"Governance isn't anywhere near as glamorous as the governed think.  It may come with great perks, but it keeps the leader so busy that he barely has any time for sleep, nevermind enjoying them." ~ Norton Lorist



"Now this is life!" exclaimed Lorist.

He was in his study on the third floor of Ragebear's central castle. The pleasant, warm sunlight of the 11th month danced gently on his body through the window. It stole his energy and made his eyes heavy. Sylvia and his concubines had straddled him the whole night. When they all collapsed, exhausted, on the bed, his beloved son had woken him with his crying. The lack of sleep made the sun all the more pleasant and sleep all the more inviting. However, Charade and company's arrival forced him out of his bliss.

"Hey-hey-hey! Your Grace has rested for six days already since your return! It's about time you started being productive," complained the man.

He hated seeing Lorist so laid back. The mere thought of his liege lazing around, basking in sunlight, while he was swamped with work drove him mad. Lorist rose from his chair with great effort and sighing. When he saw the three attendants behind his friend, carrying stacks and stacks of documents, he involuntarily emptied his lungs again.

"No... Why so many documents?" he wailed passionately.

Charade had the three attendants put the documents on the desk before leaving. Jinolio got him a bottle of fruit wine and he had the kitchen staff send some snacks to the study. He would be staying to work for the rest of the day.

"You call this a lot?" Charade snapped, "Have you seen my office? It's a parchment storehouse! These documents are summaries of the various reports for the last two years. I've gone over them roughly. You just have to give them a look and sign them before I archive everything in my office."

It was a house rule. Even though Charade could deal with matters in Lorist's stead, the documents couldn't be archived without the lord's personal signature. All matters dealt with had to be given a once-over by the lord so he had a general idea of what was going on.

Lorist was quite quick in dealing with the documents. He gave them rough scans before signing. As the house's chief knight and vassal, Charade had dealt with the matters appropriately and he approved of the baron's methods. He picked some of the more interesting documents and placed them aside for later reading and discussion. It didn't take long for him to deal with one of the huge stacks, but there were three other ones remaining on the desk.

"Oh, Your Grace, has Howard not returned yet?" asked Charade as he saw Lorist pausing to stretch as he enjoyed his wine.

"Reidy went to fetch him. He'll be back tomorrow or the day after."

The two years of seclusion training had long passed. However, Howard seemed to have gained some insight during his training process and was polishing his swordsmanship. Lorist had to send Reidy to call for him when he returned.

"Are you going to let Howard take over the guard brigade?"

"Yes—" Lorist nodded, "—but the most important thing now is for him to get married. Before I returned, Duke Felim complained that his daughter's turning into an old maid. I promised I'd have Howard and Katrina's wedding planned when he brings his daughter over at the end of the year."

"Did Duke Felim bring up the dowry?" Charade asked curiously, "He's a duke now, so I expect it'll be grand."

Lorist smiled as he shook his head.

"It's not like you're unaware of House Felim's situation. The whole of Southern is now their dominion and Felim's so desperate he might split a gold Forde coin and treat the halves as two. Southern is completely desolate and it'll be really hard to develop it with his budget. So, his daughter's dowry won't be huge. Though he is planning to have the whole area around Boblige made into a county as the dowry. We will have to help out with its development."

"Wow, how generous! That's almost a tenth of his entire demesne. That brat sure is lucky, he gets a county even without a title!"

Lorist nodded.

"Can't be helped. When Auguslo was sending us off, he dragged the two of us together and said that while the alliance is tight-knit, it might be inappropriate for me to station troops on Southern's border with Eastwild since it was House Felim's dominion. He's trying to get me to withdraw Firmrock."

"It's none of his fucking business."

"Gossip is a fearful thing," Lorist said, "Southern has already become House Felim's. Our stationing of Firmrock on the border is so we can defend against Fisablen and help Felim in the process. Others unaware of this fact will think we're suppressing Felim instead.

"I'm prepared to leave the front to Felim. His dowry also solves this problem. If we station Tigersoar there, we can respond at a moment's notice, while still being outside his domain, thus avoiding any gossip."

Charade burst into a short bought of unreserved laughter.

"If we withdraw Firmrock, Duke Felim will be the first one to feel threatened! There's no way he'd be confident enough to think his troops can resist Duke Fisablen."

"It can't be helped. Right now, Auguslo is staying in Hans and working on the eleven provinces. He'll be counting on Fisablen to suppress us. The reason he's getting us to withdraw from Southern is so its borders will be unprotected. At the same time, Felim wouldn't wish for his dominion to serve as the pathway between the king and his pet duke. He made the county the dowry so we can keep watch over his lands."

"Do you think Duke Fisablen will attack Southern?" asked Charade.

"He won't. That old fox understands the current situation. He'll sit tight and focus on strengthening his hand. Conflict is the last thing he wants right now. Iblia has faded into history, so there's no way he can take control of the northeastern area. On the one hand, there's the alliance and on the other Auguslo. If he still harbors any foolish ambitions, he'll throw the whole of his house into the abyss."

"I suppose we're in for a few years of peace."

"I hope so. We just have to keep an eye on Auguslo. I don't want him messing around again."

Lorist suddenly remembered something. He flipped through the pile of documents he'd put aside to go over again later.

"The compact crossbows are completed and have been distributed to Jaeger. How do they look?"

"They're great. Your Grace might not be aware of this, but Grandmaster Sid's new design is a masterpiece. It can fire accurate shots up to 120 meters. Most importantly, it can easily be strung on horseback. I hear he used the lever mechanism you suggested.

"Josk's in love with it. He's been driving the men into the ground with training. He's even developed a new tactic for using the crossbow from horseback. He says Jaeger will be the most effective offensive legion on the continent once they're done with training."

"I see. It seems I have to go take a look," Lorist said as he changed the document in his hand, "Does the year-end celebration really have to be so expensive?"

"Don't forget that the house hasn't had a celebration in two years. This year, Duchess Sylvia had a son and you returned from campaign. How can the celebration be anything but grand? Everyone above commander rank will attend. Dukes Kenmays, Felim, and Shazin, as well as all your vassals, have announced their attendance as well. We expect at least a thousand people. If we lower the budget at all we won't be able to through a proper banquet and we'll embarrass ourselves."

Fine. Makes sense.

Lorist casually tossed the budget aside.

"It's just that it's a little too much, spending 70 thousand gold Fordes on a seven-day celebration..." muttered he.

That was Lorist's personality for you. While he was extremely loose-handed when it came to spending on armies and developing the dominion, he hated spending money on almost anything else.

"This is not something we can do half-heartedly. For our subjects as well, the more money we spend on the celebration, the merrier the festivities will be. The commoners will come to think of nobles as powerful and mighty, it makes it easier to rule over them."

Lorist nodded. He picked another document.

"What's up with Supervisor Hansk? How is the project so far over budget?"

"I've already had someone look into it. The main problem is that much of the work has to be redone. The laborers have been very rebellious and have caused frequent delays. The project isn't just over the budget by half of the budget itself, but the work has been held back by three years."

"How is Hansk dealing with this? Isn't he punishing the workers?"

"Actually…"

Charade hesitated. He took a deep breath and steeled himself for what was to come.

"The supervisor is the cause of all the problems. He wanted to speed everything up so he made their shifts longer and took away a lot of their benefits. His disciplinary methods have also been very unproductive. He is very harsh on even the smallest mistake or disobedience. These three things together pushed the workers over the edge and they've been revolted almost weekly since. Firmrock's kept things from getting out of hand, but they haven't gotten anything done since."

"Why don't I know about this?"

"I'm not in a good position to interfere, Your Grace. Hansk is the chief supervisor. He was the one who tried to hide things. I didn't notice until he requested a budget increase. I sent someone over to investigate what was going on and found out the truth. Tarkel had left for Morante already and I couldn't just step in. You were going to return soon so I thought it better to wait for you so you could deal with this yourself."

Lorist nodded. Charade wasn't wrong. Tarkel's reports confirmed his observations about Hansk's situation. Tarkel was busy investigating the conflict between the Union and the mid-southern nations, however, so the news pipeline had slowed down.

Lorist pulled on the bell, calling Jinolio.

"Head to Furybear and bring me the scrolls concerning the conflict between the Union and the mid-southern nations as well as the reports on Hansk."

"Understood, Your Grace."

"Is there anyone that can replace Hansk?"

Charade thought about it for a moment before he answered.

"I think the biggest problem is the barbarians. They've always been a rebellious bunch, they'll only be obedient if you treat them well. Supervisor Kedan has the best personality to deal with them."

"I'll think about it."

"There's another thing you should handle as soon as possible, Your Grace." continued Charade as he stood up and picked up a blue folder.

"This is the list of people that are to be promoted or entitled during the year-end celebration. Take a look. I should prepare the certificates and their title deeds as soon as possible."

Lorist checked the list. When he got to the bottom he added one name: Reidy.

"Reidy isn't a gold-ranked knight yet, Your Grace..."

Lorist grinned at his old friend mischievously,

"He can't advance in the ranks anymore, but he's already equal to a rank 1 blademaster."

Charade slapped his forehead. He couldn't believe he'd forgotten Reidy was his liege's eldest disciple. The kid trained in a different discipline, his strength couldn't be measured using the traditional rank system.

"Ah, I understand."