Though Lorist was only a relatively skilled workshop owner in his past life, the influence of mass media and basic economic knowledge made him keenly aware that the four million gold Fordes he lent the new Morantian government was far from enough to kickstart an independent economy.

According to Charade, they had money; they were just forced to keep it for emergency use thanks to the years of monopoly under the various merchant guilds. Lorist had to instill confidence in the people for the market so they would take their money out and spend it.

While four million gold Fordes was a lot, it was nowhere near a lot in the long term. The two divisions' training and the establishment of institutions and facilities to encourage economic participation, as well as the cost of feeding the people until they became self-sufficient again,  would dry up the four million in just a couple of months. They needed more money, and Lorist was their only option.

No other faction or party was rich enough to lend that kind of money. Even the high-interest loaners from Zejin's shrine were powerless. The newly formed government didn't lack talent. Had they not been staunch believers in individual freedoms, Lorist would've recruited them.

Jindoz, for example, and the various shrine leaders, and a few old scholars, would all have made great officials. While they grasped power, they were willing to help House Norton form the Free Union to escape the Trade Union's rulers. They were weary of him, though, which was half the reason for their new loan application.

Lorist knew exactly what was going on in the market. The only reason it still existed was thanks to his support. Apart from a group of risk-taking pioneers that took the first step, most were still hiding their money and watching to see if the situation would change. Lorist had to continue investing, to assure them that he would keep the market stable.

His words to Spiel were his honest thoughts. He didn't care about being paid back the loan directly from the government. The indirect benefits he'd gain through the market would more than cover it even if not a penny was returned by the government.

The transport ships returned to Morante from Silowas, escorted by Northsea on the 20th of the 9th. Sylvia had come as well, so Lorist had little choice but to go down to the dock to meet her and risk seeing his old lover. He was shocked and utterly crushed to see his wife and the woman getting along well, even like sisters.

The hell is going on?

A sense of foreboding washed over Lorist the moment he saw the two disembark holding hands. He ignored Charade and Duke Fustat's greetings and rushed to hold Sylvia's right hand before she stepped off the board.

"Your Grace..." Sylvia hurriedly let go of Prinna's hand and curtsied.

"Why did you come without notice? It's still dangerous here," reprimanded Lorist in a low voice.

"I missed you," answered Sylvia coquettishly, stepping in for a hug.

"You..." Lorist laughed helplessly before turning to Prinna.

"My humble thanks, Revered Duke," Prinna said, taking a step back and curtsying.

There was nothing about her posture anyone could pick at.

Lorist returned her curtsy with a nod. it had been two decades. Time had flown. Nobody expected their reunion to happen like this.

Her eyes were still just as big, but her gaze had a trace of maturity. She had an air of grace her younger self had lacked. She had become an exemplary noblewoman. All trace of the fairy in her youth had vanished.

Time flies and people change, huh... Lorist sighed.

"Welcome, Lady Windsor. This visit must be a nostalgic visit for you," said he.

"Indeed. My most precious memories are rooted here. I treasure them dearly. It is a most glorious occasion to return to this great city and see the old friends from my youth," replied Prinna, gazing at Lorist.

Lorist averted his gaze slightly.

"Indeed? I can only wish you a joyous visit, then. I've arranged a residence worthy of you and your husband's grace. The two of you must be worn out. Please make use of the carriage I've prepared. Baron Charade will accompany you. I am hosting a banquet in two days. I hope you will attend."

"I am honored. We shall attend," said Duke Lorf, stepping forward.

Lorist nodded. "Then we shall see each other at the banquet."

Fennazali and Daisy came closer to greet Lorist when the foreign nobles left.

"Sheesh, you two came as well? I don't know what to say. Where's Anderbael?"

"I didn't bring him because Maria went home to deliver her child. Anna went back to her barony as well and Anderbael decided to tag along. He sticks to his elder brother like glue. Xanthi's with them as well. I got Cacanne's letter and wanted to stop by the capital on the way, I then that whole debacle happened and I decided to steer clear..."

Anderbael was five, the most rambunctious age for boys. His first older brother was Dilianna's son, Slophenk, three years his senior. The two got along pretty well.

Oh, right, Cacanne is Sylvia's cousin.

Why would she want to go see her, though, weren't they pretty antagonistic towards one another?

"I thought you didn't get along with her. Why would you suddenly want to go see her?"

"We may not have seen eye to eye, but she was still my cousin. Her message was a plea for help. I couldn't just ignore it. I didn't think she'd die like this. Her child was due soon."

Sylvia teared up. It took quite some work to get her in the carriage.

......

Two letters lay on Lorist's desk. One was the queen's letter. She'd written about her affair and her pregnancy. She said it was related to Lorist. Wecksas had saved her life when the blademasters attacked to kill Lorist and she fell in love.

She didn't mention his identity, so Lorist suspected she didn't know. She'd even seriously considered eloping with him.

Of course, Lorist was blamed for her not getting to elope. He chose to help the king, which allowed him to return before she could deliver the child. She'd hoped to use the child as leverage against Wecksas, who refused to run away, to convince him to do it.

If she'd not been as far pregnant when she heard Auguslo was returning, she could have run away, but she was seven months along and couldn't travel easily. She believed only Sylvia, duchess of the kingdom's largest duchy and wife to its strongest duke and only swordsaint, could save her, so she wrote to her. If Sylvia could drag her husband's name into the middle of the whole affair, then her grandfather and husband would have to tread lightly.

If she could hold out until she gave birth, she'd annul the marriage and go live in some small, isolated town. She no longer cared about title and prestige, she just wanted to live happily with her child and lover.

The messenger had left the capital three days before the king's return and had traveled with only a few hours rest a day for almost a month to deliver the message, Sylvia, a mother herself, was moved and immediately set out to help her estranged cousin. She would be heading into dangerous territory, so she chose to leave her son with Xanthi and Dilianna.

She planned to head to Morante to meet up with her husband either when the matter was resolved, or with her cousin, but learned of her death on the way to Silowas. She knew she could not show weakness in front of another noble, she had to maintain her appearance as a strong, noble wife to her swordsaint-duke husband, so she'd been bottling up her sorrow.

Now together with her beloved husband, and away from prying eyes, she broke down completely. She cried herself to sleep that night and continued even in her sleep.

Lorist shook his head as he thought of the scene. His wife was way too free with her emotions. She cried for a woman who'd done nothing but bully her her whole life because she sent a single message and then died.

She second letter was from Glacia. Lorist opened it slowly. It confirmed his suspicion that Wecksas was Auguslo's bastard. The knight's mother was the maidservant that had raised the now-king after his mother died. He had bedded her, then ten years his senior, on his 16th birthday. Wecksas was born nine months later.

She was, however, one of his father's concubines. Andinaq was so furious he killed the maid in front of his son by strangling her to death, beheading her corpse, feeding her body to the pigs, and mounting her head above his son's bed for three weeks. He also gave the bastard child to a random knight. It was the biggest reason his father also put him in the bottom of the line of succession. If not for the ongoing civil war, he'd have disowned him entirely.

Glacia had been his lover for decades. She knew his heart better than anyone else, even his now-late queen. The dead maid was a black hole in his heart. She was the reason he never took Glacia as his queen. For her part, Glacia refused to live in that long-dead woman's shadow any longer and left him.