I seem to feel like there's something off, thought Lorist as he paced about on the walls.

It was the 17th day of House Norton's occupation of Morante. A week ago, Lorist received urgent word from a scout that the Union troops have already begun heading for Morante with 100 thousand men in the vanguard and another 200 thousand in the rearguard spiritedly. It seemed that a huge, bloody battle was about to break out at the city.

With the huge army coming their way, Lorist and the officers of the two legions didn't manage to get any rest in the next few days and were busy with managing various defensive aspects of the battle. They spent a huge sum of money and resources and managed to rely on the citizens of Morante to clear out the shelters for the poor folk and dug out some trenches and built some mud walls. It was a busy time.

When everything was ready and done, the first wave of attackers arrived. Near 10 thousand Union soldiers swarmed in a disorganized manner and discarded their weapons and armor with both their hands waving all sorts of white cloth in surrender as they called out, "Have some mercy and give us something to eat!"

"Open the gates! We surrender!"

"I want to go home and stop fighting!"

By the time Lorist, Potterfang and the other officers of the legions saw that, they were so shocked that their teeth almost fell out. Nobody knew what was going on. It was obviously not a trick as never has there been a performance to bait an enemy that was so realistic. Those soldiers ran up to the walls with ragged breaths and sat straight down without bothering to stand up.

Only when Els sent someone to ask them what was going on did they begin to understand the situation. Seriously speaking, those ten thousand people were the survivors of the Union's vanguard. They had set out to take Morante back with only five days' worth of rations and the Union higher-ups told them that since Gypsy and Mass had fallen too, they would gain more supplies if they reconquered those places.

As those 100 thousand men were Morantian recruits, they set out without a second thought out of worry for their families' safety. However, they were only infantry men and no matter how quickly they marched, they only managed to reach Gypsy after they finished their food. It was unfortunate that only a husk of the citadel had been left behind by Lorist and the soldiers took the city back without shedding a drop of blood only to find that there wasn't the slightest bit of food there. There wasn't anything edible. It was bricks and stones galore, so they could only drink more water to fill their stomachs.

So, they placed their hopes on the citadel of Mass. The two citadels were only one day's travel away from each other. However, they were attacked by Tigersoar and Jaeger midway there. The 100 thousand soldiers were hungry and tired and crumbled immediately. That 10 thousand ran faster than most and managed to escape encirclement by the cavalrymen. However, they realized that there was nowhere else they could run to and thought of their family members in Morante and decided to surrender after some discussion.

Lorist really didn't know whether to laugh or cry. He had spent a few day's effort only for it to end up wasted. A day later, Tigersoar and Jaeger's men returned with a large number of captives, adding another 100 thousand mouths to feed on Morante's food. Fortunately, Senbaud and Uncle Torin had already brought food back from Silowas and they had enough for the moment to feed a population of more than a million people.

Tigersoar's general, Loze, and Jaeger's general, Freiyar, arrived with the captives. It was then when Lorist found out that the Union's 100 thousand men were separated from their support troops at the rear for a distance of two day's travel and weren't able to call for help. Tigersoar and Jaeger used that opportunity to encircle them and exterminate the force of 100 thousand.

Loze and Freiyar mentioned that their two legions would continue to mount a surprise rear assault on the 200 thousand forces that remained at the frontlines to debilitate the return of the Union troops to Morante. After some brief discussion, the two of them set out with two brigades of captive-escorting cavalrymen.

However, two days had passed and there wasn't a single report about incoming Union reinforcements. Lorist couldn't help but guess what was going on. Even if the Union reinforcements were frightened into retreat by the extermination of the 100 thousand vanguard troops, Loze and Freiyar should've sent messengers back to inform him about it. It would still be better than having him wait at the walls with nothing better to do than anxiously await further news.

Three columns of smoke could be seen in the distance. A rider on a magnificent warhorse stormed towards the walls, calling out, "Urgent report from the frontlines! Open the gates!"

Lorist opened the letter personally penned by Freiyar and almost started with shock. "What?! The 200 thousand Union reinforcements aren't heading for Morante at all and are instead going to Mauvlin?! What are they doing?! Giving up on Morante and the whole of Falik Plains?!"

"Yes, Your Grace. I also received Tigersoar's urgent report as I was on my way to deliver Sir Freiyar's letter. The Union forces that were left behind to defend Robertway, Krido and Ritt all sent Tigersoar messengers to surrender and Sir Loze has already taken the three citadels back. If that is true, there's no doubt that the official report would soon arrive," uttered the messenger another surprising thing.

What the hell is going on? Are they cutting off their tail to survive? What in the world is the Union planning?! Would they really sacrifice half their forces to protect a mere 200 thousand soldiers? How could that be possible? That's too huge a price to pay! Or have they actually changed their minds after finding out that their vanguard had been defeated and returned to Mauvlin to conserve their troops? Why would the soldiers left to defend the citadel surrender then? That's around 100 thousand men too... Lorist couldn't understand what was going on no matter how much he troubled himself over it. Regardless, the avoidance of a battle at Morante was a good thing.

A day later, Lorist received another report from the frontlines and understood what was happening. The heck! They're trying to move the warzone away. The Union is trying to conserve their elite forces by sacrificing their ragtag troops. This was something they had planned all along and they intend to let House Norton feed those 200 plus thousand hungry mouths. This number of captives will no doubt cost us a lot of food... But why would the Union forces give up on retaking Morante? Do they have any other aims?

In Loze's report, the troops that were guarding the three citadels had surrendered because of a lack of food and other supplies as the rear forces of the Union had brought most of the supplies with them when they departed, leaving behind only five days' worth of food. As the soldiers were afraid that the allied noble army of Andinaq that they had battled against for the past two years would do them ill after they surrendered, they took the opportunity to surrender to House Norton's troops instead.

Loze requested Lorist to send a batch of food to those three citadels as soon as they could because the 100 thousand captives were currently consuming Tigersoar's own rations. Even the Tigersoar soldiers were only half fed. At the same time, Auguslo also discovered that the three citadels were in Norton control and sent a messenger over to take over the citadels.

Sigh, I just hope this king of ours doesn't give us any more trouble in such a busy time. Lorist wrote an order for Loze to refuse Auguslo's request. There were seven citadel cities including Morante on Falik Plains and Auguslo had only control over one of them, Bluwek. If the three citadels were handed to Auguslo, he might stay there and refuse to leave, which would complicate negotiations in the future.

Lorist also had Loze borrow some food from the house's three allies and Duke Fisablen to overcome this obstacle. Jaeger was currently pursuing the 200 thousand Union forces that escaped and couldn't be mobilized for anything else. Lorist then had Firmrock take over the three citadels immediately. Only when Potterfang arrived would Loze escort the surrendered garrison soldiers over.

After dealing with the arrangements and ordering Potterfang to depart, Lorist gave it some thought before writing Auguslo a personal letter which detailed House Norton's successful defeat of Invincible Fleet and conquest of Morante. He mentioned that the change in the situation on the frontlines was the result of the capital being taken. It seemed that they had given up on the city and Falik Plains altogether and retreated to Mauvlin.
Lorist impolitely demanded for Auguslo to not make any rash moves to ruin the current state of affairs they had fought so hard for. Lorist was going to use Morante and Falik Plains as bargaining chips for a peace treaty between the two nations and he expressed his hopes that Auguslo should go find something else to do, such as going back to accompany his poor wife that had spent three years alone in the palace.

Lorist also promised auguslo that he would use his status as a swordsaint to negotiate with the Union and that he would bear any responsibilities for upcoming changes. Should the negotiations fail, it wouldn't be too late for Auguslo to come and wrap things up. It was still much better than having it be ruined by Auguslo's appearance. But if the negotiations were successful, he would still need Auguslo to show up and sign the peace treaty.

After sending his guards off with his letter, Lorist breathed a long sigh and began to consider what the Union really intended. Were they really going to ignore Morante altogether? That was the most famous trading capital on the whole of Grindia and the capital city of the Union.

Jinolio and Tarkel both came over, each holding a large stack of documents. But they wore rather grim expressions.

"What's going on with the two of you? You look so down," said Lorist with a laugh.

"Your Grace, the inventory of the inner city districts and the commercial area is ready..." Jinolio ignored Lorist's question and replied with a solemn look.

"Oh? Let's hear it. I wonder how much our accounts will grow after this." Lorist's mood improved. His wasn't doing charity by participating in the war. All the resources and riches in Morante were supposed to be his spoils and compensation for deploying his troops. He believed that they wouldn't let him down.

Jinolio replied with a pained look, "Your Grace, the spoils this time around wasn't as much as we expected. We only found around four million gold Fordes in the inner city and commercial district combined and another bunch of resources worth up to ten million gold Fordes, a small amount of which are expensive luxury goods. There are also many jewelries that are worth about a few million gold Fordes. That's all there is."

"What?! It's that little?!" Lorist said with a start, "That's impossible! How could there be so little spoils in Morante?! It's a city with a population of one million! Millions of gold Fordes circulate in the markets on a daily basis! Other things aside, the merchant guilds of the city should have a huge store of various treasures from all over the continent! How could the spoils be worth so little?"

If it were some other city, Lorist would be more than surprised at the amount of spoils he got. But this was Morante. How could the sum be so less? At that moment, Lorist wondered whether any of his subordinates were faking the accounts and trying to hide the spoils away. He definitely wouldn't believe that it was really that meager.

"Your Grace, that would be the case if it were a decade ago. The current Morante is not the trading capital it once was. To be honest, it's not even as influential as Jigda's capital, Saint Manarde. Ever since the Union fought Teribo in the War of Glass and the implementation of the nobility system, the midsouthern nations erected trade embargoes against the Union and that caused Morante's status as a trade city to fall way down. The number of people that come and go can't even be compared to a decade ago. It's not nearly as merry as it once was," said Jinolio calmly, shattering Lorist's good impression of the city in an instant.

Hmm... It really does seem to be the case. Otherwise, the various academies wouldn't close down because they didn't have any new applicants. Dawn Academy wouldn't have to start over in The Northlands either. Just like Knight Lundmorde had mentioned in his reports before, Morante's prosperity had declined and there hasn't been a single trading convoy coming in from the outside. The city's market seemed to be completely in the hands of the various merchant guilds and the profits have all been split between them already, leaving no room for others.

A few years back, Tarkel once drafted a plan for the formation of a new merchant guild in Morante, which they would spend years to nurture into one that had a huge influence in the city. It was too bad that even though Lorist approved of that plan, they found that it wasn't practically possible.

As Knight Lundmorde had said, all the industries in the city were monopolized by those merchant guilds, ranging from products citizens consumed to military equipment. Even if a new product was developed and put into the market, the related merchant guilds would come to force the manufacture and distribution of the product to be given to them and there would be terrible consequences for a refusal to comply.

"Your Grace, ever since the Union implemented the nobility system, the various merchant guilds gained their own dominion and they basically moved all their production centers and stores there. The commercial areas of Morante are only glorified storefronts for their products. Even though they still keep a substantial amount of stock here, it really isn't that much.

"And since the Union went to war with the midsouthern nations, the market in Morante had only grown colder by the day. Most of the goods stored in the city are bad-selling spoils of war or daily necessities required by the citizens. There's almost nothing valuable here. That's the case for almost all the store houses of the merchant guilds here," explained Tarkel more clearly.

Lorist slapped his forehead at how he still considered Morante to be how it was in its glory days when he was studying and working as a mercenary there. He didn't think that the passing of a decade would see the Union swallowing seven neighboring nations in the War of Glass and it being suppressed by the other neighboring nations due to its expansionist policies, which also resulted in the severing of the trade routes. A few years later, the Union waged war again to force the trade routes open, but that naturally didn't bring any good results for Morante itself. Could a trading capital without trade still be known as such?