"All's fair in love and war."



The clash, soon to be known as the Battle of Cape Romani would be a matter of debate among historians for generations. Many believed it was the beginning of the age of cannons. House Norton ruled the seas from that day onwards. Many others, however, believed the outcome wasn't as exaggerated as the other thought. They considered the cannons much less of a threat. Invincible did suffer heavy losses, but they didn't think the outcome was as much of an overwhelming victory for Northsea.

If Invincible hadn't attacked the three ships in the middle where duke Lorist had been and had instead focused on the flanks, they might even have won. It didn't help that Northsea's performance had been rather lackluster. They'd let their guard down, which was why they were forced into close quarters combat. Their saving grace was that the enemy focused all their elites on their flagship where their swordsaint was. Had the enemy instead deployed their elites to other ships, the situation would have been unsalvageable.

Unfortunately, that's not what they did. They could not be criticised for their choices too much. What normal force would deploy a newly ascended swordsaint to a naval engagement? And what swordsaint would agree to fighting on a ship in the middle of nowhere? Swordsaints were the absolute pinnacle of power on the continent. Why would they serve on a shitty ship?

Lorist, however, was not as pretentious and self-important as was the norm for those of his stature or power. He didn't mind going to the front or duking it out on ships. If his participation could spare his men and end the fighting quickly so he could get back to ruling his lands, he would gladly participate. And he had to admit that he really enjoyed slaughtering helpless weaklings, even more so killing strong opponents after a good fight.

For all the arguments about the details, one thing was not disputed. Penelope surrendered without so much as a single swordstroke. He was unlucky to meet such a strong opponent. His surrender broke the fleet's back, and it routed.

......

"Why would you do that?!" Lorist nearly screamed.

The enemy's strongest had finally come and he could have a good fight… only to surrender just as he was raising his sword! Is that why you rushed over? To fucking surrender?!

"I don't want to die," answered Penelope frankly. He regretted his actions already. Why did he have to come to the front-line? His gut had told him to steer clear of this place, but he still came! Then again, how was he supposed to know the enemy's single swordsaint would be here? He was not going to through his life away. He'd already earned a fief and a title, so why'd he fight to the death here if he could just surrender, pay the ransom, and return home and live out an early retirement at home?

He could not be blamed even if the entire fleet was wiped out. He had not made any mistakes, he had just been unlucky. In fact, the fleet would not have made it even this far if his leadership had not been spectacular. Surrendering to a swordsaint after meeting them on the field was no shame. No one could expect him to try to fight the man, nor could anyone criticize him for surrendering to him.

Lorist finally understood why his side had been so terrified when they'd run into the windstrom swordsaint that day. Even the usually brash Fisablen had curled up into a ball. Lorist had been the only one to face his enemy without fear because he already suspected that he himself was also a swordsaint. Despite that, he could not accept such an unseemly display, especially not when it robbed him of a good slaughter.

"Fine, you'll get your treatment. Pick up your swords again and I'll let you take two men with you. Order the rest of the fleet to surrender and I'll spare them as well. If you don't, then I'll kill you as well," Lorist gave in.

These fool's gaze made him feel uncomfortable. It felt like a bunch of kids were staring at him, and adult, bullying them; like he had no business being here. True, it was a little overkill for a swordsaint to be in this battle, but that was why he'd come in the first place. His presence could make things go a lot smoother, so why wouldn't he come?

"Thank you, Lord Norton," Penelope bowed elegantly.

He immediately ordered his men to surrender and had the order passed along to the rest of the fleet. Soon the rest of the ships raised the white.

Lorist left dealing with things to his subordinates. The battle had ended, but everyone was still running around like crazy, if anything, they were now even busier than during the battle. Things only calmed down as the sun began to drink water. Senbaud returned from chasing a couple of the stragglers that fled. All but two had been sunk, but unfortunately those two had escaped. When Senbaud described the two ships to the captives, they told Lorist and the admiral that one of the ships was Serihanem's, that old bastard acquaintance of Lorist's.

When Lorist enquired about the man's presence in the fleet, he finally learned that the brat was the one who came up with the counter to his cannons. Jinolio immediately tried to move Senbaud back out after the bastard, but Lorist stopped him.

Serihanem was a bastard, but not a fool. He would definitely have anticipated such a deployment and have made preparations accordingly. Sending any ships after him would only be putting what was left of their fleet in unnecessary danger. As such, news of Invincible's defeat and complete eradication reached the Union.

That night, Lorist held a massive banquet to celebrate the victory and remember the fallen. As custom dictated, the enemy nobles were invited as well. Among them, Lorist saw a familiar face, though he couldn't put a name to it.

"Revered Lord Duke, I am Archduke Lorf Fustat, a rank 1 blademaster," the duke replied upon Lorist's inquiry.

YOU! his voice shrilled in his head, No wonder you looked familiar, you fucker!

"Why are you here?"

He was supposed to be the archduke of Jigda, rumours had it that he had more power than the king. Why was he out here?

"The Union is an ally. We need their help against Romon and Khawistan, so we came to help them when they asked it. I deployed my Firebird legion with the fleet to help in the fight and any invasions it might have launched. It is troubling that my legion became captives before they could have a decent fight."

Fustat even joked about the shame the legion's capture would bring to his family. It was supposed to be the kingdom's greatest force, but it had fallen to the enemy without crossing swords even once. He just wanted to pay his ransom and leave with his legion as quickly as possible to mitigate the damage to his reputation.

"I beg that you allow me to pay my ransom and that of my legion and leave. I promise neither I, my legion, nor any of the people over which I have influence, will get involved with the Union and its conflicts with you again."

"Why rush, Archduke?--" Lorist waved his hand. "--It's great to meet you again after so many years. Speaking of meeting again, how's your wife, Duchess Prinna?"

Fustat stared at Lorist wide-eyed."Have we met before? You... you know of my wife, Wenna?"

Lorist cracked a smile.

"Of course. We met nearly two decades ago when I was still just a student at Dawn Academy. You were just a Marquis then. Your wife was still Miss Windsor Prinna. In fact, she and I were dating at the time. We competed against one another for her hand but you won. How fortunes can be fickle, heh Archduke? You won on the battlefield of love, but I've won on the field of war."

The archduke's face paled instantly. His fellow captives listened carefully, forgetting the decorum of nobility, and the humility of prisoners. Everyone loved gossip, especially where it concerned this enigmatic saint. This was far too enticing to ignore. Oh how their peers would love to hear this when they finally returned 

"You... it was you..." Lorf muttered non-stop. He had completely forgotten about the little man his wife had liked when they met. Now the little man was Duke of the Northlands, the continents newest and youngest swordsaint, and his captor.

I'm dead... It's all over...