Jinolio knocked on the door before he entered the study with a thick pile of pages in hand.

“Sir Tarkel sent us secret reports from the Trade Union.”

The house had an importance classification system for its reports and documents based on how sensitive and urgent or important the information contained within the reports and documents were. Urgent class documents contained information concerning household interests directly, and that needed immediate attention. They were usually sent via eagle and were thus short, concise, bare on the details, and in very simple terms. Secret class documents contained sensitive information, which could be about something concerning the household itself, or other forces, factions, places, people, or circumstances, that had to remain confidential either due to the content or nature of the information, or what the fact that House Norton possessed the information implied about its espionage activities or its possible future interests or actions. The documents were usually very thorough but at the same time somewhat circumspect. Due to their sensitive nature, the utmost care was taken to ensure the details inside were as accurate as possible, and any transport or storage of the documents was done under the utmost scrutiny. The queen’s affair would have been one such report, but Lorist didn’t care about its news spreading and wanted such news at the utmost speed, so it was handled as urgent instead.

“What is it?” Charade asked from his place on a nearby chair.

Jinolio opened the folder and glanced over its contents.

“There’s been a rebellion in the Trade Union. It started on the 15th of the 9th. Duke Cobleit mobilized Twinhead Dragon’s legion to purge the rebels. More than twenty guilds have been wiped out, seventeen completely, and the rest mostly. It says the prime suspect is Marquis Krilos, Twinhead Dragon’s old vice-president. He reached out to the nobles dissatisfied with Cobleit’s leadership and staged a coup.

“He’s now vanished and Duke Cobleit has declared him a traitor. The duke also put a bounty of 10 thousand gold on his head. He also enacted a few new policies changing the peerage. Nobles no longer hold titles to land, they only gain social status and an annual stipend. He’s sent ambassadors to the neighbouring nations to reassure them that he’s in control and that peace will continue.”

Lorist looked amused.

“It seems this more like a rebirth than a revolt. Cobleit is quite a talented man. He clearly intends to play the game seriously.”

“Who is this Krilos?” Charade asked, more interested in the revolt’s instigator.

“Marquis Krilos was the ambassador sent to the peace negotiations with the windstorm swordsaint. The one the king declared a fraud and sent back to the Union in feathers.”

“Oh, him.” Lorist mouthed absentmindedly.

“How’s he still alive? Wasn’t he covered in raw lacquer? He should’ve died from poisoning. How’s he still up and about?”

“Being covered in raw lacquer won’t necessarily kill you. It’s not like it’s actual poison. What’s so weird about him still being alive?” Jinolio countered.

“You don’t understand. I’ve seen something like this personally. There was a lacquer shop next to my house when I was still a child. A horse barged into it one day and knocked a large bucket of raw lacquer over. The lacquer fell on a nearby worker… He died of an allergic reaction two days later. His skin blistered. His employer hired the city’s greatest herbalist, but he could do nothing. The blisters festered, and he committed suicide a week later. The horse also got some on its fur and died a couple weeks later as well.

“The lacquer shop was forced to close after the scandal. The big-seven guilds required that all workers wear protective gear from then on. The job became very expensive as well since people demanded greater pay for the dangerous work. I spent a few years studying the lacquer at Dawn Academy trying to find out what cause the reaction, but I was no closer to discovering the secret behind its poison when I left with His Grace than when I started.”

Jinolio rolled his eyes.

“Don’t make yourself sound like an expert if you don’t actually know anything. Marquis Krilos was a blademaster when that happened, the lacquer wouldn’t have killed him. He was also a noble, he no doubt hired excellent herbalists to treat him. Besides, a lot of time passed between your tinkering and his punishment, I’m sure someone thought of a better treatment in that time.”

Charade was rendered speechless. He grabbed Jinolio in a fit of rage and ruffled his hair.

“You little... When did your balls grow big enough to talk back to me? Let’s see how I deal with you...”

Lorist didn’t know how to what to do, so he took the documents from the wrestling pair and skimmed them while he waited for things to calm down.

“Enough,” he eventually had to get involved when things didn’t calm down, “Charade, you’re my chief knight and Jinolio’s senior. You’re basically his uncle as well. Don’t go too far, Jinolio will eventually be your brat’s senior, and in a great position to pick on him if you push him too far now.”

“He would dare?”

Charade let go of Jinolio and opened another bottle of blackcurrant wine. His haste to get to work had vanished when the Trade Union came up.

“Your Grace can rest assured now. I doubt the revolt was anything less than a complete bloody massacre. Most of the nobles must have been put down and thousands of peasants executed. This may have secured Cobleit’s position, but I doubt the Union can recover from this.”

“You’re wrong. We should be more wary of the Union instead. Cobleit got the perfect excuse to kill off everyone who opposed him. His position is now more secure than it has ever been. Even if a few detractors escaped his purge, which I doubt, they no longer have the power to oppose him. He holds absolute power in the country and can have them killed for whatever reason he wishes.

“Cobleit will no doubt start consolidating his position and the Union’s remaining strength. He’ll first focus on developing his remaining territory. In service of that he’ll no doubt overhaul the entire political and legal system. I wouldn’t be surprised if eight-tenths of all the Union’s laws will either be replaced or amended. I give the current peace a decade. He’ll start threatening his neighbours before the next ten years are up.”

“Aren’t you overestimating Cobleit? He no longer has access to the markets like he used to. We dominate them all. He’ll have to fight us if he wants to get back into the market, and he’ll have to do it without a good foundation with which to compete. We all know they can’t compete with us in either volume or quality. How could they possible supplant us?” Charade argued.

“You’re right. We make more and better goods.  But the Union has far more experience at mass production than we do. They may never be able to match our quality, but they sure can compete with us in terms of volume, especially where heavy industry is concerned. Tell me, who did their lands belong to before them?”

“Teribo, Teria, and Mokby. So the Union is going to focus on glass?”

“Yes. Most likely oil and green glass. We make a lot of glassware and sell a lot of it to the Alliance, but no one buys oil glass or green glass from us. The reason is simple. We are too far for the transport of those items to be profitable. They can’t be sold for a high price so merchants can’t make a profit if they buy from us, transport all the way south, and then sell there.

“Before we started producing our own glass, we bought everything from the Kenmayses. But the transport costs turned the cheapest glass in Morante into unbelievable luxuries here. And even then the Kenmeyses barely made a profit.

“That’s the main reason why I didn’t spare any effort to get the recipe from Teribo. The market here in the north is immense, and we can sell much cheaper than any competitors and still make a massive profit. But the same problem the Kenmayses had with getting glass here to the north counts for us when we want to send glass to the south.

“The Trade Union cannot steal our market here, but similarly we can’t compete with them there, at least not where oil and green glass are concerned. Even if we sell at cost, they can still undercut us and still make a profit.”

“Teribo relied on selling oil and green glass to make his fortunes. The Union is now doing the same. The market is also perfect for it now. The kingdoms have been ravaged by war and are busy rebuilding. Glassware was no doubt the thing most broken during the various raids and pillages, so everyone will want to re-buy everything.

“The entire continent is also at peace for once, well, the parts that matter, anyway, which is perfect for trade. It’s only a matter of time before the Union is back on its feet and rearing to get revenge and take back its lost glory. Cobleit did exactly what I proposed to Jindoz: turning the landed nobility into honorary nobility.

“Limiting salt sales and upping their prices won’t be enough to keep the Union at bay anymore. The Union can just smuggle it in, they certainly have the know-how and the connections. Our only saving grace is that they’re in one of the worst possible geographic locations for commerce. They’re land-locked and surrounded by mountain ranges and other impassable terrain.”

“Your Grace is overestimating the Union. If they’re really this eager to keep the fight going, why not just march back south and wipe them out for good?”

Jinolio nodded frantically as well. He was a little too fervent in his belief of the Norton forces’ invulnerability.

Lorist laughed.

“And what casus belli would we use? We better have a damn good excuse to break the peace treaty so soon after signing it. Otherwise no one will ever trust either us or the soon-to-be emperor again. No, this is beyond us now. We can’t make a move again until we’re asked for help.

“We should focus on supporting the Free Union and strengthen our grip on Morante and its markets. As long as we maintain control there, the Union can only become a local powerhouse, it won’t be able to threaten the empire.”

Charade and Jinolio nodded.

“Is there anything else?” Lorist asked.

“Yes,” Jinolio answered, “Lundmorde is here for a visit with his four wives and five children.” replied Jinolio.