"Any cruelty must be dispensed at once, so that it is tasted as little and possible and hated as little as possible."



Charade accompanied Madam Windsor Prinna to Silowas and negotiated her husband, and his men's ransom. The whole thing took almost a month. Fortunately, he could delegate his duties to Morante's new government before he left.

Lorist chose to meet the merchant captain. He was curious why the man had returned to quickly. His trip should have taken a month. He'd also had a full load of good that he would have had to sell before he could sail again. He didn't expect any merchants would be returning for at least another month, perhaps even longer sales weren't great.

The captain's name was Fodris a third-generation seafarer. He had worked with other captains to capture Invincible's men when they were ordered to burn his ship and other ships when the fleet surrendered. Senbaud had even given him a commendation for it.

The meeting both excited and unnerved the captain. He presented Lorist with the most expensive thing his family owned: a foot-long deep crimson coral. His father had found it while stranded out at sea. Many believed such corals were good luck charms, and the larger the coral, the greater the luck.

The piece of dead sea creatures fascinated Lorist. Fodris was very happy to answer the duke's questions, whether regarding the coral of other matters. It turned out he was a Jigdan. His ship was called the Mermaid's Song -- his family's first large ship. The ship's name gave him the boost he needed to secure a contract with the kingdom's largest guild, Mermaid, and they were his most frequent employers, even now.

The guild's backer was House Fustat, which was why he'd been the one to bring the duchess to Morante. The guild started with trade in luxury goods and clothing, mostly dresses and gowns. Recently, however, mostly over the last two decades, it had branched out to other industries as it rose to prominence alongside its backer, Duke Fustat.

Fodris had nothing but praise for the duchess. She was the entire kingdom's angel. A beautiful, gentle, and kind women of rare composure. She often donated vast sums of money to the poor and could even be found working in soup kitchens on occasion. She also chaired a number of charities alongside local religious groups. She was more beloved and well-known than even the queen.

A storm burst into being when he delivered the duke's letter, and the duke's house stood on the brink of being annihilated as new and old rivals alike took the chance to lash out. But the duchess took the reigns and beat back the attacks. Once everyone was on their back foot, she moved funds onto Captain Fordis's ship and the two left secretly to go get her husband.

The captain could leave so quickly because the guild, Mermaid, bought everything he'd brought with him wholesale. He left as soon as everything was offloaded. The products were bought at ludicrous prices so the duchess's funds could be smuggled on board and they set sail immediately.

Regarding the trade he was to do here, the guild had given him an interest free loan to buy stuffs from Lorist, specifically glassware and snow paper. The captain was certain they would sell for a great profit. He might even have enough to buy a second ship.

Even the most obscure products sold very well. Everything not produced in the south of the continent was in severe short supply. Romon mostly produced green glue and Khawistan herded horses and sheep. These were exported and traded for everything else the two empires needed, mainly with the midsouthern countries. Teribo provided mostly glass, the duchy of Pitlin gave wine, the kingdom of Abossen porcelain, and the duchy of Zikthor gold and silverware.

When the Union rose to prominence, everything shifted gear. Rather than direct trade between the countries, small, local trade aside, most bulk trade was done with the Union either as the middle-man, or just with the merchants from the countries operating there. The Union won most of the competitions for the markets where its products competed with other countries as well. Pitlin, for example, lost its share of the wine market, as did Abossen with gold and silverware.

The War of Glass was really just a good excuse, an excuse the midsouthern countries had been waiting for, for years, to cut the Union out. But the Union's control of the seas in the south made it almost impossible for large scale trade to take place.

However, whilst the countries couldn't trade their resources directly with the empires because of the Union's blockades, the Union, having lost its access to the raw resources with which to produce its products, sat with sea trade routes along which it had nothing to trade.

The war ravaged both sides, especially their industries, and everyone's economy was in shambles. It also didn't help that, with the Union's guilds moving everything to their dominions, what little they did produce were of very low quality.

This made House Norton's high-quality products a massive hit, they were exactly what the market was craving.

Lorist finally understood why Peterson and Chikdor were so strict with his products. They couldn't let him get even the tip of a toenail into the market because there was a vacuum they could not fill, and he'd immediately take over everything. They could do this, and keep anyone from bypassing them because they controlled the seas and its trade routes.

That, however, was no longer the case. Merchants could now trade as much as they could afford with House Norton and a flood was starting to form. It would probably take no more than six months before it roared over the seas and Lorist was drowned in orders.

He praised and rewarded Fodris lavishly. He even gave him a telescope. The captain almost jumped out the window when he realized what it could do.

"You should work and coordinate closely with the merchants. If you play your cards right, you can use them to gather information from the south and we won't have to risk agents there. You also won't have the risk of an incident when an agent is discovered, since they won't be directly related to the house, just good friends who talk about what they hear and see," Lorist whispered to Tarkel as they watched the merchant leave.

"I will make the arrangements."

Few people were as great gossips as merchants. If everything went well, Tarkel might soon even have a catalogue of all the queens, concubines, and daughters' taste in underwear.

Lorist now knew that the wide-eyed girl he had loved all those years ago was now a graceful duchess. He hated it. She'd been a pitiful girl, helpless when her family was in trouble. She'd tried to end her life, but he'd saved her. She depended on him from then on, but abandoned him when someone better came along.

She was supposed to have fallen into despair. She should have become a toy for the duke he'd abandon after he took everything from her. She was supposed to come back to Lorist, begging for his forgiveness and a second chance. She was supposed to cry snot and blood as he shoved her out of the castle and told her to stick it where the sun never shone and then die a lonely death in a brother, a marsh, or some other shithole.

But instead she'd become a dignified duchess, a noble of renown. Her backstabbing had paid off, and she was now an entire kingdom's idol. She had won happiness, love, riches, and recognition with her treachery. It was even worse that it seemed she wasn't hiding a dark, vile personality; she'd become a genuinely good person.

Lorist might have been able to take it if she'd become a vile bitch that would eventually fall from grace and tumble into hell. He could at least sooth the scar in his heart. But that was not to be, and it hurt. It hurt so bad he wanted to tear the nearest building apart. He wanted to run down the roads and avenues of the city and scream his dissatisfaction at the heavens. Was this justice? Where was the world's karma? Where was the heaven's righteousness?

"Sigh."

He shook his head and pushed his feelings into the back of his mind. He did not regret not meeting the woman. He would not have been able to contain himself if he saw her face, regardless of the look on it.

His thoughts came back just in time to hear Tarkel finish a shocking report.

"Hold on, say that again! The queen's dead?! She died of a sudden, mysterious illness?!"

"That is what I just said, You Grace. She passed on the 32nd of the 8th. Hd rushed to the capital that afternoon. He stayed there for the night and the next day it was announced the queen was dead."

That's two for one! What's wrong with Auguslo?

It had been just a month since the world learnt of the queen's affair and pregnancy, and now she was dead, just a month from the child's due birth.

The king had not given any ordered besides ordering silence on the queen's affair, and now suddenly she and her child was dead. Lorist had thought he'd only make his moves once the child was born, he did not think he and Duke Fisablen would send the unborn to its grave.

There was no way the duke was not involved. The two must have made a secret pact and immediately executed their plan.

"What about Knight Wecksas? Has he been punished?"

"No, but he's still being kept in the palace. There's been no word of him since his imprisonment."