Apologies, the erroneous chapter has been fixed.

The moment the Trade Union's premier, Duke Cobleit, signed the ceasefire and reconciliation agreement and bowed to him three times was the most glorious moment in Auguslo's life. None of his predecessors had ever even come close to defeating the Trade Union. A few had even been on the brink of defeat themselves. Today, however, he had achieved this century-old ambition passed on from generation to generation.

Auguslo completely forgot that he had little to do with the victory. He was Lorist's liege, so naturally his subordinates victories were his victories. Besides, his forces did take part in the final operation. That they never fought the enemy in actual combat didn't matter.

He was positively jovial during the celebrations and his goblet hat to be refilled frequently. Despite that, he was surprisingly sober when he approached Lorist.

"I can't thank you enough, Locke. This war would have lasted many more years if not for you, and we might not have been the victors when it finally ended."

<i>Well, at least you still know how to acknowledge someone's efforts, though you are still incapable of realising when you had nothing to do with a good result,</i> Lorist thought.

He'd been present for the whole banquet, but few had come to talk to him. He was a swordsaint, after all, few had the qualifications to be in his presence, much less speak to him. Everyone had come to greet him, but most had just lifted their cups to him from a distance. The few that did qualify to speak to him also just said a few words before taking their leave.

Lorist raised his goblet in reply.

"It's not much, Your Majesty. I am your vassal, my victory naturally is yours as well."

Auguslo sighed.

"I have to apologize to you, Locke. I didn't think that dumb son of mine would be so greedy. He's really bumbled into a mess he had no business even looking at. I've cleaned out the bastards egging him on, though, so I hope he will not be this dumb again. Please don't let this sour our relationship."

Lorist took a sip of wine, smiling, before he replied.

"I have not taken his mistakes to heart. He is young and ambitious and somewhat drunk on power and authority he does not know. His shenanigans didn't cost me much, so there is little to reckon with him. That said, I have a duty as your subject, and the kingdom's only swordsaint to say this. Wecksas does not have the dignity, wisdom, and character needed of a king. He must either be radically re-educated, or you must find a different heir apparent. It is your duty to your bloodline's legacy. You need not be rushed with it either. You already have a legitimate son, and you're a blademaster. You still have many decades of life left in which to raise the boy into a proper heir."

Lorist was not as blunt as he could be, but his stance was clear. He would not support Wecksas as heir. He did not like him, and while he could not use that alone as an excuse to break away from the kingdom, he could easily isolate himself in his fief and refuse to have anything further to do with the royal family and their troubles.

Auguslo smiled bitterly.

"Wecksas may not be a kid anymore, but he is still young. There is still much room to grow, yes, but also much time in which to do it. He doesn't have a bad heart, he was just too blind to other people's manipulations, too naive. He will learn from this mistake and become wiser for it. He may lack a proper education due to his circumstances, but he is bright and will learn quickly."

Lorist shook his head.

"I commend your loyalty to your son as a father myself, but as a noble and your vassal, I cannot approve of it. His flaws are not skin deep, Your Majesty. If only you'd put your emotions aside and consider everything objectively, you would see it too. Why would he have an affair with your wife, knowing who she was, if he respected you as his father? The late queen is not blameless, but had he had any sense of propriety he would have turned her down. I can see only two reasons why he would do what he did. He either has no respect for you at all, or he is such an idiot that he cannot understand such a simple moral and social principle. And I do not know which is worse.

"We have a saying in the north: One hand cannot clap. Your Majesty is smart, but your heart has clouded your mind. You let your emotions rule you rather than your wisdom so you let Wecksas shirk all responsibility and push everything onto the late queen. He lacks a father's love for their children, and a knights courage to accept responsibility for their mistakes.

"Do you not see your son's complicity? If he can do such things as a bastard, what would he do if he were made king? What would he have done then with Jillin Harbor? He would no doubt have marched his army on the port city and accused us of treason. You know my personality, Your Majesty, tell me, would I have not defended myself? And what would have happened the moment I took up arms to defend myself? It would have been a civil war, another one."

"Surely it wouldn't be that serious."

But the king knew Lorist spoke reasonably. Wecksas was planning to do just that even though he wasn't king. It might well have been another civil war had he not told Ripleid not to listen to the kid. A civil war would end the empire. Not to mention that Lorist had more than enough power to not just fight a civil war, but win it. The Krissen line would have been wiped out.

"You know I speak accurately, Your Majesty."

Lorist didn't give Auguslo face. He knew just as well as the king what Wecksas had tried to do.

"I know," Auguslo admitted bitterly, "I'll think on your words when I return. Maybe I should give him a fief. Such responsibility may change him. But, Locke, please grant me this one wish, if not as king, than at least as a father, promise to take Helleist as your disciple when he's old enough."

Helleist was the king's only legitimate offspring. If Lorist was so opposed to Wecksas, then hopefully he would take the king's legitimate son as his disciple and train him properly in both swordsmanship and statesmanship. Though Auguslo had not said anything about it, this showed he had given up on Wecksas.

It was a good political move on all levels as well. It not only ensured that his son would become a powerful warrior and a good statesman, it also cemented a relationship between him and Lorist. The duke could not turn on one of his own disciples, so he would naturally support his ascension to the throne when the time came, and with a swordsaint's support, Wecksas would not be able to make trouble even if he wanted.

Lorist smiled and raised his goblet.

"If the boy awakens his battleforce before he turns sixteen, I will take him as my disciple, but I will not lower my standards. He has to awaken his battleforce before his sixteenth birthday. And I will treat him no different from any of my other disciples. While he is my disciple, he is not the prince, nor even a noble, he is my disciple and my disciple only. And I will not let anyone interfere in my approach to training him."

"That is what I hope to see happen, Locke. Thank you."

The two emptied their goblets.

Auguslo quickly got out a bottle and refilled the goblets.

"I must speak to you regarding another matter. With the trade union's surrender we have no more immediate threats. And, with every square inch of the old empire's territory reclaimed, it is finally time to officially refound the empire. I plan to hold the ceremony on the anniversary of the first founding, the 10th of the 8th, next year. What are your thoughts?"

Lorist put the goblet down and lowered his head.

"This is indeed a joyous occasion. The empire was fractured by in-fighting among the imperial descendants, but now it is reunited again. All your vassals look forward to the ceremony."

How perfectly appropriate. Auguslo laughed.

"I will not let the historians forget your name when they write their chronicles. Your contributions will be detailed right alongside my honours. You are model vassals."

Auguslo stayed in Morante for three more days before returning to the capital.

Charade complained that the king had gone overboard when he returned. House Norton fought for his sake and lost so much money, but he didn't give them a single copper from the settlement he got from the Trade Union. He had never seen such a stingy king.

Lorist just shook his head, smiling.

"Forget it. We've benefitted decently from this campaign. Putting aside the Cape Romani, our sales in Morante will make us rich for decades, even centuries to come. Apart from that, even though we didn't get any apparent benefits, we get a stellar reputation. That's something money can't buy.

"The king is stingy, but he has his reasons. The kingdom is just barely staying solvent. He desperately needs the money. Not to mention that he will soon refound the empire.  It's not going to be cheap. There's also Jillin Harbor--"

"--Didn't we give half of the proceeds to the king from that? That reminds me. When are we going home? Should we leave some troops here? If something happens here and we're completely absent, it'll take months to respond. We should leave a legion here just in case. I have a feeling the Trade Union is concocting another scheme."

"No need. We have no excuse to stay here. We won such a great reputation, let's not piss it all away for the sake of greed. And it's not like we're leaving immediately anyway. We'll still be here for the rest of the year.

"Anyway, send Tigersoar and Jaeger back first. Have the sentry legion stay for a couple more months. We'll finish once they've finished training the Peterson's military. Firmrock will stay until the end of the year and we hand Quadro over to Peterson.

"As for the Trade Union, I'm sure their time in the limelight is eternally over. And they knew it the moment their ambassador left their territory. Peterson has his salt plan, and that alone will keep a lid on the Union for good. Their next war will be the war that sees them wiped off the map.

"Sending four of our main legions back will show our intent of maintaining peace. However, I don't plan to send our naval forces back. The Free Union won't have enough money to invest in a naval force in the near future, so their maritime safety is still dependent on the Northsea Fleet. Later, discuss with Jindoz about the land near Hidegold Bay. I want to construct a base for our forces and I doubt Jindoz would refuse such a reasonable request."

"Understood. I will negotiate with him about the lease," said Charade.