"That king's petty schemes were only ever enough to keep the boredom away, not enough to be amusing." ~ Norton Lorist

"We've just received a message from Baron Camorra!" Jinolio yelped as he rushed into the room, handing Lorist the white silk cloth he brought with him.

Charade, discussing trade with Lorist, saw his expression change as he quickly scanned the message.

"What happened?" asked he.

"Someone's itching to do something. We should teach them a lesson," Lorist said, handing the cloth to Charade, "Take a look. Baron Camorra's supply stations in Jigzai, Freewood, Wesstwood, and Deramak were attacked. The local nobles didn't just refuse to cooperate with our investigation, they even blamed us for attracting bandits. They're demanding compensation."

"Hrmph! Darned thieves are calling blame first! How could our stations be attacked by bandits without the nobles' cooperation? I wouldn't be surprised if the 'bandits' were the nobles themselves. I didn't think the cowards would become this daring the moment the king left. To think they want to prey on us... Do they think we're that easy to bully?"

As the main force would be split two ways, Auguslo had mobilized his army to the southwest in 9th month. He even left Whitelion at the borders of Majik. That way, they could reach Lormo'd border as the rainy season ended.

However, with Auguslo and his army gone, the relatively peaceful empire quickly became rowdy. The nobles, previously pressured into good behavior by the king's massive army, could breathe freely enough to start exploiting everyone else. At least a dozen small wars were fought already in just two months. Some of the less scrupulous nobles even went straight to banditry.

Lorist had never imagined, however, that they would actually have the balls to target his men. Either the provinces had been suck bone dry by the king, or he'd truly killed off everyone with any brain cells at all.

He had set up a dozen supply camps along the route and stocked them to collapse with resources in preparation for the war and subsequent migration. He had not been expecting this level of debasement among the nobles, so he had not manned the route with a lot of men.  Even the biggest depots only had a brigade of guards. They were the perfect targets for unscrupulous nobles.

Charade read the letter in detail.

"Camorra didn't mention casualties so it shouldn't be too serious. The same can't be said for our schedule.  We're badly behind now. Freyar's forces are just too thinly spread."

Lorist nodded.

"The route is too long. We didn't think of the nobles being this stupid when we came up with our plans. We have to increase the guard. I want to teach the idiots a good lesson too though. It's only been a few years, but they've already forgotten how deadly we can be... Jinolio!"

"Your Grace."

"Take this with you. Send an emergency missive to the king. Tell him we're about to deal with the nobles along the supply line. We cannot send our men into combat if we cannot ensure our supply line's integrity."

"Understood, Your Grace. I'll get to it immediately," said Jinolio as he bowed and left the study.

"The war is just around the corner, we just have to ensure the line's integrity, why get ourselves involved with those insects?" asked Charade.

Lorist tapped his fingers on the desk.

"No. If this were a simple matter of keeping the line safe, it would be no trouble. But I'm worried the nobles will be angered by our retaliation and attack us foolishly even if it won't benefit them. They might be forced into a desperate corner. If things get really bad, we might even have to deal with spiteful sabotage.

"For the nobles it'll only be a venting of their anger, but for us it might cost us the war and hundreds of thousands of lives.

"We have to clean the route entirely of all the polyps growing on it. We have to uproot whoever attacks us, no matter who they are."

"Will the king allow it though?"

"He will. Anyone who interferes in his plans are his enemy. As long as we launch our surprise attack according to plan, he will even close an eye to us wiping out every noble along the road."

Lorist suddenly started.

"FUCK! We've been had."

"Huh? How so?"

Lorist paced about in the study.

"This might be exactly what the king wants.  He plans to use us to clean up the aristocratic mess in his land."

Charade's expression soured as well.

"Any proof?"

"It's simple. He's given us the rights to set up these camps, everyone should know how serious he is about this. So why would they interfere and risk having their entire family exterminated? He must have not told them about this. Hahaha..."

Lorist's laughter turned cold.

"It's not just a gut feeling either. Think about it. This was is the most important one he'll fight in his entire life, do you really think he'll let himself make such a mistake when it concerns such an important element of his plan? Of course not! If he'd warned the nobles beforehand, no one would dare attack the depots. They would be challenging the king himself. There was no such announcement, however, so all they see is ripe fruit ready to he picked. At worst they expect this to just be a scuffle between minor nobility."

"So it's the same old trick he used last time?" Charade commented, "He first causes trouble, then gets us to clean his mess for him, and then even uses that as a leash to keep us under his thumb… He will ignore it now because he needs us in the war, but make no mistake, he'll bring it up the first opportunity he gets afterwards.

"So he gets a leash, cleans up a mess, and sours our relationship with the three dukes all in one shot? He must be really proud of his plan. If he can sour our relationship with the dukes, the alliance will be cut off from most possible friends in the empire and they'll be more likely to side with him against us — it would be a great power balancer."

"That is the kind of bastard he is. We are at least as strong as a full-fledged kingdom.  Only my loathing to be called a traitor is keeping us under his wings. He will never trust us." Lorist continued, "But is there a point? All he achieves is being looked down on even more. As long as we don't lose the strength we have now, even as an emperor at the head of an empire he will be defenseless and fangless against us. Short of declaring open war on us there will be nothing he can do to try to tame us."

"I doubt he'll really go that far," Charade offered, "He my have an army of 500 thousand, but he knows they're not our match. Our biggest issue is how we're going to deal with this. Tigersoar and Firmrock are on their way to Majik. Should we divert them for them to the trouble areas?"

"No need. The two must rush to prepare for the attack. The 10th month is closing, we don't have much time for rest. Don't waste their time for a few bandits.

"Mobilize a division from Jaeger. Josk can lead them. They'll help Freiyar keep the line safe and patrol the area. Call Els and Reidy back as well. Send them over with a thousand men. They can deal with the nobles interfering in house business."

"What will Jaeger do without either of its commanders?"

"Don't worry. There's still Yuriy and Waxima. They are more than enough. It's time for Josk to see some proper action again and Els is only a fill-in for Yuriy, who can now take over again.  It's time Els got a decent position anyway. I'll put him in command of a legion after the war."

On the 31st 10th, Year 1786, Lorist sent the general of Jaeger, Josk, with a division to the supply lines to combat the threat of the unidentified forces of the bandits and nobles. At the same time, he had Reidy and Els lead a thousand guards to investigate and obliviate the noble forces and bandits that played a part in the raiding of the supply stations.

All the way until the 30th of the 11th, House Norton cooked up a bloodstorm along that supply line. Near a hundred bandit bands were wiped out by the sudden attack of Els and Reidy's guard brigade as well as the ferocious pursuit of the Jaeger troops. More than 50 landed nobles were wiped out for involving themselves with the bandits. Their dominions were also raided clean.

Back then, Auguslo enfeoffed less than a hundred noble houses in the central provinces, yet House Norton wiped out half in such a short time. All of a sudden, House Norton's savage reputation spread like wildfire across the provinces. Apart from a few doomed fools, nobody dared to approach the supply line. Even if they had to cross it, they'd rather take the long way around. No one dared to get close to the depots.

On 20th of the 11th, Lorist led a thousand guards to Majik, accompanied by Rank 2 Blademaster Shuss. Sylvia, the four concubines, Lorist's two sons and a few officials were there to send him off.

After bidding them all farewell, Lorist told Belnick, general of the first local defense legion, "I leave The Northlands in your care."

Belnick made a knight's salute.

"Please rest assured, Your Grace. I won't let you down!"

Lorist nodded.