"It's not easy being popular."

Lorist woke up in a bad mood on the morning of the 13th of the 7th. Anderbael had gotten into trouble again. He had grabbed a cockerel after getting up in the morning and blamed it for waking him up. He had decided to roast it, so he tied it over a fire with a rope.


It naturally didn’t end well. The cockerel became a dashing fireball.  It set everything it passed alight, the small forest in the castle’s rear bailey, the chicken coop, the trees lining the road down to the main gate, and quite a few things in between. It looked like the castle was on fire from outside the inner skirting walls. The fireball even ran into a passing maid and lit the linen she was carrying on fire. It made it into the storeroom behind her as she ran of squealing, setting a number of things inside alight before collapsing by the entrance on its way out. Quite a resilient thing it turned out to be.

Lorist stormed out of his room to the balcony from the smoke, but luckily the fires were already being put out. He dragged Anderbeal to his study by the ear and gave his rear a good spanking. The child ran to his mother and wet her bosom for half an hour with his tears. Sylvia nagged Lorist the whole time to not be so harsh on the poor child, sapping what little appetite he had left for breakfast. He glugged down to mouthfuls of bread and stormed up to his study.

It was time for Anderbael to be properly tutored. Sylvia was raising the child to be just spoiled, which was not good. At least it wasn’t as bad as his first child. That said, the little brat was still very mischievous, though it stemmed less from a narcissistic egotism than healthy curiosity and a lack of boundaries. He was usually quite well-mannered, after all. Lorist’s main reason for punishing the little boy was because he’d interrupted his morning exercise with Fennazali.

Jinolio entered the study with a cup of fresh macks.

“Anything on the schedule?” Lorist asked lazily.

“Dean of Dawn Academy Blademaster Claude has an audience at nine this morning to discuss establishing a branch academy,” Jinolio answered promptly.

Time really flew. A decade had already passed since Dawn had moved over from Morante. Dean Levins had retired and handed his position to Claude. Dawn Academy was now the top school in the whole soon-to-be empire. Its student body numbered six thousand and the campus couldn’t handle them anymore. Most of the kingdom’s noble were sending their children to the academy, from barons to the other dukes and their family.

“Where does he want to set it up?”

Jinolio slapped his forehead.

“Didn’t I hand Your Grace the application a few days ago? Dean Claude is trying to decide between Vanades in Delamock, in which case he’d set up a business faculty, or Windbury in Winston, in which case it’d be a knight school.”

Lorist quickly recalled the matter. No wonder Claude wanted to see him. Kenmays and Felim were probably fighting over it again. Dawn Academy was a combined academy that taught multiple disciplines ranging from chivalry to accounting, the latter was a popular pick among many students for its potential to grant them well-paying jobs. They would be popular picks regardless of whether they applied to Lorist’s military or his administration. The skill was popular with other nobles as well, not to speak of merchants and guilds.

Lorist had made Kenmays mayor of Vanades. He’d done pretty well in the post too. He didn’t just turn the city into the salt merchant committee’s headquarters, but also turned it into the capital of the kingdom’s trade. Almost all of the kingdom’s guilds were headquartered there. Now it seemed he’d set his sites on Dawn Academy. He was no doubt doing his best to talk a hole into Claude’s head to start a business school in the city. A number of more mercantile nobles had started complaining to Kenmays recently that the competition for slots in Dawn Academy was too strong. They wanted a place closer to home to send their children, too.

Felim had his own plans for Dawn Academy. He wanted Claude to set up a knight school in Windbury so the more militarily inclined amongst the nobility wouldn’t have to compete as harshly for spaces at the main campus. It made sense that they coveted being able to send their children to the academy, its technique were far superior to anything they could teach their children. A big reason for that was that most families only had parts of their ancestor’s manuals regarding the training of battleforce. It was not good to train an incomplete technique. The Academy, however, could offer complete manuals. It also didn’t help that it was prohibitively expensive to get personal tutors who knew enough to train the child properly. It was much cheaper to ship the children off to the academy, not to mention that it would be a golden opportunity for the children to mingle with higher nobility and build out their network of contacts and acquaintances.

Claude was too happy to oblige. If he could set up branch academies he could spread Dawn’s reputation and influence and secure its position in the empire before any real competition even had a chance to get going. The academy had come a long way from its crisis days when it was on the brink of closing for good back in Morante. Lorist was the academy’s savior, having convinced the former dean to move it to the Northlands and funded the construction of the new campus himself. Claude felt, given the massive role the duke had played in bringing about the academy’s current fortune, and, in a way, his investment in the academy, he had a right to a say in such matters. Besides, both Vanades and Windbury were in his territory so he’d have to give his permission either way.

“It was blue, right? I probably threw it on that table there. Bring it for me, would you?” said Lorist, massaging his temples.

After much faffing, Jinolio finally found the application.

“What else is on the agenda?” Lorist asked, his eyes still closed and his fingers still massaging.

“Nobody else has asked for an audience. A messenger arrived from the king yesterday, though. The king summons Your Grace to the capital for his ascension. A reply is due. Also, Duke Kenmays wrote asking when His Grace should accompany Your Grace to the capital. Duke Felim and Duke Shazin have written to the same effect.  They will leave for the capital on the 18th and hope Your Grace will accompany them.”

“Why would I bother going so early?” Lorist muttered, “The ceremony is on the 10th of next month. I’ll leave to I arrive three or four days ahead of the ceremony, but there’s no need to get there a month early… Ugh, fine. Write to the king and tell him I’m too busy to go now. I’ll leave so I arrive around the 5th. Tell Kenmays I’m sailing for the capital and I’ll meet him at Platinum Beach.”

“Your Grace, I need to know the date we leave,” complained Jinolio.

“Fine--“ Lorist counted the days on his fingers. “--It’ll take seven days from Northsea to Jillin Harbor, so make it eight to be safe. We’ll rest one day there, so that’s nine. And it’ll take another two to the capital.  If we pick up Kenmays we can add another day. Twelve in all. On right, three days from here to Northsea, so 15 in all. We’ll leave on the 25th, then.”

“Which of the madams will accompany you?”

It went without saying that Sylvia would go, so Jinolio must be talking about one of his concubines.

“Just take them all, the children too. We can spend a few days at Seaview Manor on our way back.”

“Very well.”

Standard procedure was for Jinolio to relay the instructions to Bowrey who would tell Sylvia and the other ‘madams’. The date had been decided more than ten days in advance, but since the whole lot would be going, time was needed to make the arrangements, the escort, the supplies, the other staff that would accompany them, the ships and the naval escort, and so forth.

Claude walked into Lorist’s office exactly on time. The two hadn’t met in years and both were quite emotional. Claude had watched Lorist turn into a legendary figure from a mere instructor of the academy one step at a time. The iron-ranked instructor was now swordsaint and a duke. Claude felt like he hardly knew the man. How on earth was he ever going to stand on equal footing with this titan again? He had been a gold-ranked instructor when Lorist was just an iron rank, but now, despite being dean of the academy and a rank 2 blademaster, he was lifetimes behind his former peer.

He forcefully shoved the frivolous thoughts to the back of his mind.  What point was there in comparing himself with Lorist? Lorist was equal to a swordsaint, but his battleforce was still iron rank. They walked completely different paths of cultivation, so there was no point in comparing them.

Jinolio served fragrant tea silently while Claude reminisced. Claude got straight down to business after taking a sip. He would love to open two branches but, despite being as popular as it was, the academy only had the funds and the surplus staff to open one branch right now. Most of the money was budgeted for expanding and upgrading the main campus in the Northlands. Lorist wouldn’t settle for a seizure of improvements there to be able to open two branches at the same time elsewhere, anyway. It wouldn’t have been such a big deal if the two dukes weren’t fighting tooth and nail over which branch should be opened.

Even if Lorist didn’t want to, he had to be the one to make the decision, otherwise the one who didn’t get their wish between the two dukes would never shut up.

“Open the business school. We won’t see wars for at least the next decade or two, so there’s no point in expanding your knight school. Besides, the empire will need administrative officials more than knights in the years of peace to come to help rebuild it.”

Claude nodded.

“Alright. I’ll make the arrangements.”

“Why did Duke Felim bring up a knight school at all?”

Turned out House Felim had suffered heavy losses on the plains three years earlier and were anxious to refill the empty positions and get their army back up to full strength.

“Then why not set up a few diploma courses? He can send some men over to be trained in that instead. There’s no need to start a new school just for that.”

Claude was still troubled.

“It would certainly be less difficult and permanent than setting up a new knight school, but it’s still very hard to do with our current resources, especially our staff numbers. We really only have enough to set up one new campus, we won’t have any men to spare, even for just a few extra diploma courses.”

Lorist burst out laughing.

“What?  Come on, Claude. What about this? My men need a break from the military for a while, why not hire a few of our fellow alumni as temporary instructors? I’m sure they’d be more than happy to join the academy again for a while. You can only have them for three months though.”

“Thank you, Your Grace.”