"This is how a grandfather should be; a man with silver in his hair and gold in his heart." ~ Norton Lorist

Duke Fisablen accepted Lorist's invitation without any trouble. He didn't even bother to ask why Lorist had invited him and only brought a single attendant along. It made Lorist feel a little like he was the bad guy, seeing how the duke wasn't worried whether Lorist would harm him. Then again, if he really did invite him over with ill intentions and word got out, it would tarnish the house's name.

Putting aside the huge loss of trust, a good portion of the household knights might leave as well. On Grindia, a house's reputation was sacred, as was that of the individual noble. At the very least, most nobles, knights, and commoners held the same belief. Some nobles and knights were even willing to sacrifice their lives to uphold their house's honor.

In Lorist's case, he had no choice but to serve Auguslo to protect his house's reputation of being loyal to the imperial family. Even though it might already have exceeded Andinaq might, Lorist sill had to stay put obediently as the Duke of The Northlands and put up a cordial front to Auguslo.

In Grindia, keeping one's word and being loyal were considered virtues. Even if two nobles were at war with one another, they had to justify their actions proudly. In the millennia of the continent's history, traitors were far and few in between, and every one of them were nailed onto a rack sd examples for all to see. Such were the continent's traditions. Should a lord be unfair, his vassal may resist, but not rebel.

Fine, this is all that slimy of fox's fault. Why would he accept my invitation out of nowhere like this? Does he really not think I'll harm him? Or is he looking down on me? Does he think I don't dare touch him?

Lorist grit his teeth and tried to push the blame on the old man who had chosen to attend the banquet. Yet, he still had to force a smile and welcome him warmly.

Lorist chose a private function. He had a table set up in his tent for himself and the duke; he wasn't going to get all the troops involved. The main reason was that he already had five children, so Sylvia's pregnancy wasn't a big deal in any way. He was also worried celebrating this with the troops would instill a misunderstanding in some's minds that he was preferentially inclined towards his legitimate heirs. After much thought, he decided to host a private banquet and break the news to the duke without spreading it around.

In all seriousness, this was the second time he'd met the duke in person. The first time was back at Windbury when he'd privately discussed the matter of wedding Sylvia with him. As he didn't agree to the duke's third condition -- to abandon his concubines and children -- they had parted on bad terms. A year later, he led the alliance and chased the duke and his troops all the way back to his dominion, forcing them to present Sylvia to him and sue for peace.

Auguslo visited Eastwild soon after and the duke submitted to him and became his vassal. It resulted in the duke joining the same faction in which Lorist was. Not only was the old man incredibly thick-skinned, he was also incredibly adaptable. This made him even more wary of the old man. Even though he was in the same camp as the Duke now, Lorist had never met the latter again. They only met during Auguslo's military councils where many others were present.

Perhaps the duke thought Lorist wanted to ask him for advice after the loss he suffered a few days earlier during his attempted night attack. He was in charge of the attacks against the three defense lines, after all. The duke had long gotten wind of the failure. However, even an experienced general like him didn't have a solution to this new problem as he didn't have any methods to counter the defenses either. He could only advise him to be patient.

Lorist didn't know how to react to the duke's consolation.

"You are mistaken, Lord Duke. I didn't call you here to ask for advice on dealing with the enemy. Sylvia is with child and I thought it only right I tell you personally. I also thought we could have a small celebration—"

"Sylvia's pregnant?!"

It was rather surprising that the old guy was even more worked up than Lorist. He was so happy he didn't touch any of the wine and circled the table constantly as he muttered about how Sylvia should take care of herself and be careful. He even began to consider where to hire an experienced midwife.

"Gosh, aren't you thinking a little too far ahead? Sylvia's belly isn't even visible yet. Gods willing, it'll be another half a year before we even need to consider what to do about the birth."

It wasn't easy for the duke to realize that he'd lost his grip. He made a toast to Lorist despite being the guest and got drunk in no time. Lorist had no choice but to have someone send him back to his quarters.

Two days later, Lorist received an invitation from the duke. Thinking that it was a reciprocal invitation, he brought only Jinolio with him. He'd not expected the camp to be so merry.

"Why everyone to jolly?" he asked one of the guards.

"We heard His Grace's granddaughter got knocked up. His Grace was so happy he's paying out of his pocket so we can celebrate for three days straight. Not only do we get to eat all we want, there are even bonuses being flung around! Everyone's so happy. We hope she's knocked up every year!" replied the guard.

Jinolio burst out in laughter, while Lorist just stood there, not knowing what to do.

Damned old man, you should've been clearer about why you're celebrating so much! Now it's turned into such a huge joke down the grapevine!

However, he didn't intend to take what the guards had said to heart. He just barked outside the tent, "Alright, old man, you want to make a big deal out of this?! Jinolio, pass this on to Loze: have the army throw a celebration for three days! Double the bonus they're giving out over here! I will cover all the costs!"

In the end, even Auguslo, residing in Paetro, learnt of Lorist knocking up the duke's granddaughter as well as the three-day celebration. He sent Lorist a huge gift to congratulate him. Lorist felt he was being chased off the stage by the others. The whole debacle did have an upside, though; the enmity built up between Lorist and the duke vanished. The duke would frequently visit him to inquire after news on Sylvia or to chat about the war. Lorist realized the old man was pretty self-aware in that he knew Sylvia didn't want to meet him, her own grandfather, given how hung up she was on being sent to him as she had been. So, he collected lots of precious herbs and gave it to Lorist so he could give them to Sylvia.

For instance, he heard some locals say that goldscale crimsonlip fish could be found in Nibarak. The fish was an incredibly rare ingredient in the field of herbal medicine and was really good for stabilizing pregnancy. However, they were slowly vanishing and it was really hard to catch any these days. So, he had a large number of worksmiths build boats to catch the fish. The enemies noticed and thought Auguslo was preparing to attack down the river, so they fortified their defenses there.

Through his informants and scouts, Lorist quickly grasped the change in deployment and understood the situation. He called Fisablen over to discuss how they would apply even more pressure on Handra. His plan was simple: he would have House Kenmays's two heavy-armored divisions defend the main camp, and Pegasus deployed on the field for launching feint attacks on the three defense lines from time to time. At the same time, he would lead Tigersoar and House Fisablen's reserve legion towards Nibarak, loudly proclaiming that he would construct a road on the other side that stretched southward to Deramak.

This was the third method he'd suggested to Auguslo: splitting their forces. However, Lorist didn't really intend to go all the way, he only wanted to apply more pressure on Handra and force them to strengthen their defenses near the river and thus consume more resources. He caused a lot of commotion by sending his troops all over the place after they crossed the river, though that was actually just a welcome side effect. His true goal was to make some extra pocket money for himself and his grandfather-in-law. While the road's construction was only being done half-assed, the hunting was intense.

Nibarak was considered a natural border that separated the civilized lands from the wilderness. On one side were rich farms, well-maintained orchards, and peaceful villages, on the other the ancient forests, swamps, and ever-stretching mountains. Even the duchies' hunters only dared to hunt within five kilometers of the riverbank, they didn't dare to go any further east.

Forund had once had plans for the other side of the river a few decades ago. They had wanted to develop the land there and recruited nearly a thousand commoners to build a few villages. Magic beasts attacked the villages during the winter. If not for the fact that the river didn't freeze during the winter, the villages within the duchy would have been attacked as well.

He crossed the river after the rainy season to check the villages, to find only ruins. All the villagers had been killed. Only blood and destruction was left. Almost all of the four duchies' inhabitants feared the other side of the river and even began to call it the demonic lands.

According to the hunters, the most common magic beast they encountered was the dire wolf. They were incredibly cunning. According to folklore, they could understand the human tongue and would exploit it to lure the hunters into the deeper parts of the forests and become their prey.

The huge wolves, easily bigger than cows, were the rulers of the demonic lands. Dire wolves lived in packs and were the most dangerous. They also never forgot their grudges. When Duke Handra had still been young, he had brought a regiment of troops across the river for a hunt. However, he was unfortunate enough to encounter a pack of more than 20. They managed to exterminate most of them, but three or four wolves slipped away. In the end, the three gathered others and attacked his party day and night. By the time he returned across the river, only three hundred of the original thousand-man regiment was still alive.

Lorist didn't really care about the dire wolves. Usually, hunting was something undertaken when there was no other option. While the army did have food support from Auguslo, meat was incredibly rare. The food provided was only enough to keep the men's stomachs full, but far from well-fed. Transporting meat from The Northlands added a lot to the costs, so much that it wasn't much of an option. Duke Fisablen had ordered a large number of cows and goats brought along only to realize that the livestock had lost most of their weight by the time they arrived.

So, the construction of the boats was both for capturing some goldscale crimsonlip and procuring meat. Lorist's idea of hunting the magic beasts had the duke's full support. Hunting magic beasts was but a common affair for Tigersoar. From the time they had hunted the magic beasts that remained in the dominion following the beast wave to the time when they went into the wilderness to hunt the beasts down, they had slain more than a million. However, the grassland barbarians considered beasts like the resilient and ridiculously strong cliffbear, the savage and sharp-toothed swordtooth tiger, the terrifying giant pythons, or the giant swamp crocodiles whose skin seemed stronger than metal something against which they didn't stand a chance. Even though they were accustomed to various types of wolves, the gigantic dire wolves could still inflict heavy casualties. But the moment Tigersoar struck, their eyes were opened. They witnessed the escaping magic beasts being used for target practice first hand.

In just two short months the meat started overflowing. The processors couldn't keep up with how quickly more was being brought in, so an entire division was dedicated to the task.

Tigersoar and the reserve legion had stormed half of the demonic lands and were beginning to head south. When Handra's soldiers discovered enemy cavalry on the opposite bank, they got even more anxious and hurriedly constructed one watchtower and signal fire point after another.

Lorist was so busy rounding up the magic beasts on the opposite bank that he had tossed his other directive to the back of his mind and forgotten about it completely. He had just set his sights on the magic beasts' fur. It was a good source of income. Given that there was no cotton on Grindia, winter clothes were made of various animal pelts. Even though he had started a large livestock farm in the west of The Northlands where near a million goats and cows were reared, their skins weren't the best material for winter clothing. Instead, the fur of magic beasts was ideal.

Some fur from rare magic beasts were priced in the thousands of gold Fordes. Apart from fur and meat, other parts of certain beasts were considered precious medicinal ingredients and sold for great prices on the market. Lorist roughly estimated that the two months of hunting had netted him nearly a million gold Fordes, not included his grandfather-in-law's share. He was pleasantly surprised that he could still make so much money on the side even though he was at war. He didn't even bother with answering the king's inquiries on the situation.

In the blink of an eye, the 10th month came around. Duke Fisablen had to send ten plus messengers to call Lorist back. The moment he entered the tent, the old man rushed over to tell him that Duke Handra had privately sent an envoy. The envoy had already been waiting for four days."