold Fordes' ore in a year.

"If we invest heavily in the mines and uses the latest mining and refining techniques, we can produce 1.5 to 2 million gold Fordes every year for the next century. This is definitely something worthy of a huge celebration!" reported Sid excitedly.

Ever since he was made viscount and given his own demesne in Delamock, he was proud of his identity a Norton noble.

He was genuinely happy for the house for obtaining such a rich gold mine. If the house had funds, Lorist could give him more support to invent even more unimaginable inventions. Currently, he only received 100 thousand gold Fordes' funding annually like Professor Balbo's gunpower laboratory. They were sourced secretly and not reported publicly. While he did enjoy the benefits as they were now, he was worried the house would one day be forced to cut his budget because of financial concerns. It would severely impact his goal of raising his rank to the next level through his experimental contributions.

"Thank you, Grandmaster Sid. You have truly brought me very good news," thanked Lorist with a beaming smile.

A gold mine producing up to two million gold Fordes for a whole century was truly incredible. Even Spiel, who was just standing nearby, couldn't keep his mouth shut.

I really didn't think this unnamed place in the Black Forest would have such a large gold vein. Even the golden creeks House Fisablen spent lots of effort to conquer doesn't generate more than a million gold Fordes a year. Now House Norton has its own gold mine, not the least bit inferior to the golden creeks, how can we not be jumping with joy?!

"This place shall henceforth be known as Golden Ridge. What do you think?"

He was so happy he couldn't help but name the place immediately.

Nobody had any objections.

Out of excitement, Spiel added, "Your Grace's naming sense is sound. This is indeed a ridgy area full of gold. However, I believe we should concern ourselves with setting up some defensive arrangements so the house can conquer the mines for good and keep it from falling back into the barbarians' hands."

Spiel's timely reply had Lorist call for a meeting immediately to discuss their plans to build a citadel at the ridge for the protection of the mine.

"We'll give up on the other smaller hills. Build a fort to protect the mines and outfit it with a complete loadout. We'll call it Fort Goldridge. Additionally, we will build another long wall from Hidebull Fort to here around the hills to the left of Firmrock Castle. This way, we can split this part of the dominion off from Magic Dragon Mountains completely. We won't have to worry about any invasions again.

"We shall also build a highway through Black Forest to connect to the lake. We shall build a town there to provide support and supplies for Fort Goldridge. As it is also situated within Black Forest, we will have to clear the surrounding land, everything within half a kilometer regardless of whether it encompasses the wall or the other forts will be cleared. The barbarians must have no cover for any future attacks.

"This will be a huge project, but the house has to do this no matter whether we're at war or not, regardless of the manpower and funds required. Building the wall and Fort Goldridge is of utmost importance. Els, Reidy, you two will take command of the guards and 7th and 18th local and defend this place. Be incredibly alert and ensure the laborers' safety. Deal with any incident as you see fit. Understood?"

"Understood, Your Grace," said Els and Reidy in unison as they stood up.

"But, Your Grace, won't you have no one by your side if the guard squads stay here?" asked Reidy.

"Don't worry, I need just 500 men."

"Grandmaster Sid and Supervisor Spiel, I need you two to stay here for a while. Grandmaster, I will trouble you with setting up updated mining and refining facilities. Spiel, you will draft the budget and allocate the supplies the fort and wall's construction. Make sure to monitor the mining strictly as well. I hope everything will proceed even as we work on the construction instead of beginning after everything is complete."

"Very well. Your Grace. We will start the upgrade work as soon as possible," replied Sid loudly.

"Understood. Your Grace, I'll make sure the mining process is monitored strictly," said Spiel as he stood straight up.