"Let not your lust for war blind you to its dangers."

Lorist initially refused, but eventually agreed to give it serious consideration. He called another meeting of his confidantes the moment the two dukes left.

"Should we consider it?" he asked after explaining everything.

"Do we even need to discuss it? The Union doesn't know what's good for them. We should teach them a good lesson. They should just sit in Morante like good little boys and not bother us. Plus, we can make a good profit while we're at it!" Loze chimed in almost before Lorist was finished.

Then again, he was a freak for battle so it would be stranger if this wasn't his answer.

"No! We shouldn't. The king can't make a good offer and we've never had a close relationship with him. The Union knows how thorny we are and they'll be stretched to the breaking point by the time they reach our borders; I seriously doubt they've march into our territory. Our men and stability are worth much more than the king's throne and delusions of grandeur. Besides, as Your Lordship just said, the plains are meat grinders. If we march onto them, we'll just be throwing our men away and we might become just as embroiled as the king and be unable to withdraw," said Charade.

He'd never had a good impression of the king. He'd also not grown up in the empire and had no loyalty to it. His only loyalty was to Lorist personally. He had no issue with abandoning the kingdom altogether. Lorist, however, could not be so carefree. House Norton was famous for its loyalty, and -- until recently -- only for its loyalty. If he had any hopes of preserving his house's standing and legitimacy with the rest of the continent's nobility, he could not just stand by and watch the kingdom crumble.

Charade, however, however much he disliked the king, didn't support abandoning him purely based on his distaste for the man.

"Next year will be crucial," he explained, "If we don't settle the immigrants, complete the palace, and complete our restructuring, we will be unstable for years to come. We can't afford to divert attention and resources from these endeavors. We've also not yet fully healed the wounds from the rebellion. We can't afford to move our forces out of our territory, especially not whilst those that stay behind will be in disarray while we restructure. You also can't go on your own, we need you here to keep what remnants of the rebels have yet to be uprooted at bay and the peasantry calm. You've just returned from a year's absence and injury in this very war, the people will be restless if you go back now. If you must help the king, at the very least wait for a year or two."

Lorist saw through Charade's charade. He wanted Auguslo to suffer a lot more and be in a far worse state. That way they could extort him for much more benefits and he would not be in a position to meddle with them for several years. He would have been inclined to go along with it as well if this did not concern the whole kingdom and not just the king. If nothing else, Houses Kenmays, Shazin, and Felim were still in an alliance with him, he had to step in and help them.

"What do you think, Pog?"

"We'll have to take the field eventually, even if it's only when the Union is on our doorstep. If the king can't hold on, the Union will not stop until they've wiped out every man, woman, and child that call themselves subjects of the king or any of his vassals. If we wait until they're on the river banks, we'll have to face them alone. Best settle this far away from our lands while we still have allies that can stand on our flanks.

"At the same time, fighting on the plains is definitely not acceptable. That whole area has been trodden into mud and both sides are completely entrenched. We won't be able to break through there no matter what plan we come up with. Especially not now that the Union also has siege weapons -- as inferior to ours as they are."

"We have to teach those merchants a lesson, even if just for the fact that they dare march blademasters into your lands and steal your plans!"

Freiyar's fervour was understandable. Until recently he'd served as the sentry legion's general and was only involved in logistics and security. Now that he'd been moved to a combat legion and finally had the chance to go to war, he would naturally jump at the chance. Ovidis, similarly, also wanted to take revenge for the blademasters sent into Lorist's dominion. The merchants would only get the message that House Norton was not to be trifled with through a beating or two.

"Well said!" Loze chimed in happily.

Lorist shot him a glare, and he shut up. He motioned for another bottle of wine, which Jinolio quickly supplied.

"Spiel, what are your thoughts?"

"Potterfang is right. We cannot allow the Union to defeat the king and march on our lands. The best option is to keep the war on the plains. If things are going to get wrecked anyway, we might as well make sure it's in the Union's territory. If we can get Yungechandler in the process, all the better."

Lorist saw Spiel in another light. He did not think the stingy man could think so far ahead.

"The king didn't mention anything about covering our costs, though, so this will be a big investment. At the very least we'll have to clean out any land we occupy to lessen the burden."

Lorist rolled his eyes immediately.

I knew he had another angle. He really only sees coins. Does he really think we can do it again so easily? Even if we do break through and get onto virgin territory, the king won't let us just take whatever we want again.

"With the king and the Union bogged down on the plains, we could just go around them and march straight into their under-defended territory. We can both take some pressure off the king, and will have untouched land to clean out."

It sounds great, doesn't it? But does he really think Auguslo hasn't thought of trying it himself? I knew you weren't a genius when it comes to military matter, but you're a complete idiot! Why'd I even ask you?

Charade was currently the house's chief administrator, but he had extensive experience with war. He knew how obscene Spiel's suggestion was and didn't know how to respond. In the end he decided to explain everything to the old man.

"That won't work. At best we'll just move the front-line a little, at worst we'll be surrounded and lose all the men we marched across the border.

"We caught the Union off guard last time, but they'll be ready for us this time. Even when we caught them off guard, we still lost 20 thousand men. This time we could easily lose everyone."

The Union was present in the area in force and woefully outnumbered the king's forces. Their recruitment and training machinery was also in full swing. It wouldn't take them long to respond to the new enemy with overwhelming force. They'd either be crushed, or, if they pulled out in time, they wouldn't even have raided enough to cover their deployment costs.

Spiel turned red in the face. The Union was a far bigger foe than he'd thought. The Union outclassed them in every metric that counted in a grand and long war like this. If they joined the fight, they were doomed to suffer heavy if not total casualties, but if they didn't, they would smear their names with shit and ruin their reputation. Besides, even if they could keep the enemy off their land their economy relied heavily on trade with the lands outside their own. If they were cut off from their trade, they would crumble within a few years. Even if the Union didn't besiege them, they certainly wouldn't allow them to trade, which was no different. Even if they someone managed to not crumble, they would not be able to grow at a rate comparable to the Union, if at all, and in a decade or maybe even less the Union would be big enough to steamroll them.

"I've thought things through, Your Grace," Malek interjected, "We have to strike the Union a fatal blow in one move. I have one idea that might let us do this. I don't think it'll defeat them, but it should damage them enough that they have to stop their attacks and recover, and it might even do enough damage to force them back to the negotiating table, even if only to sue for status quo."

He pointed at the map.

"Impossible!" Loze shouted, "We can't even march around the enemy to strike right behind their front line, how are we supposed to strike at Morante?"

"Who said anything about going in over land?" Malek asked, "Tarkel said Morante is their logistics hub. We can get in, burn their stores, and be out again before they can react. And since it's a port city, we can go by sea.

"Senbaud always boasts about Northsea's invincibility -- even the king agrees. I suggest we move Northsea on Morante. We can burn the Union's Invincible Fleet on the way there as well, then pull back to Hanayabarta to resupply before returning to Silowas."