"Gossip is the woman's weapon."



Lorist was incredibly busy with training and paying attention to the developments of the scandal of Auguslo and his pregnant wife. He was really interested in how it would turn out. If something like that happened in a commoner's or knight's family, Lorist would not be nearly as interested.

But this happened to the king. Lorist's craving for gossip shot through the roof. He lamented that Morante was too far from the capital and the gossip would take a day or two to arrive. So, when Charade placed the letter of protest Kaet spent three days penning in front of him, He crumpled it and tossed it into the rubbish bin.

"Protest my ass! All bark and no bite like a useless guard dog! If the Union really has any bargaining chips left, they would've sent their troops instead of sending an envoy. Ignore him."

"I know, but we should at least leave him some face," Charade answered, "Actually, this letter is quite well-written. I didn't know he had that kind of talent. He wrote it over several days and it has several good points. I was quite surprised that it doesn't openly criticize us. He's implied everything instead. It's a shame you want to throw it away without at least reading it."

"You can take it out of the bin if you want. I don't care about his talent. Talent that doesn't serve me is worthless. There are no problems with your arrangements, are there? How much did you squeeze out of the Union?"

"Everything's going fine. The people we released are settling in by the port. Kaet has agreed to use us to transport the people to the border and is buying the food from us as well.

"He should thank us for releasing them in small batches. He's already struggling with that along, if we released them all at once he'd collapse. He's blind to his blessing and protesting us only releasing the people that have no money left.

"The Union has given us 6.3 million of the ransom and the bills we slapped on them. Kaet complained about this as well. He mocked us for being rural bumpkins that only care about money and nothing for our reputation. He's also complained about being forced to cover his own expenses, but I've been deaf since he arrived.

"Spiel is personally managing the camp near the port. Tarkel secretly spread word that only those who spent all their money would be released, so everyone's rushing to get rid of their money. Tarkel spread two other rumors as well, that their wealth would be confiscated by the Union even if they managed to leave with it, and that, if they won the red betting chip in the casino, they would be released and House Norton would even ensure their personal safety and wealth. Two casinos have been overflowing for two days now.

"We've earned three million in the last ten days. Spiel's so happy he can't stop smiling or keep his mouth shut. He said the captives alone can give us ten million. Tarkel also had people put up a show at the port two days ago. He gathered two thousand outer city citizens and twenty buckets of cow and goat blood to put up a show on how our troops are trying hard to suppress a revolt. He wanted to scare the stubborn old folks in the camp so they think the city is very dangerous and won't try to escape, and so they'll believe we're barely keeping everything under control."

Charade's report made Lorist laugh. It all started when Jindoz handed over the two infiltrators, Riwald's chief supervisor, Mendauk, and the gold-ranked swordsman, Vingoff. The two didn't even last two days against Tarkel and spilled everything.

Lorist knew he could play this well. Since the two planned the whole operation, he would have them continue to send word back to the Union and ask for supplies and reinforcements. He wanted more training dummies for Jinolio. The kid had a good character, his only shortcoming was a lack of motivation; the kid barely touched weapons at all. He never strove to win and, at best, fought hard enough to get a draw.

Lorist's three disciples had been the center of attention since he'd become a swordsaint. His first disciple, Reidy, was already equal to a rank 2 blademaster and had a strong bloodlust. Howard was equal to a three-star gold-ranked swordsman and was calm and calculative. And his third disciple was tall and graced with a magnificent figure and was a peak three-star silver rank. In stark contrast to his physique, however, Jinolio had a soft heart and delicate handwriting, perhaps because he spent lots of time with his female tutor in his childhood.

Lorist was quite troubled by this kid. How could a pirate like Senbaud give birth to a good-boy son? The old pirate had sailed the seas to raid, kill, and commit all sorts crimes. Many of Lorist's knights were even ashamed to be in the same unit as him. But his eldest was loved by everyone. He was genuine and had a great temperament; his loyalty was also second to none. His aversion to combat was his only shortcoming.

Sending Jinolio to fight on the battlefield was too risky right now. Even a swordsaint could not be certain of his fate. And sparring with the guards was pointless. Jinolio didn't care about winning, and he couldn't be put in a real life-or-death situation that way. Having him fight Union operative trying to infiltrate the city was the best option. Hopefully, they would give him some spark of insight. The men would seriously aim for his life, whilst the situation meant Jinolio would not get ganged or surrounded as might happen on a battlefield.

Lorist didn't expect that Charade and Tarkel get involved as well. The two wanted to convince the Union they were really in trouble. They could buy more time for the new Union to stabilize and prepare the Union for a fatal blow once they met on the field.

"Alright, go all out," Lorist smiled, "Morante needs time. Let the Union think we are having a hard time dealing with the people and suffering severe losses. When they finally move on the city in force, we'll cut their head off. Morante needs just half a year then we can begin withdrawing. How about we call it Let's call it the Morantian Plutocracy? I want to see where the Union hides its shameful face next. Can they really still be called the Forde Trade Union after losing their headquarters? Once that's done we'll help the Plutocracy fend of the Union's invasion. I'm sure many will be too shocked to even react when the time comes."

"The Union will regret this. If they knew things will turn out like this, they would've surrendered long ago. Isn't a little too cruel, though, Your Grace? You're not just giving them a hard blow, you're completely uprooting them!"

Lorist shook his head.

"They asked for this. They want to enjoy the privileges of nobility, but won't uphold the dignity and honor that comes with that? They want to be both merchants and nobles? They can't have their cake and eat it too. They resisted outside forces because they were of singular purpose, but now they're fractured. Morante's deterioration is their fault. If Duke Forde Morante knew what would happen to the city, he would probably never had joined hands with the guilds. We have to turn the city back to how it used to be."

"Your Grace is right. Oh, has there been any news from the capital?"

As a staunch opposer of Auguslo, Charade was really interested in the scandal. He'd been pestering Lorist since he'd heard of the whole affair.

"Nothing new. The last news is that the cheater's been found. No details on him yet. The king's apparently threatened death on anyone who as much as thought a word on this matter. The funniest thing is people celebrated the king having an heir when the news first spread, you know, before everyone realized she must have cheated."

The two laughed together, schadenfreude filling the room. This scandal was the greatest entertainment they'd had in years.

Tarkel burst into the room as the two wrapped up their laughter.

"News from the capital!" he shouted as he waved a small piece of parchment around.

"Let's hear it," beckoned Charade.

"The queen cheated with the palace guards' vice-captain! Wicksas, a 27-year-old two-star silver rank."

"Wicksas? Two-star silver rank at 27? Which house? How did he become the palace guard's vice-captain?"

Lorist's first guess was that he had relied on secret connections to get his station. His station was usually occupied only by people in the gold rank. The rule was made even stricter after the blademaster breaking several years ago during Lorist's recovery. Auguslo had reorganized the palace's defenses in his rage and made sure all three hundred members of the palace guard were at least silver rank.

"Wicksas isn't a noble. He's just a squire. His adoptive father was a retired royal knight."

Tarkel's eyes suddenly popped out of his skull.

"Y-y-your Grace... The l-l-letter says W-w-wicksas is actually... the king's... illegitimate son..."

"What?!" Lorist snatched the letter from Tarkel and put it on the table.

Charade squeezed in to get a look as well.

It was true. Wicksas was indeed rumored to be Auguslo's bastard son. It was unproven, however. It was, however, fueled by the fact that Auguslo didn't kill Wicksas once he was discovered; he just locked him up.

Lorist's informant was a loyal and dutiful commander. He'd gone to great lengths to verify the rumor. He was told by a former servant to the king that when the king was 17, he had an affair with his father's maidservant which bore a child. The servant disappeared with her child soon after. There were no traces left over the years, so it wasn't certain whether the man was indeed the king's bastard, but his age did match.

Holy shit! This just keeps getting better and better! So Auguslo had an affair with his father's maidservant, and the son from that affair now had an affair with his father's wife, which also now bears a child! God, I bet this kid will have an affair with his own mother or sister, that family just keeps getting worse every generation!

"Tarkel, ask Glacia if she knows anything about this bastard of the king's."

"Understood, Your Grace," replied Tarkel.