Duke Peterson finally sent a message in the 8th month. He said the Union had changed a lot. The guilds were drawing away from one another, which made it very hard to get them to agree to anything. Duke Cobleit, the nominal leader of the group had fallen sick and had not attended any of the meetings. He had only recently started recovering.

The remnants of the Alliance had started making moves on the Union’s territory after their defeat in front of Bluwek. The trouble occupied them for quite a while, and forced them to keep their word and hand over Walinya’s territory to the windstorm swordsaint, which quelled the Alliance’s ambitions.

Lorist had to admit the Union had handled the trouble with the Alliance quite well. They used Walinya and its title to kill several birds with one stone. By giving it to the swordsaint they fulfilled their obligation to him, tied him to them, and put an end to the Alliance’s ambitions for its old territory.

He didn’t quite understand why Magrut didn’t just declare independence the moment he arrived in his new fief. That had been his expressed intent on the mountain, at least. The Union must have offered him additional benefits. It would certainly sway him. He now had his own territory, but it was ravaged by years of war, so he needed resources and money to build it back up.

Duke Peterson only briefly touched on the Union’s plans for the future. But he did take quite a lot of space to put forth his proposal. He proposed Lorist double or triple the prices of his products; he was selling them way too cheap.

Lorist could contain his laughter when he read it. He was clearly trying to win back the market monopoly Lorist threatened with his goods. Free advice on how to make more profit? Did he really think Lorist was so greedy?

If he raised his prices, the products would lose their competitive edge and the Union would push him out of the market. He didn’t care about profit right now. He wanted to win market share. He could push his prices up later, right now he needed a foundation in the south -- loyal customers and a reputation. Another reason was to force the Union out of the market, or at the very least force them to sell their stuff at much lower prices. This way he could ensure that they would take decades to recover, if they ever did.

How could they still call themselves the Forde Trade Union when they were no longer real traders, much less the best on the continent? They were now just nobles slightly better at trade than others. It was his duty as one of the exemplar nobles on the continent to guide them down the right path and made sure they became proper nobles and left their trading and merchant days behind them for good. He couldn’t care less whether they wanted to or not, he had decided that was how it would be, so that was how it would be.

“So they don’t want to surrender, heh? Even after I give them such a good spanking?” Lorist spat as he waved Duke Peterson’s letter, “I don’t understand why... Shouldn’t merchants be smart and cunning? Why do they so stubbornly refuse to lower their heads? How could the old Union afford to continue this war? Do they really think they can mount a counterattack? Do they still have the ability?”

Tarkel bowed respectfully.

“Word from Twinhead Dragon’s dominion is that Duke Cobleit has recovered and has returned to his duties. The chaos has come to an end. Apart from Chikdor, who completely ignores orders now, the others stand firmly behind the duke.”

Chikdor was the only one to come out relatively unscathed. They were in the rear and were the first to retreat so they escaped without much loss. They were now the strongest force in the Union and had become arrogant. Even worse, they plundered everything all the way back to their dominion, including others’ lands.

Wessia was the worst hit. Chikdor abducted many of their best smiths and ores when they passed through their land. Most of the guilds wanted to punish them severely, a few had even called for their expulsion from the Union.

“Hehe, this is rather smart of Chikdor, hey? They fled as soon as they got even the smallest whiff something wasn’t right and even made a profit on the way home. The rest can’t do anything about it either since they are too weak right now. It’s destroyed their trust of each other though. No one will let another group move a large force through its land, or be willing to commit a majority of its forces to a campaign and leave its homeland unsecured. They’re too afraid someone else will try the same thing,” commented Lorist.

“You’re right, Your Grace. Apart from Forde, Riwald, and Wessia, the three guilds who lost their dominions, the other 20 second or third rate guilds who lost their territory as well still stand firmly with Duke Cobleit. Apart from them, Mayflower and seven other guilds formed a separate faction that blames the duke for everything. They’re calling for his removal as the nominal leader of the Union.

“Our informants say Peterson is treated like an outsider. He has chosen to remain neutral, but has in turn be ostracized. He has rejected the mission you gave him. He’s chosen to stand with the Union, whichever road they take.”

So he had trusted the wrong person, then?

“Are they up to anything else?”

“Yes. Duke Cobleit has formed a force, 100 thousand strong. He’s stationed them in Gudlink, Mauvlin, Sanganworb, Hasmok, and Klinkus. Besides that, nothing is happening in those provinces, it seems they intend to turn them into wilderness, a buffer between us and them.”

Lorist looked at the map and nodded.

“A wise decision. If they developed them again, we could just storm in, defeat their garrison forces and raid it. But if they leave them be, it’ll become a difficult stretch to pass through and dissuade us from attacking them without the resolve to see this fight through. And without any infrastructure, even if we make it through, we’ll have weak supply lines. And it’s not like we’d let them redevelop them, anyway. They’re too close to the Falik Plains. If only Duke Cobleit was not their leader, this would all be over already. He is too wise for his own good.”

“I have two other pieces of news,” Tarkel continued, “The duke will be hosting a meeting with the landless guilds to get them new lands in the south of the Union’s territory.

“The south is largely barren, left fallow since the Union took it. It’s also been almost completely depopulated by the war. The people don’t like the Union, they’ve been nothing but bad news since they went there, so they’ll be very hard to govern. It doesn’t help that Chikdor is close-by. Most of the guilds are demanding they be given land elsewhere.

“The other information concerns a communique the duke sent to the Alliance and Jigda. He’s been trying to turn them against us. They want them to stop trading with us and ban our products and stand with the Union against us. They’ve not-so-subtly hinted at us being a new Krissen Empire and tried to paint themselves as the rest of the continent’s protectors yet again,"

Lorist burst out laughing again.

“They are either incredible optimists or suffering the worst case of delusions I’ve ever seen. What nonsense is this about protectors? If anyone is the new Krissen Empire, they are! There used to be 36 countries in the Alliance. Thanks to the old Union there are now just 16, 17 if you include the now-independent Jigda.

“Your Grace needs not worry. The Alliance has seen through them completely. Their previous aggressions, coupled with us not swallowing the territory we captured, but instead forming the new Union has won them over to our side, or neutrality, at the very least. There’s also the matter that our products are far better than the Union’s, and far fairer priced. The old Union is just showing its desperation.”

“We should still teach them a proper lesson,” Lorist said, stroking his chin, “The army is too busy to deal with them this year… Maybe we should raid their territory next year after the rainy season. Oh, investigate something for me. I want to know what nations the territories of the five provinces belonged to. See if you can track down their descendants.”

“Understood, Your Grace.”

“Also, hasn’t Senbaud been sinking all the Chikdor vessels he encounters? I heard their people have been forced to buy fish since they can’t fish along the coast anymore. Tell Senbaud to contact Chikdor and offer to stop sinking their ships if they declare independence from the old Union and form a kingdom. We’ll also let them trade in Morante. He can use my name to guarantee the windstorm swordsaint won’t take action.”

Lorist secretly returned home at the end of the 8th month.

Sylvia gave birth to a healthy boy on the 11th of the 10th. Daisy gave Lorist another bastard son three days later. He stayed with them until the 4th month of the following year before returning to Morante.


Lorist’s family:

Irina, former maidservant and mother to Lorist’s two eldest bastards (deceased, died from natural causes)

Norton Lysecott, Lorist’s eldest bastard -- legitimized (deceased, hung for cruelty, crimes, and rebellion)

Norton Koboshik, second bastard -- legitimized (adopted by Knight Glacia after rebellion and death of his mother, Irina)

Nico Telesti. Lorist’s lover, Dean of Nico Academy, mother to Lorist’s two eldest bastard daughters.

Nico Olijess, eldest bastard daughter -- legitimized

Nico Freycia, second bastard daughter -- legitimized

Dina Arriotoli, Lorist’s lover, mother to two Norton bastards, female knight, and acting leader of House Dina.

Dina Terryke, bastard son -- acknowledged

Dina Iri, bastard daughter -- acknowledged

Duchess Fisablen Sylvia, Lorist’s wife, mother of Lorist’s only two legitimate children.

Norton Anderbael, heir apparent, eldest son

Norton Jadebins, pretender, second son (named after the perished Paulobins, sacrificed during assault on artillery school)

Dilianna, concubine, mother to two Norton bastards,Arriotoli and Fennazali’s aunt.

Norton Slophenk, bastard son -- legitimized

Norton Welianne, bastard daughter -- legitimized

Dina Fennazali, concubine, mother to a Norton bastard, Arriotoli’s younger sister.

Norton Dirolia, bastard daughter -- legitimized

Maria, concubine, eldest daughter of a noble family.

Norton Moypete, bastard son -- legitimized (named after Brigadier-General Pete, sacrificed himself heroically in battle)

Daisy, concubine, of noble descent, Maria’s close friend.

Norton Rolinors, bastard son -- legitimized (named after the two Dawn Academy students and Lorist’s friends, Lind and Moss, both deceased)