"The heart of a woman is not for the minds of men."

The winter harvests came after the rainy season. Lorist’s lands were flooded with cheer. In fact, the weather had been nice since Lorist took over 20 years earlier. Despite the stormy ocean weather in the north, the coast had not been hit by a severe storm in over two decades, nor had there been any floods.

Spiel was not surprised when Lorist brought it up during one of their meetings, however. According to him, the Northlands was known for its calm weather; disasters were rare. The only reason it hadn’t been properly developed before Lorist came along was the chronic shortage of people. Few people were willing to brave the magic beasts that used to roam the region annually. With them gone, however, there was little to stop people from coming north.

The biggest problem the north used to face beside the magic beasts was the chronic belligerence of the region’s nobles. What little growth in population there was thanks to childbirth was quickly squandered in petty squabbles. There was also the issue of occasional barbarian raids from the mountains. The Nortons were especially plagued by them and spent most of the little wealth they saved up in campaigns against the hordes.

Things were different now, however.  The beast waves were no more, the old squabbling nobles were gone and the new ones were all loyal to Lorist, and the barbarians had not come down from the mountains to raid in over a decade. The people were now free to unearth the region’s riches. It was certainly a great help that the region finally had decent infrastructure. The region’s population had seen a historic explosion and there was little sign that, even now that Lorist was no longer shipping tens of thousands of captured peasants north, the population would not continue to grow substantially for the foreseeable future.

The region was not just in a good present condition, but all forecasts predicted it would rise to rival even the most prosperous regions elsewhere in the empire. Lorist’s rule would no doubt go down in history as the greatest rule of any noble in the empire’s history, maybe even of any noble on the continent. There was little doubt in Spiel’s mind that Lorist would be remembered as Norton the Great, or something similar. He kept saying Lorist should take a few years off and spend some quality time with his family.  His greatest duty now was to ensure that his successor would be educated enough and correctly such that he would not squander the glory his predecessor had built.

Lorist agreed. His life in the north to date had been a tale of continuous war and crisis. It was time to step away from the path of bloodshed and focus on letting his lands thrive.

Life, unfortunately, was not accommodating of man’s wishes. He had developed his dominion rapidly, but had done so without sufficiently overhauling its fundamental governing system. He was still ruling it like he was a baron only responsible for a single town, someone who could afford to be in direct control of everything. But his lands were now greater than most kingdoms.  Despite that, he still had to keep watch over almost everything that happened. His desk was permanently buried under reports and documents that required his attention.

Viscount Josk, for one, had come to see him not long ago.  He came to ask permission to take Jaeger to the wildlands to do training and run a few wargames.

“Do you have a fever? What’s going on?” Lorist had asked, putting his palm to the man’s forehead, “It’s mating season right now. We don’t go into the wildlands until the 10th month when the catch will be the best. You’re six months early!”

Freiyar had definitely opposed Josk as well, as was Malek, otherwise he wouldn’t have come to Lorist. Lorist was most puzzled that Josk would want to do anything with Jaeger at all, he rare got involved with the legion at all.

“What’s going on, Joe? You should be in your viscounty right now. You have to find yourself a woman and get to work on an heir, not running off to the wildlands to hunt. I understand you are very loyal to your late fiancée, but you have a responsibility to yourself and your subjects to secure your bloodline. Besides, would your late fiancée want you to live alone like this for the rest of your life? Wouldn’t she want you to have a family and experience the joy of being a father?” Lorist asked.

Josk didn’t meet Lorist’s gaze. He kept his head low and only muttered about wanted to do more for him.  He had been forced to cancel the previous year’s hunt because of the new year’s celebration and wanted to make up for it. Many other nobles had begun forming winter armies as well and the price of fur had doubled.  A missed hunt was hundreds of thousands of gold Fordes down the drain, at least.

Lorist smiled bitterly.  The house’s finances were fine.  They didn’t need to hunt every year just to stay solvent.  A missed hunt wasn’t a big deal. Cutting supply to the market for a season or so might actually be a good thing since it would chase the price up.

Josk left with an odd expression as if he had trouble he couldn’t articulate but he didn’t say anything. Lorist grew suspicious and had Viscount Kriston investigate the matter.

Potterfang came two days later with a grim air about him. This time it was about his daughter’s marriage. His little elf-like brat of a girl, Alisa, had quickly grown into a beautiful young lady. He temperament, however, broke Potterfang’s heart.

Lorist’s impression of her was still that of the coquettish girl that mocked him whenever she saw him. It wasn’t his fault though. He had rarely, if ever, played with her again after the convoy arrived in the northlands. If his memory served, Telesti had taken her as a disciple a few years earlier, hoping to raise her into a proper lady.

“Hold on, she’s 28 already? And she’s the knight-commander the Order of the Cherry Blossom?” Lorist choked.

The Order of the Cherry Blossom occupied a very awkward position in the military.  They were a small knightly order nominally in the military, but they weren’t subject to its chain of command. Sylvia was given command of the then ‘woman brigade’ when she married Lorist and turned it into a knightly order. Since she was the order’s captain, no one from the military brass had the authority to give any of the order’s members commands, not to mention that, as a knightly order, they were technically completely autonomous of any faction. The only reason Lorist could give them orders was because Sylvia was his wife and would listen to him, so technically he suggested something to Sylvia and she was the one that actually gave the order. The order was only peripherally trained in combat, however, since they were mostly a ceremonial force concerned with guarding Sylvia, though they were trained and deployed as healers from time to time.

Lorist had wanted to give them a more active role as combat medics, but they weren’t interested. Before they were turned into an order, when they were still known as just the woman brigade, they had been deployed against Iblia during the campaign against the second prince’s climax. Norton’s side had suffered few losses, but the woman from the brigade couldn’t handle the blood and gore. Many were struck with night sweats, angst, and incessant nightmares thereafter. The unit nearly disbanded after the battle, in fact.

The brigade was put under Tigersoar, but most of the women quickly paired up with men from the legion and retired after getting pregnant.

With the unit reduced to a mere husk, Lorist had to retrain the unit from the ground up. He took it out of Tigersoar and turned it into a reserve force that dealt mostly in paperwork and handled medical stations and hospitals behind the front lines. They did quite well in that role. They frequently put on shows for the recovering soldiers which boosted morale.

Sylvia found out about the brigade shortly before the marriage and asked to be given command of it as Lorist’s wedding gift, which Lorist was happy to do. She quickly went about turning the brigade into a proper knightly order with her as its captain. She didn’t get involved in most of its inner workings after it was set up, however, instead that duty fell to the unit’s technical second in command, but practical leader, the order’s knight-commander. The order operated out of Sylvia’s personal residence, Cherry Blossom Ridge, and she named the order after the place since she loved it so much.  Thus Pesha’s pet project from two decades earlier had become the Duchess of the Northlands’ personal knightly order, a force none but the Duke and the Duchess could command.

“She decided to become a knight after seeing Pesha when she was young?  I didn’t think that woman had any fans.”

“Yes, Your Grace. Alisa went to Dawn Academy to study and awake her battleforce when she turned 16. She spent several years there in the knighthood course. She went to Nico Academy and became Lady Telesti’s first knight. Her ambition get the better of her after a few years though. She grew restless and eventually joined the woman brigade. She advanced to two-star silver rank two years ago and became the order’s new knight-commander.”

Potterfang appeared frustrated. He had wanted to keep this under wraps at first, but his relationship with his daughter had always been tense. Had took the daughter of one of the house’s captured nobles as his wife, against the wishes of his children, Howard and Alisa. The two felt he had betrayed their deceased mother and Alisa stopped listening to her father. Potterfang couldn’t exactly barge in and take his daughter out of Nico Academy and away from Telesti as her knight since she was Lorist’s lover, though it had been years since the two had interacted.

“I see... So Alisa is both Telesti’s knight and knight-commander of the sylvia’s cherry blossoms. No wonder I haven’t heard anything about her for so long.”

Alisa would have been mentioned in at least one report if she’d pledged herself to House Norton. Lorist’s memory was quite good and he would have known it was her immediately.  She had joined the Order of the Cherry Blossom, which was nominally part of House Norton, but knightly orders were a difficult thing. Even if their heads were members of a noble household, orders were never part of any political faction. They were independent military forces that operated according to their founding ideals, so even though Alisa was a part of Sylvia’s order, she was not technically a member of House Norton.

“So you want me to convince her to get married?”

“I don’t know how to say this, Your Grace. Howard is Your Grace’s disciple and is married. I don’t mind whether he remains your servant or found his own house. I trust my son, and with you there to guide him, I have nothing to worry about. But Alisa is 28, and she hasn’t married or had any children yet. She’s already very old to still be unmarried and I worry she’ll grow into an old, lonely woman if this goes on.

“I’m her father, so I should be the one to arrange a good husband for her, but she won’t listen to me.  She has her own ideas about marriage and she’s been stirring up a big commotion in that regard lately. I shouldn’t be talking about her behind her back, but I worry as her father.  Please, Your Grace, will you not help this old father and deal with this before it becomes a scandal?”

Potterfang left Lorist with many questions unanswered after only vaguely explaining the situation. Lorist was not about to get involved in something that could be hot water without knowing what was going on first, so he had Kriston look into it first.

When he got the report, he nearly jumped through his study’s roof.