"The kind and the polite will never be rulers. They are always trampled into the dust by people who know how to get what they want. Even when such figures may sit on the thrown, they will never be the rulers."

"We've made preparations just in case. I don't think the negotiations will be successful," reminded Charade when he returned to the inner city.

Lorist nodded with a grim expression.

"I don't either. The Union might be counting on Morante to crumble us. If they can get the city to riot, they'll slander our reputation and inflict heavy casualties. They'll have an excuse to turn this into a holy crusade if we put the city down. Once they do that, we'll never get a day's rest until either of us are dead. Most immediately, the people will not hold back and we'll be buried under corpses. We'll be forced to pull out and they can then just march back into the city as saviors, and without spilling any of their own blood.

Lorist was enraged. The Union had chosen the path he'd feared most they might. He was infinitely tempted to hang an official or two to make an example. Riwald's vice-president and one of the rank 1 blademasters that guarded the place would make good sacrifices.

Charade coughed audibly.

"What's wrong? Catching a cold?"

"No… You seem not to have heard what I said."

Lorist blushed.

"Apologies, old friend. I was lost in thought. Say again."

"I said we should be patient. If things go as planned, Viscount Penelope and his companions should be arriving at Mauvlin as we speak. If the Union responds, it'll take another ten days for news to get back. As for Jindoz's gifts, they're just another arrangement the Union made before they retreated. They infiltrated the city to gain more information and to incite revolts. I doubt they know we're trying to negotiate."

"Makes sense. I'll have Tarkel interrogate them thoroughly and find out even their most embarrassing childhood secrets. I'll spare their lives until I hear from the Union. If they plan to play tricks, I'll leave them two corpses unlike any they've ever scene. Even their nightmares will be fantastical dreams by comparison! I'll kill everyone we have if they send people to make trouble." Lorist half-shouted.

Charade smiled, shaking his head.

"Tarkel will be blind as a bat if we lose the syndicates' cooperation. We cannot tell Morantians apart from informants. Meeting Jindoz gave me an idea. I need some time to investigate and consider a few things, but it might not only bring us out of this predicament, but unexpected benefits. I must get to work."

Lorist was curious, but the latter left too quickly. Charade left for the city with a bunch of officials the next day. Lorist was just about to call Charade to get more information, two days later, when Auguslo and a bunch of other nobles suddenly announced their arrival.

Auguslo shamelessly demanded a share of the spoils. It was only fair, you see, since everyone had played some part in this glorious victory. Everyone had done their bit, and now it was time they got their reward.

Shameless as he was, Auguslo knew better than to bring the matter up bluntly. Lorist was still the kingdom's swordsaint, after all. He instead put up a tragic performance during the banquet until Lorist brought it up himself.

He first bemoaned the long, bloody, taxing war, then, one teary-eyed noble after another told Lorist of their losses.

Lorist watched the show grimly. His patience finally burnt out, and he slammed his cup on the table, rising like an arrow loosed from a bow.

"Follow me!"

Elated, Auguslo and his cronies followed quickly. Lorist led them to the meeting room and asked the guards to bring him the inventory of their spoils. He tossed them to Auguslo.

"See for yourself. When did I say the city was full of gold and wealth? Well? Everything's there. I've not let anything out. Take your pick, what catches your eye?!"

Auguslo was dumbstruck. Neither he nor any of his cronies imagined the city had nothing to loot. Shazin looked at the accounts pale-faced.

"It's not as much as we'd expected, but 4 million Fordes is still a massive sum."

"Massive sum?" Lorist snapped, "I sacrificed almost my entire fleet to open the seas to Morante! The ships alone will cost more than ten million to repair or replace! Then there's the compensation I have to pay to the families of all the men I've lost! That aside, we'll be lucky to get half of this loot to help pay back that debt.  Look here!--" Lorist tossed another document in front of the king, "--The Union left their storehouses bare. We have to use most of the money we got from the city to feed the one and a third of a million people living in the city! This whole endeavor's been a massive loss! I'm shitting money down the long-drop like someone with dysentery!"

Kenmays flipped the new document open.

"Incredible! They made something out of nothing! They're even doing it with cloth instead of coins! They didn't just keep all their money, they even got monopolies over everything!" cried he.

"Wondrous my ass!" Lorist bellowed, "I conquered Morante, I took this city but I get nothing for it! The merchants and their wealth are gone! This stupid rationing system is also now gone and I have to feed the whole fucking city! I'm sitting on the edge of a volcano about to erupt!

"There is good news, however."

"Good news?" everyone asked in unison.

"Yes. Now that you're here I'll pass the city and the surrounding forts to you. You can do with them what you want, I don't care. I took part in this whole mess to end the war. I sank their fleets, took the plains, and even conquered their capital, and I've sent messengers to call for negotiation. My work is done so I'm heading home."

Lorist didn't care that he'd told the king he'd handle the negotiations to make sure things went smoothly. He just wanted to be rid of this whole business and go home, so he shameless tossed everything onto the king's shoulders and prepared to leave. This was one of the nice things about being someone else's vassal, you could just toss stuff to them if it was too much for you.

Auguslo was not about to be given such a hot potato, however. He smiled and patted Lorist's shoulder.

"Locke. You're the kingdom's swordsaint, you're the pinnacle of our power. It won't do to not have you at the negotiations. Your forces have also played a pivotal role in getting us this victory and this opportunity at peace. It would be a slander on your glory if you didn't get to sit at the table as we end this war. The plains and the city were taken by you, so it's only natural that you keep them until the negotiations are over."

With that Auguslo tossed everything back to Lorist. He made him Fieldmarshall and gave him overall command of the front-lines and all the newly occupied territories as well as putting him in charge of negotiations with the Union.

He had to actually help out with the situation in the city, though, so he decided to give all the food stores in Bluwek to Lorist to help him out a little.

Lorist almost fainted. He didn't think he'd not just fail to get rid of this nuisance, but be given every other nuisance the king had. He couldn't find a counter to the king's arguments, however. He was indeed the kingdom's only swordsaint, so he was the ideal pick to be the front-lines' guard dog. He'd never before wished so much to have a peer.

If only he'd killed the enemy swordsaint. He could just argue that it was completely unnecessary to have him sit on the front-lines if the enemy had no counter. But the old bastard had gotten away, so it seemed only natural that the kingdom keep its most powerful soldier on the front to defend against the enemy's swordsaint.

"This sounds all fine and good, Your Majesty, but where will you camp your forces if not in Bluwek?" asked Lorist.

"I do not think it's necessary to keep my men on the front anymore now that you're here and in command. We've all been fighting this war for two years and it's time to rest. I'll return to the capital and the other nobles can go home and rest some while you wrap things up here," said the shameless bastard.

Lorist's jaw fell through the floor.

This shameless bastard, this good-for-nothing dandy was shoving everything onto him! He summoned every ounce of restrained he had to respond calmly, but just as he began exhaling to speak, the king clutched his hands.

"Please, Locke, it all depends on you. We are in the perfect position to end this in our victory and only you can ensure that this ends well. If you can end this war as things are now, with a complete surrender from the Union, then you'll be inscribed in the history books and on every monument, palace, and city and town square in the kingdom as it's greatest noble for millennia to come!

"I believe the Union is no less wary of this war than we are, especially after this decisive strike. I do not think they have it left in them to fight on so there's no need for us all to stay on the front.

"Locke, my brother, please stay just a little longer. You can return to The Northlands the moment the treaty is signed. I'll send food as soon as I return to the capital. I won't let you bear this burden alone."

The visitors left early the next morning, before Lorist could come up with a counter argument. Lorist couldn't let them go empty handed, so he let each pick a single souvenir.

He saw them off with a smile.

It vanished the moment they were out of sight.

Why am I not reaping all the benefits?! Those fuckers pushed everything onto me! I'm a swordsaint, for crying out loud. I'm one of the most powerful people on the continent, probably the most if you count my forces as well. Why, then, am I driven like a common easel? Why must I suffer so many donkey years?

He spent the next day in self-loathing. He didn't even notice Charade coming into his study the next afternoon.

"When did you come in?" Lorist jumped when he finally noticed the figure. "Where have you been in the past few days?"

Charade took two sips of his wine before he replied.

"How long have you been snoozing on your desk? You really have it easy, don't you?"

"Don't get me started!"

Charade tossed him a handful of bound parchments.

"Take a look. It's the idea I mentioned a few days ago."

Lorist flipped the folder.

"What?! You want to form another Trade Union?!"