"In war there is only one certainty: you will not come out unscathed, if at all."

“Our dominion’s production rate of daily necessities in the 10th and 11th months have doubled. Perhaps the south’s private traders know this will be their last chance for the year. Either way, they’ve been buying like crazy, even our luxury products have grown wings. We’ve made three million’s profit in these two months alone.

“The 400 thousand units of magic beast fur winter clothing sold out in fifteen days. Morantians were scrambling to buy them. The only thing is, the local tailors have been complaining. They’re dissatisfied that we’d make bland winter clothing with magic beast fur. They’ve had to painstakingly remake the clothes to be at least somewhat decent. They want us to give them the loose fur itself next time and let them make clothes from scratch.”

Spiel’s face was positively glowing. He was the picture of bliss. He finally understood why Lorist insisted on investing in Morante. Other things aside, almost 60 percent of all their goods and materials were already sold. Three million had been made from daily necessities, and a further two million from more luxury items. Five million all-in-all in just two months.

And that was just in trade. They’d also been reaping benefits in industries as well. All their workshops were at full capacity and a few had even switched to 24 hour operations to keep up with demand. This investment’s knock-on effects were reaching all the way back to the Northlands. Next year would see him collecting a lot more in taxes as well.

Lorist didn’t have much to say. He had instructed Spiel to monitor the goods prices so a single bad apple didn’t ruin the whole batch. He had also prepared to build new factories to keep up had introduced new regulations for entry to the market to steer clear of over supplying.

All the necessary arrangements made, Spiel left.

Senbaud was next. He’d come to bid his farewells before he left with for Jigda with the convoy. It carried the first shipment in Lorist’s deal with his former lover. He did not expect to be back before the middle of the next year, but he hoped to return with products and good news from their new market in the south.

The southern seas had relatively good weather, but was rife with pirates. Half of his trip was to escort the convoy, the other half was to begin cleaning out the region. He would be accompanied by 11 Blitzes, besides his flagship, and a hundred Dams. This would be the first time a Norton ship crossed into the southern seas.
Charade was next. Sylvia interrupted their meeting by storming in unceremoniously. She had two pieces of good news. First was that Lorist’s youngest children had been born. Maria had birthed a son on the 21st of the 10th back in the north, and Dilianna a girl on the 27th.

Lorist’s family was becoming almost cumbersomely large. He now had three sons and three daughters, his dead bastard and the boy’s abandoned younger brother, and the other unregistered children -- Arriotoli’s two children, excluded. He had single-handedly turned around his family’s slow decline. The only disappointment was that all but one of his children were legitimised bastards, and were thus, at best, half-Norton. So, while he had reversed his family’s decline, he had only partially restored the bloodline. He had to have more legitimate children, children with Sylvia, to truly right his family’s fortunes. Regardless, this was something worth celebrating. He finished two bottles of fine wine with Charade.

Charade was there to discuss Mass and Gypsy’s agriculture. Thirty thousand households, 140 thousand Morantians, used cash or loans to buy the farmland. Half was profit. Together with the loan the government had secured from Lorist, they now had all the money they needed.

“They’ve asked for help expanding the military even further. They want to form four more divisions, two for Morante and one for Callisto Hills and Einiba each, and several cavalry divisions,” explained Charade.

“Aren’t they being too hasty?” Lorist asked, “Everyone knows Einiba is a wreck. Didn’t Loze complain his men were being used to help build new homes for the city’s inhabitants and to get them supplies? It hardly seems worth a division.”

“That’s exactly why they want to send a division there. They want to officiate their declaration of independence next year. You know the old Union will respond in force. They cannot allow this to happen.

“That said, they don’t have the forces to attack everything the new Union controls, so they’ll focus on the strategically important targets, which is neither Callisto Hills, nor Einiba. Those buggers plan to put us on the plains, where the old Union will no doubt strike first and most aggressively, and sequester themselves in the unimportant places, Callisto Hills and Einiba.”

Lorist shook his head.

“Tell them there is no need for a further expansion. As long as I’m still present, everyone will focus their attention on me, and since I’m too powerful for them to face head-on, they won’t attack in force.”

“You mean...”

“The windstorm swordsaint. The old Union is waiting for him to recover. They won’t attack until he is ready to keep me busy again. I suspect he’ll challenge me to a duel sometime late next year.”

The plains’ cities were now held by just a few new Union divisions. Lorist’s Firmrock had returned home, and Tigersoar was in Callisto Hills. There was no way the Trade Union did not know his current disposition. They quite possible already knew of the Free Union. His men had killed all the spies they’d sent, but they had occupied the city for decades, they could not be so easily cut out of the city.

If they really knew about everything, but had yet to respond, it could only be that they were waiting for their swordsaint to recover. They needed a counter to Lorist, they would attack the moment they had it.

“I see... So once again, Your Grace is the key to our victory or defeat.”

“No, My duel is unimportant. The windstorm swordsaint can keep me busy, but he cannot defeat me. Which means the deciding factor will be our two armies. All the windstorm swordsaint can do for the old Union is assuage their concerns that I will go on a rampage and wipe their army out. He cannot win victory for them, that they have to do on their own. The same goes for us. In this upcoming war, I can only keep their swordsaint from rampaging, you must claw victory from the old Union yourselves. With us out of the picture, the next most powerful people, the blademasters, will be the greatest deciding factor. No matter how strong our ranged weapons, they will struggle against dozens of blademasters.”

So that’s the problem! If they entrenched themselves, they could fight off the rank-and-file soldiers, but they’d be vulnerable to teams of blademasters striking from the shadows, and the Trade Union was certain to do this, they’d already used this tactic to great effect during the War of Glass.

“I knew we shouldn’t have let them ransom the blademasters and gold ranks,” complained Charade.

House Norton had barely 20 gold-ranked knights. Apart from the initial 16, only Patt and Pete had joined their ranks. Even if one was to count Glacia and Sylvia, they had twenty, but Lorist would never let his wife take the field, nor, he suspected, would any of the generals. And they could only truly count on Lorist’s disciples, Reidy and Shuss. His father, Engelich, would not take the field, and Xanthi would only act to protect her adopted daughter.

“Tarkel’s report,” Lorist said, dripping a thick stack of paper onto the desk, “The old Union has been busy. They’ve built up their forces and repaired their relationship with what’s left of the alliance. They’ve also been running an intense propaganda campaign against us. We’ve been painted as the ‘great northern threat’, and they’ve been painted as the south’s defender. They are the guardians of civilization and we the barbarians from the north.”

Charade chuckled. “Has it been effective?”

“Can’t be sure. They’ve salvaged their economy, at least. They’ve also gained permission to recruit in several nations’ lands. They’ve also reformed Wessia and plopped it in Kamott near Tedanini. They’ve set up several new factories there and are pumping out as much equipment as they can. They’ve even dared to begin using the technology they stole from us.”

“Those shameless bastards!”

“With all the effort they’re putting in, they must be betting everything on this one clash. It’s clear they can’t stay afloat as they are now, if they don’t win this with the next clash, they’ll crumble. If they do win, however, they’ll wipe out most of our forces and cripple us for years.”

“Are you confident?”

“Honestly? No. This could go our way just as easily as not. We cannot pull out, however. We have to fight this. If we withdraw we lose this war, or at the very least we go back to where we were before we sacrificed so many men and all their deaths will have been in vain. I cannot shame my men like that. We have to fight this battle, and we have to win. Besides, it’s not like we don’t have any tricks cards still up our sleeve.”