"Gossip is a very dangerous tool.  We should be more wary of the gossiper than the gossip they bring." ~ Tarkel



Lundmorde hadn't told his wives that he was collecting information for the house. What Lorist wanted was current news and details about the situation and movements of the surrounding nations. The most crucial information he required was the military deployments and other movements of those nations. However, the reports from the newspapers of Morante Tarkel brought over were merely gossip and hearsay. They mostly contained odd erotica and chivalric romance without a trace of actual political information.

There were twelve issues of a small tabloid called 'Moonlit Tales' included among the things sent back. They contained twelve chapters of a serial erotica with a female protagonist whose husband was a sailor. The story was roughly about how after the protagonist's husband set sail, twelve handsome and rich princes on white horses showed up out of nowhere. The novel described in detail the protagonist's complex emotions and psychological state. After the protagonist spent night after night in debauchery with the twelve men, she made up her mind to run away from home with one of them. However, another prince who deeply loved her was jealous and hateful. After killing the lucky man, he committed suicide. Given how the situation changed, the remaining ten princes left the protagonist. All she could do was sit by her windowsill alone day after day, waiting for her husband's return.

Pfffft!

Lorist was having breakfast when he decided to browse the tabloids. The moment he read about the twelve nights of pleasure, he spat all the food in his mouth out immediately. Fortunately, he had been eating alone. It would've been far too rude otherwise.

Isn't this plot far too ridiculous? I even thought it would be that kind of stereotypical story where the protagonist would gradually get to know the twelve princes and they would seduce her one after another and mate like rabbits. The author even described every interaction as peaceful and moving and also flushed out the protagonist's state of mind. The readers no doubt had no choice but to join in. I didn't think there would be such a twist. This erotica changed into tragedy in a flash! It's just like having a bucket of cold water dumped on you just as things are getting exciting! It's like being rendered impotent all of a sudden! The author's kidding, right? I wonder how many people curse their name for this kind of ending...

He imagined at least one of Lundmorde's wives actually read stories like this as a hobby. It seemed there was a good chance he would be cheated on. However, he did wonder why Lundmorde was sent to the frontlines. While he was a two-star silver rank, his swordsmanship was nothing of note. He was only good as a second rank herbalist. Perhaps the Union had quite a lot of casualties, hence their need for Lundmorde's talents as a herbalist.

Putting aside the matter of Lundmorde's conscription, the conflict between the Union and the mid-southern nations was big enough news itself. The only thing was he lived too far to the north and couldn't get first-hand information on the situation. Formerly, the reports Lundmorde collected for the house would be sent through Peterson Merchant Guild when their trading fleet headed to Silowas. Needless to say, it was a rather time-consuming process; at least half a month would have passed by by the time the reports made their way to The Northlands.

The house had trained messenger eagles and established a communications system but Lundmorde wasn't equipped with similar facilities. The messenger eagles couldn't carry too much, they were difficult to train, and there were people who yearned for such eagles. The house had once tried to supply Lundmorde with an eagle. But nobles from the Union had forcefully bought the eagle in less than three days. Fortunately, it flew back to The Northlands soon after. As for Lundmorde, his house in Morante was ransacked for days on end until the nobles were sure the eagle hadn't made it back to Lundmorde.

After finishing breakfast, Lorist had Jinolio call Tarkel.

"You should send someone to Morante to teach Lundmorde's wives the proper method to collect reports and information instead of collecting and sending back a random assortment of gossip and advertisements and stuffing rotten yammer, thinking they can pass it off as the real deal," Lorist said as he pointed at the documents, "Just look at this report here, it's basically nothing but Union propaganda about how the conflict broke out because of the mid-southern nations demands for the Union to hand back the territory they occupied.

"The the mid-southern nations' army would have to be insane before they'd make those kinds of demands. Those eradicated nations have long lost the successors to the ruling families. These merchants are truly far more ruthless than nobles. What's the point of reforming those nations if the successors are no longer there? Also, would the Union really agree to spit out the meat it has swallowed? There must be some other reason for the war. Not only are we unable to gain anything from these tabloids, they're just spewing crap to trick people into buying them."

"Very well, Your Grace. I'll send someone. I was just thinking of sending some people to Morante to find out why Lundmorde was conscripted," Tarkel said some hesitation, "But Your Grace, what's that about 'yammer' Do you mean yam?"

Lorist gave it some thought and came up with an explanation. "Back when I was studying at Morante, I heard my neighbors talk about this merchant at the nearby crop market who would stuff rotten yams that wouldn't sell among the good ones. That's how that saying came about."

Tarkel said with a look of admiration, "Your Grace, your wisdom stretches far and wide."

Lorist's face reddened slightly.

"Spare me the flattery and just focus on your job. Send someone to Morante to teach Lundmorde's wives how to collect proper information while investigating whether Lundmorde was forcefully conscripted or whether he offended someone he shouldn't have. Or, the Union has entered a state of general mobilization because the start of the conflict went rather badly. Make sure to find out about the circumstances that led to the war. As for Lundmorde, I believe he's been sent to the frontlines to serve as herbalist for the injured, so he shouldn't be in immediate danger. However, it's best if the people you send can find him quickly and serve as his guard."

"Noted, Your Grace," Tarkel said as he turned to leave.

Lorist stopped him.

"Wait, Tarkel," said he with a furrowed brow, pacing around the tent non-stop until Tarkel felt dizzy from following Lorist with his eyes.

"Since the break-out of war a month ago, has the second highness made any moves? He should be the one most delighted by this turn of events and start something huge in the meantime. It's extremely weird that he hasn't made any moves yet. His silence is far too weird. I'm not used to 

"Your Grace, the first thing we did after we received word of the war was check on the second highness. We set up three messenger eagle stations around the capital, but all three report nothing out of the ordinary. The second highness hasn't acted at all, neither has the imperial local defense legion nor Whitelion received any orders. I just sent someone else to confirm. We should hear from him in a few days."

"Very well. I know how meticulous you can be. Go about your business and make sure to keep an eye on the second highness. I'm worried this king is up to something no good again," praised Lorist with a satisfactory nod.

The first thing on his itinerary was the visit to Jaeger's camp. He would then head to Goldridge to check on the mining facilities' construction and the early mining operations. He would thereafter travel to Northsea before finally heading to Bladedge Mountains. He would visit Nico Academy to check on Telesti and his two beloved daughters and head to the gunpowder research laboratory, the black iron refinery and the weapons forgery. It would be the start of the 8th month by the time returned to Firmrock after the whole trip.

Lots of construction was going on at Moonspring, situated along the way to Goldridge. The town was located beside the lake where the 100-thousand-strong barbarian army had been defeated. It would be the supply point for Fort Goldridge and the mine. As the lake was shaped like the circular moon, Lorist named it Moonspring, so the new town under construction came to be called Moonspring as well.

The first stages of the road construction from Moonspring to Goldridge was already complete. It was a road half a meter above the Black Forest's ground level, wide enough for four carriages to cross side by side. The road was built so the house could send reinforcements to Fort Goldridge in case of a barbarian army attack. The path still required some time for the clay and stones to be made secure and strong. Not only would it have to be flattened and leveled well, they also had to prevent it from collapsing in heavy rainstorms during the rainy season.

It took less than half a day to arrive at Fort Goldridge. Even though the trip was uneventful, the sites along the way were rather garish given the heads staked along the branches of the trees. According to one of the supervisors in charge of the construction project, the captive barbarians often tried to escape during the first month of the project. There would be more than a hundred barbarians captured daily and they were beheaded and had their heads staked through the tree branches along the road as a warning for the other barbarians who were considering a desperate escape. The captives only started behaving more obediently after about four thousand of them were killed.

Having been a dominion lord for more than a decade, Lorist was cold enough to no longer be bothered by such things. He pretended that he didn't see the heads at all. Jinolio, however, was but a 16-year-old boy. He hadn't seen such a harrowing sight ever before and shivered on the back of his horse. Lorist gave him a glance.

"Puff your chest out and sit tight. This is nothing worth mentioning or being afraid of. If you've seen the sea of corpses of the poor folk of Silowas left behind by the horrid slave traders and the human head pyramid I erected on Hanayabarta, you will not mind something like this."

"Yes, Your Grace," said Jinolio as he sat straight up. Even though he still felt a little apprehensive about looking at the heads, at least he was no longer shivering.

Belnick came to greet them with a regiment of troops. Fort Goldridge's basic construction was done and the rest of the work was progressing smoothly. According to Belnick, the fort and walls' construction was proceeding incredibly well without any interruption by the mountain barbarians. Perhaps after the extermination of their army, they had learned the true might of House Norton and no longer dared to cross them lest disaster befell them again.

Spiel was still at the gold mine busying himself over designing a better set of protocols to regulate the mined gold. Grandmaster Sid, on the other hand, had left two months ago, leaving his eldest son in charge of the development of new mining facilities and ways to transport the mined ore.

Satisfied with what he saw, Lorist left for Northsea after resting for two days.

He was surprised to find that Kenmays was still loitering around the city when he arrived. Kenmays also excitedly informed Lorist that he had just purchased 6 LLDM class vessels as well as 18 MAM class vessels in the name of the salt merchant committee for the fleet he was building. He was also setting up a firm for the committee in Northsea which included an office and a storage area. However, he did complain about how he couldn't buy ownership over property and only the rights to use them, making it so that he had to request official permission to even renovate the buildings as well as being taxed heavily on an annual basis for usage of the land.

Lorist shrugged and answered that he didn't have a choice since it was the land of House Norton. As the inheritor of the position of house leader, he alone had no rights to sell the rights of the house's land to others, so selling the rights to use the land was a compromise he had to make. The house would still retain ownership over the land whereas those who bought the rights to use the buildings or land could continue about their business without affecting the development of the dominion.

Kenmays however quickly and acutely noticed the hidden implications in Lorist's words, which reminded him of the two special sectors at the southern part of The Northlands where land was sold exclusively to nobles. He found another lucrative business model and pestered Lorist to talk about it in detail with him, but Lorist didn't have time to entertain him. So, he sent Kenmays off to look for Kedan after agreeing that he would consider Kenmays's plan to develop the real estate industry in the seven towns of Felicitas.

After checking on the reorganized Northsea Fleet and the shipyard at Bullhorn Bay, Lorist headed to Nico Academy. Telesti had already heard of the news of Lorist's marriage with Sylvia that would take place during the 11th month. Even though she insisted that she would remain single given her oath to the God of Knowledge and Wisdom, Siminglyde, she did bear Lorist two cute daughters. The position of matron of the house was within her arm's reach, yet she had refused Lorist's marriage proposal and pushed Lorist to Sylvia instead.

It wasn't known whether she was regretting her decision or reeling from the shock of the reality of her lover's marriage to another woman. During Lorist's five-day stay at the academy, Telesti behaved completely opposite her usual distant and cold demeanor and pestered Lorist every single day, causing him much physical and mental fatigue. But given that he understood what Telesti was worried about, Lorist tolerated her antics and treated her kindly. He also promised that he would construct a manor at a scenic location near Nico Academy for her to keep as her own private land.

After leaving Nico Academy, Lorist went to Bladedge Mountains. His first stop was Professor Balbo's laboratory. It was the main location where the cannons were being tested. The brigade of three thousand guards was secretly stationed there to master the secret weapons of House Norton: the bronze-cannon carriages. Unlike the bronze cannons issued to Northsea Fleet, these cannons designed for land use were far lighter and were mounted on a steel carriage frame. Each carriage would be pulled by two horses, allowing the cannons far greater mobility and swifter reaction to orders than the catapults of Thunderbolt Brigade.

Major Jim, who had just recovered from the backlash he suffered when attempting to break through the gold rank, and Vice Major Paulobins who used to serve in the first local defense brigade would be in charge of the bronze cannon brigade. It was too bad for the both of them that it took three whole years for the cannon designs to be revamped and perfected. Through test firing on various different terrains, they also developed fitting orders and protocols, but the war with House Fisablen ended just when they were ready to be deployed.

Lorist also felt that it was a huge shame since these land-based bronze cannons cost the house almost five million gold Fordes to realize. So far, there were a total of 200 of those cannons and three thousand guards. That was the unit that the house spent the most on, and they were also the most powerful force among all others. Lorist believed that when they were finally deployed on the battlefield, no enemy would be able to resist their thunderous assault.

"The black iron refinery should be further down. Grandmaster Sid wrote me a letter saying that there was a surprise waiting for me there. I can't wait to see what it is. Let's go, Jinolio," said Lorist after he bid farewell to Jim and the rest.

"Yes, Your Grace."