"Silence, too, is an answer."

"Why go to such length so we will do something we have no desire to do? Even without House Norton, you still have a million-strong army.  You should have no trouble achieving your strategic objectives," advised Lorist with a troubled smile.

"Locke, my friend, are you really going to sit back and watch the war? You'll let House Norton be nothing but a spectator? What if your descendants ask about this? Would you tell them you did nothing but watch the show?"

Lorist rubbed the sides of his arms; he could feel the goosebumps.

"Stop. Doesn't that sound gross to you? It's making my hair stand on end! When did Your Majesty become a traveling poet? I will tell my descendants I was watching a bunch of fools tumbling around fighting each other, and it was quite a show."


Auguslo glared angrily, not that the latter minded. He pretended to not notice anything.

"House Norton must deploy their forces. As Duke of The Northlands, you have to contribute to the kingdom!"

"Alright. As Duke of The Northlands, I am willing to serve the kingdom. How about this, I'll go to the front-lines myself and charge the enemy myself. You may order me around as your vassal, but you have no right to order the needless sacrifice of my men. By the same token that you may order my person around, I may refuse any unreasonable orders where my subjects and domain is concerned."


Auguslo tried his best to release his anger. Lorist's argument was airtight. He couldn't do anything to him.

What's this about going to the front-lines yourself? It sounds impressive but it's just an excuse to avoid deploying your troops! You think waving your sword and killing a soldier or two means you've fulfilled your obligations? You think you can just go back and watch the rest of the fight? How's that different from not doing anything at all?

"Fine, Brother Locke, tell me what you want. As long as it's something reasonably, I will agree."

Auguslo seemed to have surrendered. All would be well as long as Lorist agreed to deploy. The conditions could be discussed later. In the worst-case scenario, he could just delay the fulfillment of his promise the best he could.

"I want a sense of security."

"Sense of security?" Auguslo's eyes widened.

The hell is that? I haven't heard of anyone asking for this before.

"If you agree to give me Wild Husbandry, I can send my men to war."

"Wild Husbandry?! Impossible!"

"Then there is nothing more to be said. Jinolio, please see His Majesty ou--"

"Wait! Brother Locke, we can talk about this." What the hell?! You can't send people off without giving them a chance to respond! Nobody negotiates like this!

"I return to The Northlands tomorrow. I wish you success in your campaign. Godspeed," said Lorist as he shook his head.

"No, Brother Locke, please tell me what you meant by safety. What does this have to do with you wanting Wild Husbandry?"

The king wouldn't leave until he understood what was going on. Lorist glared at the man like he was an utter idiot.

"Locke, what's the meaning of this?"

"If you don't understand, please turn back and take a look at the map," Lorist sighed deeply.

"Map?" Auguslo turned around and saw a map of House Norton's dominion on the wall. Different territories were rendered in different colors. What did they mean?

Auguslo got up and walked over.

Hmm, The Northlands is green, the ocean blue, Delamock and Winston light green, and Southern and Sidgler light yellow. The provinces around the capital and the eleven central provinces are golden yellow. Only House Fisablen's Eastwild and Goldcreek are dark red. Wild Husbandry is light red. Magical Dragon Mountains and the wildlands are gray-black.

What is this?

Auguslo soon noticed the color legend on the bottom of the map. Green was for the safest areas under the Lorist's direct inheritory rule, mostly the duchy. Light green was for safe areas only under Lorist's jurisdiction. Blue was the ocean. Yellow marked the safe territories of allies, golden yellow territories under the royal family. Dark red areas were danger zones, and light red areas those to be monitored closely. Grayish-black zones were unexplored frontiers, the threat level of which was unknown.

The map's clarity was immediately apparent. He soon felt a little uncomfortable.

"Why are the areas under my control not marked as safe areas or those of allies?"

"You tell me, Your Majesty. These categorisations aren't decided on arbitrarily, nor did I or any or my people have a hand in deciding what went where. This map was drawn based on feedback from hundreds, if not thousands, of merchants. This is how they evaluate the different areas based on their security and stability."

Auguslo couldn't find a retort. He understood that due to his efforts to rally his forces, he had focused most of his attention on the military. He hadn't paid attention to the civil side of his rule. It was good enough that his subjects stayed alive so they could join his army. Crimes like robbery and murder had gone unchecked and grown rampant. No wonder his lands were mediocrely rated at best. One could only feel relatively safe if one carried a weapon on ones person at all times. Merchants could not operate without escorts and had to travel in large convoys.

He finally understood what Lorist meant by 'sense of security' and how it related to his desire for Wild Husbandry. The Northlands had four routes connecting it to the outside world. The maritime route started in Northsea. The three others were over land.  One went through Winston and one through Delamock. The final went through Wild Husbandry. Both Winston and Delamock were under Lorist's control. He had worked hard to stabilize the situation, so they were now rated as safe. Only Wild Husbandry was light red, an area of low safety that had to be carefully monitored. The recent war between House Norton and House Fisablen had plunged the province into poverty and lawlessness and without control of the area, Lorist could not feel safe about the crime possibly spilling over into his lands. It was also a route House Fisablen could use to attack him, a place where he had no buffer.

Haha... I didn't think Lorist would really treat Fisablen as his most dangerous enemy even though they've signed a ceasefire. It seems Fisablen's claims about the alliance forcing them to buy daily necessities and open up trade routes were true. They're trying to squeeze all the gold Fisablen gets from Goldcreek. Hmmm, not bad. The more conflicts between them, the deeper their grudges will be. I might get a chance to exploit this if I play my cards right.

Auguslo paced back and force in front of the map. He only snapped out of his reverie after several minutes.

"Brother Locke, didn't Fisablen sign an armistice with you? I also heard trade is doing really well. You are both Andinaq nobility, you've even married the duke's granddaughter. I don't understand why you still see Fisablen as your enemy. Don't you think this is inappropriate?"

It was quite unnecessary for Lorist to want Wild Husbandry.

He just has to cut the suspension bridge. With the bridge gone, Fisablen can't attack him without either spending several months building another bridge, or detouring through a lot of Norton land. Fisablen has long withdrawn his forces from the province as well. It's basically yours already. Why do you want to force me to recognize your control formally? Can't we just shut one eye and have a tacit agreement?

Even if we ignore the fact that Fisablen has full legal rights to the land, there is no precedent for this, this has never been done before. No noble has ever had more than two territories besides their hereditary fiefs. But you want three? You're just making trouble for me! Wild Husbandry isn't a great province either. It might be a lot of land, but hardly anyone lives there and the few that do are raided by barbarians frequently. My forefathers use to exile people there, but you you actually WANT it? Do you have so much free time you feel like trying to govern that shithole?

Lorist smirked.

"If not for my alliance forcing Fisablen into a corner, do you think they would be so easy to handle, they would have submitted to you? Have you already forgotten it was Fisablen that drove the founding of Iblia? Do you think you can trust his loyalty just because you married one of his offspring?

"House Norton never forgets its enemies. Ceasefire or armistice or not. We remember well they were the ones who sent the barbarians our way, who killed tens of thousands of my people. Fisablen bled my men for Wild Husbandry, now I want to see his face as I tear it from his hands without losing a single drop of blood. I will build a monument to my men there, where he can stare at it across the border as it mocks him from sunrise to sunset and throughout the night.

"I've already contributed greatly to your cause. My endurance of these losses, my making peace with that man… that is my contribution to your war, and it is a far greater contribution than any of my armies can get you on the battlefield. My men will sit patiently at their posts, waiting for our opportunity. Whether you agree to let me take that and or not doesn't matter. One day Fisablen will turn his back on you, and we will march over the river and pry Wild Husbandry from his cold, dead hands."

Auguslo was overcome with joy. He finally caught a glimpse of the true hatred Lorist felt for the duke and finally understood he really wanted the province to placate his conscience and wipe away the shame of his loss there.

Hahaha! It seems I have nothing to worry about. There's no way he will ever work with Fisablen. This kind of hatred can't be faked. Letting Lorist take Wild Husbandry forcefully will shame Fisablen as well. They'll hate each other to the bone and look for every chance to slit a few throats.

Trading a useless barren expanse for House Norton's participation in the war and adding trouble to House Fisablen at the same time was ideal. As for the limitation of each house having only one fief and two jurisdictions, Auguslo could circumvent it. The province wasn't technically his, after all. It would not be him, as the king, giving Lorist jurisdiction, he would only be acknowledging the exchange. It would not adversely affect his reputation, and he paid no other price for it either.

It wasn't that simple, however.  Since the land was not his, he could not just give it away.  He had to convince the rightful juris prudent to hand it over. Luckily, he felt confident in his ability to convince the duke. He had all the leverage in that relationship.  Fisablen was being suppressed by the alliance and could only stand by the king's support. He could just threaten to withdraw it.

He knew the duke would demand compensation, however.  How would he compensate the man?

I can't have Lorist deploy and Fisablen stay. Lorist won't stand for it, even if he has Wild Husbandry. He'll either withdraw from the offer, or only deploy a token force. I need his men to achieve my objectives.

"I can agree to let you administer Wild Husbandry but the land isn't mine to give. It belongs to Fisablen. I cannot forcefully give you the land either, even as king I do not have the authority or the right to.  I'll have to convince Fisablen to do it voluntarily but I promise I'll get him to agree. Just give me three days before you leave, okay?"

Lorist bowed deeply.

"I shall do as Your Majesty pleads. If you can get Fisablen to hand over Wild Husbandry, I will move my men to the front and join your offensive."

Auguslo left in a hurry. Lorist cracked a smile. Perhaps Wild Husbandry was just a barren wasteland in the eyes of others. But to Lorist it was precious trade territory. His most profitable partners were the grassland barbarians. He didn't just want to trade with them, though. His wanted to make them pledge themselves to him and become his subjects. He would nurture them into yet another foreign market for his goods.

The villa complex near Platinum Beach was quite rowdy for the following three days. The nobles learned by gossip of Lorist's conditions. Kenmays, Felim, and Shazin each paid him a visit but he kept silent. Silence, too, however, was an answer.

On the first day, Auguslo went to negotiate with the duke. Rumor had it the old man was so pissed he yanked his sword out of its scabbard and tried to march right over to Lorist's villa.

'Wild Husbandry is MY land. I won't give it to anyone else even if I have to kill them or die for it! That brat is going too far! Let me go kill him!' he was said to have said.

Luckily, he barked loudly but only nibbled. He would not really challenge Lorist. Auguslo only had to put in a sliver of effort to stop the duke. He refused to listen to Auguslo's advice however and locked himself in his room for the rest of the day.

The king visited him again the next day. The old man had cooled down somewhat. He listened to the kind silently. He didn't say a single word for the whole visit.

The king made his third and final visit on the third day. This time, the old man was far more relaxed. He was willing to give Wild Husbandry and join the campaign if he was enfeoffed a province in the centre of the kingdom.

Auguslo agreed after pondering for a few minutes. He didn't promise a territory he currently controlled, however, but one that he would if the war ended well. He promised that, if the first phase of the war was successful, Anderwoff, one of the reclaimed provinces, would be given to Fisablen.

Fisablen wasn't the least bit surprised. Promising to give something in the hands of the enemy was a habit of Auguslo's. He agreed, nonetheless, but had him sign a letter of oath. The duke went to Lorist's villa and handed over control of the province formally after he got the king's signed oath. Auguslo also signed the document to officiate it. After the procedure, Fisablen flung the quill he used to sign the agreement and left angrily.

On the 32nd day of the 8th month, Year 1786, Duke Fisablen, under the eyes of Andinaq's king, Auguslo I and the nobles present, transferred the writ of Wild Husbandry to Duke of The Northlands, Norton Lorist, allowing House Norton to be the only landed noble house to have one direct dominion and three other jurisdictions.