"One must not count the magical beasts before they're slain." ~ a popular Norton saying from the early days of Norton Lorist's reign.

"Are we really going to sit here and do nothing, Your Grace?" complained Loze.

"What's wrong? Can't sit still?" joked Lorist as he flipped through the documents on his desk.

They sat currently in House Norton's main camp. They'd successfully joined up with Auguslo and the rest of the nobles. The entire army, a million strong, was now encamped near Armenia's border, in the part of Malivia Lorist had conquered. The encampment was imposing, but nothing really happened. Auguslo even strictly forbade anyone from crossing into Union-held territory. It made for a weird atmosphere.

They had not even been here for half a month, and Loze was already here to complain. He still thought the king's plan to pressure the Union into ceding Armenia and Malivia was just ridiculous. It would be much better to just take it themselves and then sue for status quo. The Union was at its most vulnerable, but it wouldn't last for long. If they didn't jump at this opportunity, it would be lost to them forever. Once the Union moved its armies into place, at best they could hope to keep what they currently had. Loze did not believe they could gain anything through negotiation.

"Loze, you know this was the plan from the beginning. It's not that the king doesn't know we have to conquer Falik Plains, eventually. He wants us to pressure the Union into negotiations, and they won't agree to it if they feel we're being too aggressive. The kingdom is in no better a position than the Union either. Any combat we can avoid is a win. We need time to rest and rebuild. If it bothers you that much, just think of this as a vacation instead."

"Even if it's just for show, we shouldn't prevent our forces and scouts from launching attacks at the fringes. It would put more pressure on them. A one million strong army not daring to do anything when there is no force in the area even remotely capable of opposing it is just farcical," complained Loze.

"That is being done for a reason. The king wants to send a message to the Union. He's trying to tell them we don't intend to start an all-out war. We have a specific goal, and have no interest beyond that goal. They should send envoys soon.

"But enough of such tiresome talk. You don't fool me, anyway. I know you just want to make more money raiding."

"Haha... hahahaha..." Loze laughed awkwardly, scratching the back of his head, "I was only thinking of the House, Milord. Potterfang swept all of Kanbona but didn't get much. The 100 thousand youths only barely make us break even. I'm really disappointed with Kanbona's nobles!

"Malivia is different though. When we were chasing a few fleeing fools into the province, we took over a few castles.  They're really rich! We took 38 castles in total and got about as much as half of Wessia's treasury from them!"

Loze hadn't acted according to a particular plan when to took out the nobles in the province. It was just a habit he'd picked up from the previous campaigns. He did not expect these small fry to be this rich. Bodolger's nobles were brand new, given land and titles by Wessia for their contributions to the guild. While they had some wealth, they could not compare to noble families who'd occupied their fiefs for generations.

Both, however, were rich compared to Kanbona's nobles. Their combined wealth was barely a fifth of the nobles in Bodolger. A Kanbona baron was rich is he had five thousand gold Fordes in his treasury. But Malivian barons had nearer a hundred thousand gold Fordes in their treasuries.

This was probably because the Malivian nobles came from rich merchants. The Union only got Lormo involved when they ran out of land to enfeoff, so the poorer bastards were the one that got that land later on.

"Enough. Stay put obediently for now. You've already caused me enough trouble by pushing into Malivia in the first place. The king nearly collapsed when he heard about it. He almost made me whip you as an apology to the Union! He may be acting belligerent towards the Union, but the king is walking a fine tightrope. He really doesn't want to go to war with the Union."

He just wants to raid the nobles and make more money!

The problem wasn't really with Auguslo's ban on sending troops into Armenia or Malivia. Lorist was more concerned for Loze's safety. Teribo VII offered exorbitant bounties during the War of Glass, and many high ranking mercenaries died, both for being the target of a bounty, and for blindly chasing bounties. Greed killed, even more so in war. Lorist had no interest in repeating those mistakes. Especially not with Loze. He was a good general and a promising candidate for becoming a blademaster. All the money in Malivia was not worth a single Loze.

"Sigh..." Loze wanted to say something else, but was stopped by the curtains covering the entrance parting to reveal Jinolio.

"Sigh..." Lorist echoed.

The army had sat still for just over ten days while Auguslo kept hosting banquets like the war was already won. The feasts weren't extravagant, but their number made it quite expensive. Auguslo's harvest must have been quite decent. On the surface they were parties to celebrate their successes thus far in the campaign, in truth they were opportunities for Auguslo to talk about the policies he wanted to implement after the war. Chances for him to get everyone behind him and his plans.

The brat's old habits are surfacing again.

This was exactly what Auguslo had done after conquering Frederika. His ego went from being a hill to being a mountain and he started bragging about what he'd do once the empire was unified again. His ego didn't work well with his illness. He made ridiculous decisions and gave out ludicrous orders, which led to his downfall.

Now he was doing the same. He was certain the Union would cave in the negotiations. His behaviour was again becoming arrogant. At least he had not turned his arrogance towards Lorist. He continued to act friendly towards him, though the traces of wariness were not completely gone from his eyes. Lorist was under no illusions, however. He knew this was all because of how much he had contributed to their current success. His military exploits had shocked the world yet again, it wasn't a stretch to say that his reputation was the real winner in this war. If he'd not made so many spectacular gains, he would have been relegated to the sidelines.

Everyone else, even the king, appeared to be there just to cheer him on. The minor nobles, at the very least, were at best a waste of food. The three dukes couldn't be expected to do much. They had been wounded in their war with the kingdom and had had neither the time nor the resources and land to recover. Given their precarious positions, they were also not willing to take any risks.

Most surprising, to outsiders at least, was the lacklustre performance of Lorist's close allies. Without his forces acting as their backbone, and without him there to strategize and lead them, they were a sail ship without wind for its sails.

If Lorist made the greatest contribution, and the king himself standing second, then Duke Fisablen was third. He had a decent relationship with the king, and still had a bit to prove, so he made some efforts. He deployed two legions, Second Frontier and one of his reserves. That the queen was from the house also spurred him on to do a few things. It had originally been suggested that he take on Kanbona, but he was quick to rebuke them. Who on earth was dumb enough to use cavalry to siege castles?

No one really wanted to take on the thorny province, so they just kept kicking the ball at one another. It eventually fell to Lorist to do the actual work if he wanted to keep his rear secure. It had, at one point, been suggested that the minor nobles deal with the province, but they would have none of it either. No one minor noble had a force large enough to take out a castle, and none of them were willing to put their whole force on the line and possibly lose their chance to make any further contribution to the campaign.

Potterfang had initially thought he would meet up with whoever was attacking Kanbona somewhere in the province. He was completely speechless when he had to march through all of the province, and back across the border into the kingdom to meet a single friendly soldier.

Auguslo's plan was to attack the province from three sides, but it failed for several reasons. One was that he overestimated his own force's capabilities. Another that he didn't take his opponent in his theater seriously. Duke Zitram was far more capable than he gave the duke credit for. While he did eventually gain control of his theater, the combat part of the campaign was basically over already and he had no chance to contribute anything else.

Lorist didn't let the opportunity to mock everyone else pass him by. Nor did he refrain from sneering at the king for his ineptitude. They were all pretty thick skinned, though, and didn't really take his mockery to heart. They only cared about the end result, not how it was achieved, in fact, they were quite happy to have achieved their initial goals without having to do much.

Lorist abstained from most of the celebration, however. He was too busy to waste time on merrymaking. He had to organise the transport of hundreds of thousands of captives and refugees back to his dominion. It was more challenging than the actual war as far as he was concerned. As much as Auguslo bled to see so much taken out of his hands, they were Lorist's rightful spoils and plunder and he could do nothing, even as the king.

"I will not attend tonight's banquet.  Inform the king, Jinolio. I have too much to do."

Jinolio left, but returned soon after.

"His Majesty asks if you want to meet the captured count he chose to be the messenger to the Union. He'll leave after tonight's banquet to send our demands to the Union."

Lorist waved him out, annoyed. "No. His Majesty is free to do what he wants. What's so important about this count anyway? He's just a messenger. His Majesty's just looking to use my name to terrify the man. I have no interest in being his tool."

"As you wish, Your Grace."