“Count Mireitas is Duke Peterson’s representative. He says the duke is willing to secede from the Union, with our support. He wants us to move our forces in Mauvlin into Chalbuk in the second month and attack Quadro to cover his secession. Thereafter he wants us to keep the Union at bay until he has got his feet on the ground.”

Charade pointed at the map as he spoke, “The secession will deprive the Union of three more provinces: Jerotan, Chalbuk and Aligmai. Aligmai belongs to Mireitas, and he’s willing to secede with Duke Peterson.

“Aligmai used to belong to the Duchy of Teria. The duchy was split into two provinces after its conquest. The other province is Toscow. They’re separated from one another by a river, and from the rest of the Union’s territory by the Sunset mountain range. This means Aligmay doesn’t have to worry about Union retaliation. Our main concern, thus, is Chalbuk and Quadro. If the Union really wants to strike back at the duke, they will strike through here.

“The duke has three demands. The first, that we send forces to defend him. The second, to smooth things over between him and the Alliance so he can join it. Thirdly, to help them reform their military.

“If we fulfill these demands, he will cleanse his territory of loyalists and secede. Count Mireitas will do the same. Their declarations will come after next year’s rainy season. This will be the final nail in the Union’s coffin.

“Count Mireitas also gave us a key piece of information. The Union is running out of all kinds of supplies, salt most severely. None of their lands produce any salt. Peterson has a store of it thanks to a raid of the Kingdom of Wakaya years ago. If the Union gets its hand on it, it can last them another four years. Mireitas suspects that’s behind Duke Cobleit’s move to merge all the domains under his rule. If we get Peterson to break away, then we cut off their last hope at holding out.”

Lorist didn’t reply immediately. He tapped on the desk lightly as he considered his options. They were all old foxes. He should have expected that the old man would scheme, even in his current situation. He’d put the duke in the worst possible position to see what he’d do. But the man had hit back by putting him in an equally detestable position.

Everything came down to how much aid the duke was demanding. The first two requests weren’t much of an issue, the third was the problem. It was very vague and could technically mean anything.

Lorist humphed, dissatisfied. Peterson wanted his men to give their lives so he could live peacefully. In his dreams. Lorist had wanted him to become a Union pariah, instead he had been town into the oil himself. He could also not move forward unless the duke fell out with the Union completely. As long as the two sides weren’t mortal enemies, he could not be certain they weren’t playing him and would ambush him at a moment’s notice.

“Mireitas sounds like a familiar name. Do you know his background?” he finally asked.

Charade nodded.

“Tarkel submitted a detailed report yesterday. He’s an old acquaintance. He ran Dauslyke Hotel, along with many other all across the Union’s territory, as well as in most of the Alliance’s members.”

“Ah, so it was him. No wonder the name sounded familiar.”

Lorist slapped his forehead.

“He’s one of the anti-war’ers.”

“No wonder. They suffered the most when the Union and the Alliance fell out.”

“Yet, Mireitas doesn’t hate or blame the Alliance. He’s one of Duke Cobleit strongest critics. His primary criticism appears to be that the duke has turned on the principles that underpinned the Union for so many years. He is also the only one that has never joined any of the campaigns the Union has had since the war with the old empire ended. Which is why he’s only a count and has the desolate Aligmai as his territory.

“Turns out he’s not just a merchant either. Noble blood runs in his veins. His ancestors some six generations ago were Romon nobles. A baron and close friend of the crown prince of the time. The power struggle that took place when the crown prince was supposed to ascend to the throne killed Mireitas’s ancestor, however. The crown prince died soon after and his family was exiled. They came to the Union and started a guild. The rest is history.

“Mireitas is also related to Peterson. Duke Peterson’s mother is Mireitas’s aunt. The two had an affair after they met during his father’s stay at one of the guild’s taverns. House Mireitas refused to let the woman become his father’s mistress since he was already married, but she ran away and gave birth to the duke soon after.

“His father’s first wife died a few years later and he took his mistress as his wife. The relationship between the two guilds have recovered since. Peterson and Mireitas grew up together and are practically brothers. Mireitas has been kept out of harm’s way because Peterson’s been covering for him.”

Lorist nodded.

“Seems Peterson is set on leaving the Union. He wouldn’t send Mireitas here otherwise. Charade, ask the count to clarify what they mean by military aid. We can’t agree to something so vague. If it’s not excessive, we can see what we can do. Also, let’s make it a contract rather than aid. They’ll have to pay us for it, even if it is in installments for several years.

“It’s not that we don’t want to help them for free. But we cannot do so since the Free Union and our other allies will immediately demand the same treatment. We’re here to end the Union, not to give charity.”

Lorist had an agenda, but he wasn’t lying. The front was that he going to war with a distant enemy like the Trade Union. But he was really here for profit. It started because he was worried he would be surrounded by enemies if the kingdom lost the war, but now it was all about making money and gaining influence.

Lorist had achieved every goal he’d come here for and thought of since arriving. He didn’t need to chase the Union into oblivion, but why not? Especially since he could do it without actually fighting them. He had originally wanted to push Peterson into war with the rest of the Union so they could keep each other busy for a while and give him a chance to return home. But then Peterson sent his requests. Why should he help the old man for free? He had nothing with which to threaten him, after all. If he wanted help, he damn well had to be willing to pay it back several times over.

“But, Your Grace, Mireitas says the war has robbed them of all their wealth. They have nothing with which to pay us back,” said Charade.

Lorist smiled wryly.

“Yes they do. He has all that salt, doesn’t he? I’ll help him smuggle the salt out and then selling it to the Trade Union at a sky high price on the black market. We’ll decide how much is sold and at what price. Half of the profits will go to funding his new kingdom, and the rest to repaying his debt.”