"Take a seat. Is the rain outside heavy?" Lorist asked Charade, who had just come in, as he leaned against his chair. After a busy winter, he had finally dealt with the migration and returned to Ragebear before the rainy season. After a few days of messing around with Sylvia, whom he hadn't seen for a while, he finally returned to dealing with business.

"What do you think? I really hate the rainy season. This incessant rain makes me feel moist as if I have mold growing on me even if I wasn't in the rain. The thought of having to endure this for more than 20 days really drives me crazy," complained Charade as he approached the fireplace like he was trying to bake his clothes dry.

When he felt warm again, he sat on the couch and asked Jinolio to get him a bottle of fruit wine.

"Hey, how's it going with Howard lately? He should be making good progress training in seclusion, right?"

Lorist nodded.

"Yes. Reidy's gone to Firmrock to check on him. He can leave in another half a year. Potterfang also told me before he went to the border that the moment Howard comes out of seclusion, he will marry him to the beloved daughter of Count Felim. Seeing as only Handra remains, if we succeed, Count Felim will be made Duke of Southern. So, Potterfang is getting a little anxious. He worries that, after Felim's promotion, he will not regard his title as baron fondly and make changes to Howard's marriage with his daughter."

"Hehe, Potterfang's brain is rusting. What's there to worry about?" Charade criticized impolitely, "Even if Count Felim is promoted to duke, he would still have to rely on us. Without our support, could he develop his dominion and secure Southern? If Firmrock really was called back, The count would only be able to sleep well if he keeps one of his eyes open at night. Would he really think the armistice signed with Duke Fisablen is a guarantee for peace? The moment Frontier troops march into his castle, it would all be over."

Charade's words contained some truth. Even if Count Felim was to be made duke after the four duchies' conquest, he would still have to stand behind House Norton. If he really were to cut ties with the other houses, he would definitely be swallowed whole by House Fisablen.

"Then again, Howard already has a good carrier, and Katrina seems to be a good girl who's also a great match. The two get along well as well. I've decided to let them get married after Howard exits seclusion," said Lorist.

Taking a sip of the delicious fruit wine Jinolio served, he asked, "The new migrants are doing well, yes?"

The refugees forced to migrate from Farkel to The Northlands totaled 230 thousand. Coupled with the ones from Forund, the number exceeded 400. That was to say, the population of The Northlands had shot past two million.

"It's going well. There haven't been any revolts yet. Even the last batch of mountain folk have been behaving."

Charade saw Lorist was ready to talk about serious matters, so he motioned his attendant to get him his personal folder and searched for the relevant information. Upon mention of the mountain folk, Lorist snorted.

"Make sure to watch them closely. They're really feisty and disagreeable. When we surrounded Hot Spring Valley and forced them into a corner, they actually dared to continue resisting? It took us more than a thousand casualties to subdue them and forced us to have Malek's carroballista division massacre the bulk from afar before they were finally willing to discard their weapons and surrender.

"The mountain legion was the same. Even though they were obviously encircled and their gold-ranked knight general, one of the mountain folk called Nuori, had died, they still persisted. They just wouldn't surrender. In the end, we had to burn their camps down to chase them out and kill them. We lost 18 thousand possible captives. Those we caught were mostly injured. I've decided they will work for eight years, not just three."

"Eight years? Well, Your Grace, weren't you going to recruit them into our forces? Logically speaking, the mountain folk should be rather decent recruits," wondered Charade.

Lorist shook his head.

"They have a really tough personality and they've always been loyal to Forund. They are proud to be citizens of the duchy. Additionally, House Forund's policies towards their subjects are aimed at gaining their loyalty. You might not know this, but there's only been one form of taxation for the mountain folk in the last century: blood tax. That is to say, the mountain folk have to serve in the military. House Forund also gave back by allowing them to congregate in the hilled area near Paetro and develop as they want. Thus their loyalty, unlike soldiers from other factions or houses that joined to make end's meet. Their loyalty will be hard to change."

Charade nodded. Now that he knew, even he did not intend to recruit them. Eight years of labor should teach them their place. After that, they would be placed all over the dominion so they will assimilate as its subjects. He took out another document.

"The plan to settle the refugees is already complete. Do you want to look it over?"

Lorist raised his cup.

"Just give me a brief. As long as the rough details make sense, I'll sign."

"Alright."

Charade cleared his throat and recited, "There are 2871 households among those who migrated to Windbury. They are 98236 people, most are artisans and merchants. We assigned them to the houses across the nearby streets so it would be convenient to set up shops or workshops. We expect Windbury to develop explosively once they're settled down. We estimate the livestock trading centers and leatherworking workshops will be established in Windbury's northern sector next year.

"More than 360 thousand migrants are expected to enter The Northlands in total They will not be assigned to the three new settlements in the south, but rather, the east where two new settlements are being built, Prosperitas and Bliss will be completed later this year. As for the three completed settlements in Southern, namely, Harvest, Vigor, and Haven, they are located near Ragebear, so we have decided to move a few loyal subjects from Felicitas, Salus and Redriver Valley over. The rest will be assigned to the soldiers who are retiring in the coming three years.

"Additionally, the refugees distributed to our vassals are around 13 thousand. That is the gist of it. After the rainy season, we will bring the new subjects and allocate farmland and houses to them. We'll try to have everything settled by the 8th month. Does anything need amending?"

Lorist gave it some thought before he offered, "Let's leave it as is. The plan's fine, there's no need to change it. Just let me sign and have your subordinates execute it."

As Lorist was signing, Charade brought out another document.

"Your Grace, this is the report Grandmaster Sid submitted last year. He has successfully used the new elastic steel to make new compact crossbows for cavalry use with a greatly lowered cost. It seems that, so far, each compact crossbow costs only 7 gold and 8 large silvers to manufacture. I already allocated a budget of three thousand gold Fordes in research funds and requested the production cost to be further lowered to five gold Fordes before we put it into mass production."

Lorist was elated.

"Finally! Now Jaeger's ranged weaponry issue can be solved. Then again, do you know what the range, force, and speed re?"

Charade answered a little apologetically.

"I'm not too sure... I was too focused on the cost. A crossbow usually costs between two to three gold Fordes, the compact crossbow should be at least double in performance. In that sense, it would be acceptable for the cost to even be two times as high..."

Lorist waved Grandmaster Sid's report.

"Since it's not stated here, I believe Grandmaster Sid intends to keep it secret. how about this, write Josk a letter and have him pick a hundred loyal and reliable elite light cavalry from Jaeger and head to the grandmaster after the rainy season. They can do some practical testing to further refine the prototype. After all, they will be the ones to use them in battle, so they should be the ones giving input. Also, there's no need to lower the price further, it might affect the quality."

"Alright, understood."

The two discussed a few other matters. Jinolio knocked on the door and entered.

"Your Grace, Sir Tarkel is here."

The reason for Tarkel's visit was so he could give Lorist reports about the war between the Union and the mid-southern nations. Though Lorist had been on the frontlines last year, he still managed to get some snippets about the war. However, as most were sent via eagle, they were concise and simple. Now that he had returned to Ragebear, he had Tarkel gather and bring him the reports and newspapers from Morante.

Tarkel entered the study holding a stack of newspapers half a person high. It was a collection of seven to eight different publications in Morante throughout the previous year. After putting the stack of newspapers down, Tarkel handed him a folder.

"Your Grace, this is a gross summary of what these newspapers report."

Lorist took the folder. The first page he read shocked him.

"What? The windstorm swordsaint is now living in Morante?"

Charade flabbergasted.

"What did you say?!"

Tarkel smiled bitterly.

"Your Grace, I already reported this to you in an eagle message."

"Sorry, Tarkel. I was too focused on information concerning the four duchies I didn't give those much thought."

Tarkel flipped through the newspapers and took out ten or so.

"The details are in these. This swordsaint is rather low profile, he went into seclusion and nobody has seen him since the interview on his first day in Morante. The Union's law enforcement hasn't allowed the press to send people after him either. Apart from the commotion this caused during the first month, nothing else happened. But with a swordsaint supporting the Union, their morale has risen greatly."

Charade flipped through the newspapers quickly, but was soon disappointed.

"All the newspapers tell his life story and legend. It doesn't contain anything about how Kalia was wiped out and why the swordsaint decided to leave and accept the Union's invitation. They also don't say anything about what the Union did to get him! What kind of bullshit reporting is this?!"

Lorist sank into deep thought for a moment.

This means the Union just gained a swordsaint protector. Auguslo's ambition of retaking the provinces lost to the Union just became pretty much impossible. I bet he won't react well to hearing this news. Then again, this won't affect us much since we're so far away.

Even so, he was still really curious about the price the Union paid to invite the swordsaint over.

"Tell me, if His Majesty were to invite the windstorm swordsaint, what kind of price do you think he'd be willing to pay?"

Charade and Tarkel both blanked. They didn't know what this had to do with Auguslo. But since Lorist had asked, they tried their best to come up with an answer.

"At least 100 thousand gold Fordes, as well as a training hall for him to pass on his swordsmanship," offered Tarkel.

"Not just that. Your conditions aren't much different from how it was for the swordsaint back at Kalia. If His Majesty really wants to recruit him, he'd have to give a province as his hereditary dominion and name him a duke," offered Charade.

Lorist laughed.

"That's more like it. However, the Union's recruitment is horrible news for His Majesty. You should know how he rambles on about reuniting the empire. I'd really like to see the look on his face when he hears about this. Even after exterminating the duchies, he still has to face the huge pressure of a superpower like the Union. Before he comes up with a method to deal with the swordsaint, he will cool down and not try so hard to advance.

"I will soon return to the frontlines with Tigersoar. Though there's only Handra left, the other duchies' forces have gathered there. Coupled with the terrain limitations, this isn't going to be a smooth fight. It may take up to a year. I leave the dominion to you, Tarkel. Take note of news of the war down south. Inform me immediately if any major changes come about."

"Understood, Your Grace," replied Tarkel with a bow.