"For the common man the saying goes: 'Let no matter keep you from your bed'.  But for the noble man, the saying goes: 'Let no bed keep you from important matters'."

“You understand now, right? Your cousin hid a lot from you. She told you about her love for one of her lovers because she knew it would move you. She had no clue who the baby’s father was,” Lorist said finally, still stroking Sylvia’s long hair as she lay in his chest.

Sylvia gazed at him with teary eyes. Cacanne having multiple lovers didn’t change how cruel their deaths were. She didn’t lament the killing of her cousin, she lamented the killing of her cousin.

“I hate Grandfather... How could he kill her? Cacanne was his granddaughter, and the child was just a month away...”

“Stop grieving, dear. Let bygones be bygones. It wasn’t that His Majesty didn’t know about her promiscuity, he just didn’t care. He wedded her solely for political gain. He needed a queen from your grandfather’s bloodline, he didn’t care whom.

“If Cacanne had had a better sense of propriety and had been better at keeping secrets, the king wouldn’t have cared how many lovers she had. But she shouldn’t have seduced Wecksas and she most certainly shouldn’t have gotten pregnant. You know Wecksas is His Majesty’s bastard and the one he intends to make his heir. Why would Cacanne seduce him despite having so many lovers? She even let herself get pregnant! There is no way she did not know she’d get the guillotine if the king ever found out.

“The king told me he had no choice but to kill her before the bastard was born. He could not let his queen’s womb bear a bastard, especially not when it would be her first. I’m not sure whether it would be worse or better if the child was known to be Wecksas’s or not. But as things stood no one knew, and he could not have an heir that could become his enemies’ pawn. Yes, it’s cruel, but given what the king had to preserve, there was no other option. Your grandfather knew exactly how things stood. We are nobles, not commoners. We cannot allow cracks in our visage which other will use to ridicule us. We stand as the rulers of men as much because we have their respect as that we are better at ruling and fighting than they are. If we lose their respect, half our foundations will be gone and the slightest breeze could topple us.”

Sylvia was overcome with grief, but she had not lost her reason. She nuzzled into her husband’s chest and fell asleep. Lorist held her for a while before he lifted her off him gently. He rolled to the edge of the bed to think more comfortably.

Auguslo left as quickly as he had come. He had only come to inform Lorist about the goings-on in the capital. Lorist was his only swordsaint. Auguslo needed his support to steady his throne, and he certainly could not afford to have him possibly turn on him. His other wish was to have the man take his bastard as his disciple. His bastard lacked legitimacy by birth, so he had to make up for it by molding him into the perfect heir in every other right.

Lorist turned him down. His disciples could be no older than sixteen when the process began and had to be his attendant for two years before they stood a chance at becoming his disciples. Even then it was not guaranteed. During the two years Lorist would carefully watch them and put them through countless trials and tribulations. Only if they passed, and were deemed worthy, would they be accepted. Wecksas had missed his chance. He was too old. It didn’t matter how good he was, he could not become Lorist’s disciple.

He’d also come to invite Lorist to attend his ascension ceremony. He planned to take the name ‘Auguslo the Restorer’ with his ascension and become the first emperor of the restored empire. He had originally planned to hold the ceremony a few months after his return, but that was stopped by his former wife’s improprieties.

He did not have the gall to hold the ceremony so quickly after the scandal, and certainly not without a woman to sit next to him as empress. His inspection tour was an excuse to get out of the city and go get his new wife. He would marry the woman Duke Fisablen gave him and then ascend.

With that in mind, he’d hoped Lorist could end the war in less than two years. It was inauspicious to ascend to the throne during wartime, and he had no desire to have the Union barge into the ceremony. There was no such hope, however. It could only happen if he killed them all himself.

Tonight, Lorist lay contemplating a request the new government had made. They’d passed a motion in the council to ask and allow him to deploy a force to Callisto Hills. They hoped he could seize it for them. It was a historic part of the Morante governed Union, and was crucial to the city’s functioning as it provided them with most of their key daily resources such as charcoal, pigs, dogs, cows, sheep, potatoes, wheat amongst other things. Most importantly, any trade route to the Tedanini Mountains needed to pass through it. They had to control the region if they were to trade with the dwarves, trade vital to the city’s economy.

Change was forever faster than plans. He’d only formed the Free Union out of necessity to keep the Trade Union in check. He’d chosen people that could effectively govern the new country and keep it going, but as a result they were also good enough to exploit him. They knew they did not have the might to stand against the Union on their own, and they knew they could not keep Lorist and his forces here forever, so they were hellbent on making the best use of him while they could. They would not let him leave until they were in a good enough position to feel comfortable standing on their own without him present.  Callisto Hills was no doubt just the first of several moves they’d have him make.

He was becoming the buffer between the two Unions, rather than the Free Union becoming the buffer between him and the other Union. They were no doubt hoping this little excursion would boil over into another full-blown campaign would tie him and his forces down and keep him from withdrawing, thus giving them time to build up their forces.

Why do they have to be smart people? Can’t they just be decent administrators and governors but bad at strategy?

Lorist smiled bitterly.  They were sending three of their divisions to help him, but even in where they stationed the three they were holding back, they were shoving him in front of the Trade Union. Mass and Gypsy were the two cities closest to Morante. The surrounding land had been prepared for agriculture. They would soon be sold to farmers. They were the safest, and that was where Morante was putting its divisions. They, instead, shoved his Firmrock into the four cities closest to the front-lines and the ones most likely to be attacked.

Besides, there was no need to send him to retake the region. The people who’d been given the land were very loyal to Morante. They weren’t members of the guilds, but were instead independent entrepreneurs and specialists from the city. Few had even bothered to find out where their lands were, a couple had even burned the deeds and had refused to leave the city.

They also didn’t see the point to trying to manage such a backwater. The entire region was completely undeveloped. It had no infrastructure, even the biggest roads were just small dirt cart trails.

The region was so poorly defended they could take it with just a division. The trouble was holding on to it. The complete lack of infrastructure meant it would be near impossible to supply the necessary occupation forces. It didn’t help that the only port in the region, Einiba, had been crisped.

If he agreed to the request, he’d be in the quagmire and would likely be stuck here fighting for years to come. He couldn’t just say no either. The request was not obviously outlandish, so he’d seem like the untrustworthy one if he turned it down. He could also possibly lose his currently guaranteed unfettered access to the market in Morante. The Free Union needed his assistance and support to establish itself on the continent, and he’d promised it to them -- in return for unfettered access to their market. If he turned down such a reasonable request, they might have legitimate cause to renege on their guarantee of access.

He spent most of the night reasoning his way through the possible outcomes time and again, and finally decided to reject their request partially. He would send a small force out to take Callisto Hills, but he would not deploy a large force, nor would take over the defense of any of the surrounding cities.

He decided to lend them Els while they trained their commanders. He would take over the city’s defense. He was a native and had many connections to the new government through his acquaintances and former subordinates in the syndicates. He could most easily fit into the new system.

The plan was put into motion on the 21st of the 11th of Year 1779. A small contingent from Tigersoar marched into Callisto Hills, drove out the minimal Trade Union forces there, and occupied it. The Trade Union did not respond.