"I would rather a Norton legion in front of me, than an Auguslo squad behind me." ~ Duke Forund
Hey guys.

BIG APOLOGY for the late release.  That's my (Prince) fault.  My class this morning went on for a lot longer than it was supposed to, so my editing was late.  But here it is.  I'll do an early release tomorrow to make up for it!

The war was finally over. Auguslo was fraught with tasks. There was much with which he had to deal as king. First, he had to arrange the new dominions. After negotiations, the two southwestern provinces became Duke Handra and Duke Shabaj's new dominions, Yungechandler, which neighbored Delamock, became Duke Forund's.

The two southwestern provinces, now formally named South Derika and West Derika, used to be known as the Derika area. Krissen I had split it into two provinces. West Derika was also known as the northwestern province and the two bordered Kanbona, which was forcefully occupied by the Union. In some official documents, they were known as the two southwestern provinces, but recently they were often called the frontline provinces.

When Auguslo vanished after his military loss at Frederika, Queen Carey had ceded them to the Union, who didn't absorb them directly, instead, they formed the Allied Duchies of Britt to serve as a buffer between them and Andinaq. But after Auguslo returned to power, Tigersoar destroyed the nation returned the land to the king's control. The provinces had served as Whitelion's main base since and contained most of the kingdom's defenses against the Union. However, given that it had been rather tumultuous over the years, less than ten percent of the population remained. Civilian life was desolate. There used to be as many as 500 thousand refugees at one point. Though Auguslo had tried hard to restore their economies, their ceding had sapped them of the last of their vigor. The provinces were mostly plains, but everything had been devastated and was no largely desolate.

The king had decided to give the provinces to his new vassals to get rid of their burden. He was intent on having Houses Handra and Shabaj serve as a barrier between him and the Union, and leave the land's development to them. This was the only reason he was willing to let them bring along some of their subjects. With the 45 thousand soldiers and their families, the lack of manpower could be solved. When it came down to it, manpower was the most important resource.

As for Duke Forund, he was given the title The Duke of Yungechandler. Though the province was small and poor, it was in a strategic location. Between The Northlands and the country's center, where the imperial capital was located, was Delamock, Yungechandler, and Welbassia. Auguslo enfeoffed Yungechandler to Duke Forund as his new dominion for less than pleasant reasons. He was intent on building a wall between himself and the alliance.

What's that guy up to? He's trying to raise his guard against us at a time like this? thought Lorist as he stroked his chin.

Upon knowing about Auguslo's arrangements, he couldn't help but praise his abilities as king. It was no wonder he allowed the three surrendered dukes to each bring a legion along. Not only could he retain the citizens', who would move to the new territories, loyalty, which would reduce unrest, he could also let the three dukes serve as his guard dogs. He was a true schemer.

Lorist believed that, if Duke Farkel hadn't escaped, Auguslo would have given him Rimad, right next to Southern. It would have been as good as closing the empire's doors to the alliance. However, fate was ever elusive. Duke Farkel wasn't willing to submit and had escaped to the Union. No one knew whether the Union would cause trouble for the king in the duke's name.

It was a busy time for everyone. The king was so busy taking over management of his new territories and planning the defenses and patrols so the folk could start producing without worry that again he was virtually unseen. The three remaining dukes were also busy rallying their forces and families in preparation for their move to their new dominions. House Fisablen was given the task of reorganizing the soldiers left behind before handing them over to gold-ranked knight and Whitelion general Ripleid, who would then integrate the elites into the legion's ranks and form two garrison legions from the rest. Kenmays, he was busy doing business with the dukes. Though they had each given 1.5 million to the king, it should still only be half of their available wealth. Kenmays had his sights on the rest and unleashed his silver tongue on the dukes.  He wanted to convince them to purchase the supplies they needed from the salt merchant committee. He had even thrown in free delivery. Felim and Shazin were busy looking for Auguslo. They were going to demand their rewards.

After the battle, the two were made dukes as was promised. However, they weren't trying to confront Auguslo about their titles. Felim wanted to have the 30 thousand youths sent to his dominion to help out with its development, while Shazin wanted Auguslo to enfeoff him a province with lots of mineable resources. Auguslo was elusive, however, nobody knew where he was at any given time.

Lorist suddenly found himself the freest of his peers. Apart from being invited to socialize in the banquets organized by the three dukes, who thanked him for not pressing the attack, he spent the rest of his time listening to his two companions' complaints about their inability to find Auguslo. He advised them to stop looking for him.

"His Majesty would never avoid you intentionally. Maybe he's just surveying his new provinces. I'm certain he will return in time."

Though he said such words, he was becoming annoyed with the king as well. He could just return to The Northlands with Tigersoar and his two guard regiments even without receiving the king's signature on the contract that recognized his three-year tax exemption. He didn't care about the document at all. He'd love to see whether the man would risk his rebellion for not acknowledging the promise.

When he thought of Sylvia and their child, that the baby was half a year old now, the urge to return become overpowering. However, the cursed king chose now of all times to go survey his new lands and had the others wait for his return to Hans! How ridiculous! Rather than sit around spending money on his forces and having both himself and them grow lethargic, he would much rather return to the demonic lands on the other side of Nibarak. He could keep his men fit and sharp there. ánd make money instead of bleeding it.

The 8th month soon passed and he finally received news of Auguslo through an envoy. The man asked him to not dally around the demonic lands anymore. He hurriedly returned to Hans, Delamock's capital. There he realized the three dukes had brought their remaining subjects and were on the way to their new dominions.

Kenmays had long received proof of kingdom-wide two-year tax exemption for the committee, so he'd hurried back to organize the transportation and distribution of various goods. He left a letter for Lorist which said it was a huge deal estimated to rake in a million gold Fordes in revenue. If he could satisfy the three dukes and receive more orders from the three new dominions, it could turn into a long-term business relationship.

Duke Fisablen had also left with Third Frontier and the reserve legion with the rewards Auguslo had given him without meeting Lorist first. Only Felim and Shazin had remained at Hans with their forces. The two new garrison legions were there as well. As for the restaffed Whitelion, they had left for Majik half a month earlier on their king's orders. They were tasked with guarding Anderwoff's border to keep the Union from invading.

Lorist's two companions didn't look good when they received him. They appeared rather frustrated. Felim spat on the ground harshly after handing over Kenmays's letter before he told Lorist what had happened. Auguslo had duped him and reworded 30 thousand youths into 30 thousand people. There were less than seven thousand youths among them and the rest were their families.

Felim complained that even though his reward was similar to Duke Fisablen's, who received all 50 thousand youths and had a total of 170 thousand people, their families included, Auguslo suppressed his complaints. The reason was that Duke Fisablen had expanded the empire's borders and required more people for his dominion to prevent the lands from returning to being a breeding ground for grassland barbarians. Southern, however, was well within the empire's borders and faced no threats, so its population could grow naturally with the passage of time.

Additionally, Auguslo also compared Duke Fisablen and Felim's forces. He had said House Fisablen's reserve legion suffered heavy casualties during the expedition, with more than ten thousand dead, while Pegasus hadn't suffered nearly as much since it was tasked with scouting and patrolling. So, his reward was naturally inferior to Duke Fisablen's.

While he could only accept his bad luck. Shazin's matter was different entirely. Auguslo had given him two options. The first was to choose either Rimad or Messen as his hereditary dominion; the second, to wait until the kingdom reclaimed the territories the Union currently occupied. The latter would yield the house Bodolger, home to Frederika.

Shazin didn't want either. Rimad only produced lumber and stones and high-quality materials like gold crystals, black crystals, and red maple wood. However, there was no demand for such things in the chaotic time of war they were currently in. Messen also produced quite a bit of mineable resources, but it was worth something because of its quantity, not its quality. For example, the two silver and one copper mines only had small ore veins that would run out after some 30 years of mining. The quality of the mined ore was also disappointing and it was considered a rather bad place to mine.

Shazin didn't want to pick either Messen or Rimad, mainly because the two provinces had been ravaged thoroughly by the minor nobles' army at the start of the civil war, becoming barren and unpopulated. Naturally, the alliance had obtained some benefits, but Auguslo's decision to give either of the provinces to House Shazin felt like an insult even to Lorist directly.

No matter which province Shazin received, he would have to invest huge sums of money to gather refugees and spur development. It wouldn't recover for at least two to three decades. Auguslo's second offer also greatly enraged Shazin. Bodolger was the dominion of one of the Union's big-seven, Wessia. While Bodolger was a huge mining province, the question was: when would Auguslo reclaim it?

Shazin was very worried the answer was, 'not soon at all'. He might not even live to see the day. Additionally, he was worried that if he accepted Auguslo's second offer, House Shazin would be pushed to the forefront of battle in the name of reclaiming its dominion, which would push it into conflict with the rest of the alliance. While he appeared the rough one of the four, being greedy and a little daft with a common family background, he was no idiot. He understood on what House Shazin was dependent. Without Lorist's, House Kenmays', and Felim's care, he would be nothing. He might even be wiped out before he managed to truly establish his house.

He would rather remain at Lorist's side than join Auguslo. After all, Lorist's words were far more trustworthy than that king's. Lorist, at the very least, wouldn't forget to share some of the benefits. If it were Auguslo, he couldn't count on getting anything out of him other than trouble. He would be lucky if the man cared at all. The king praised someone to high heavens and tossed them away with the same mouth. Shazin could see this clearly.

He had refused the king's offers and asked for Kribia instead, one of Farkel's old provinces. Its main products were rock salt, gold silver, purple bronze, white lead, and black iron. There were also dozens of other resources and it provided around a million gold Fordes annually. He had long had his eyes on it.

The king would have none of it, however.  By what right did this duke demand such a jewel? Whether it came to his contribution to the empire generally, or during the campaign specifically, he had done far from enough to deserve Kribia. The province had always been under the imperial family's direct control during the empire's days. And it had only ever been handed over temporarily to the dukes during the civil war.  Farkel had been supposed to return it once the war was over.

The king told Shazing that he would pick one of the options he'd been given, or not get anything at all. Kribia was out of the question.

The duke had stormed out furious.

"Does that mean your efforts were in vain, Hennard?" asked Loris.

Shazin shrugged hatefully.

"I guess so. I can only blame my shitty luck. I'll never trust him again."

Lorist patted his shoulder.

"Just endure for now. You didn't suffer much either. You also earned quite a bit from Forund's nobles. It's a shame we didn't discuss our conditions with him beforehand. Whatever. I'll go see him and see what he has to say."